If you’re like most college students, when you shop for a new car you’ll probably be looking for something affordable and economical, yet also stylish and fun. At this point in your life, a car’s cargo capacity and rear seat room probably aren’t even on your radar—and why should they be? This is the time to have fun, hit the road and punish rear seat passengers for not having their own cars. If you haven’t already picked out the perfect car to get you to school and back, have a look at our list of the most fun cars for college students.
10 Fun Cars for College Students
Photo Credit: Ford
The Ford Fiesta might be a practical and economical subcompact car, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. When equipped with the tiny turbocharged EcoBoost three-cylinder engine and the 5-speed manual gearbox, the Fiesta is surprisingly zippy and fun to drive. Step up to the Fiesta ST and you get a turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out nearly 200 horsepower, and also boasts a sportier suspension. The cargo area and rear seat room are a bit limited, but the interior is nicely designed and fairly well-equipped. Ford’s PowerShift transmission is getting better, but it still isn’t as smooth as a traditional automatic, especially in stop-and-go driving. Any way you go, the Fiesta is a fun car for college students.
Photo Credit: Mazda
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda MX-5 Miata has long been one of the most affordable and best handling rear-wheel drive sports cars on the market, and the newest version is no different. A seemingly paltry 155 horsepower is supplied by a normally-aspirated four-cylinder engine, but thanks to its incredibly low curb weight that’s enough to get it to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds. In the corners there is quite a bit of body roll, but also lots of grip. The Miata does fall short when it comes to cargo capacity and practicality, but surely those aren’t anywhere near the top of most college students’ lists.
Photo Credit: Subaru
Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86
The Subaru BRZ and it’s nearly identical twin the Toyota 86 (having recently replaced the Scion FR-S) are affordable and fun rear-wheel drive sports cars, and perfect for college students. The normally-aspirated Subaru flat-four engine makes "only" 200 horsepower, but thanks to its light weight and excellent handling that’s more than enough for lots of tail-out shenanigans, though you do get the feeling that the chassis could handle an extra hundred horsepower or so. The interior is roomy in the front but tight in the rear, and ride quality is decent for a sports car. Unfortunately, Subaru has made it clear that you shouldn't hold your breath for a high-performance STI model.
Photo Credit: Mazda
The Mazda3 is a fun little compact with all the zoom-zoom you’d expect from a Mazda product—perfect cars for college students today. The 3 comes standard with an economical 2.0-liter four-cylinder, or optionally a more powerful 2.5-liter unit, both of which can be backed by either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The larger engine is definitely a bit quicker, but the Mazda3 isn’t about acceleration or all-out performance. Instead the car makes excellent use of its stiff chassis to provide great handling, especially through tight twisty corners. The interior materials are nice, but the ride isn’t as smooth or quiet as some of its competitors. We can’t decide whether we like the hatchback or sedan better; they’re both great cars.
Photo Credit: Scion
Its styling might be polarizing, but if you peel away the Scion exterior, the iA is essentially a new Mazda2. While the 2 isn’t available here at the moment, the iA shares the same platform and the cars are built side by side at a Mazda factory. The result is a frugal car that is more fun to drive than you’d expect, and a great option for college students. The interior is a bit cramped, but for the price it isn’t bad. As seems typical for a Mazda product the engine isn’t overly powerful and acceleration is leisurely, but the combination of ride quality and handling is where the iA shines.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
Volkswagen Golf GTI
The Volkswagen GTI is a three or five-door compact hot hatchback, powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 210 horsepower (or 220 horsepower in Performance trim). Transmission options include a six-speed manual or Volkswagen’s excellent six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic, both of which send power to the front wheels. The combination of styling, luxury and performance make the GTI the perfect vehicle for almost every situation, and especially some lucky college students. Fuel economy is decent, but if you don’t need the extra power or superb handling of the GTI, then consider the regular Golf with its less powerful, more frugal engine, and slightly smoother ride.
The Hyundai Veloster is a very attractive and modern-looking compact car. The standard engine is a normally aspirated four-cylinder, but an optional turbocharged version is available with significantly more power. Either way the Veloster isn’t particularly frugal or quick, nor is it all that sporty, though an optional R-Spec model has sport-tuned steering and suspension systems. The front seats are roomy, though the rear is a bit cramped (but perfect for holding extra luggage and snacks). It’s too bad the car doesn’t handle as good as it looks, but for college students, the Veloster is fun in plenty of other ways, and would make a great road trip vehicle.
Photo Credit: Ford
The Ford Mustang is a modern American pony car, and like the original, it's quite affordable for what you get. Even in V6 trim the Mustang is a decently quick car, making more power than the V8 models did only a few short years ago. No matter which model you choose, the Mustang should be a fun car for college students. The turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder makes a bit more power than the V6, but the 5.0 V8 is still king of the hill, cranking out well over 400 horsepower. If you happen to have the extra coin, the GT350 version has impressive handling and gets an even more awesome flat-crank 5.2-liter V8 with an addictive 8,250 RPM redline.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe is a two-door rear-wheel drive sports car that comes with a powerful V6 engine and a smooth shifting, six-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission is optional, but it dulls the car’s fun factor significantly. Fuel economy isn’t all that impressive with either transmission, and though the handling is good, the ride on sportier versions suffers. The interior is nice—not quite up to the standards set by the Genesis sedan, but more than enough for college students on a budget. The Genesis does have a rear seat, but as you’d expect from a sports coupe they aren’t all that usable. Still, it's enough to get you and your friends from the dorms to a late-night study session.
The Camaro is Chevrolet’s entry in the pony car segment, and while the car’s base engine is a turbocharged four-cylinder that is less powerful than some of its competitors’ base engines, there is an optional V6 as well as a healthy 6.2-liter pushrod V8 that makes over 450 horsepower. The latest Camaro is significantly lighter than the outgoing version, helping make the most of the available power, both in a straight line and through the corners. The newest Camaro’s interior is also much improved compared to previous versions, taking some inspiration from the latest Corvette, though vision out is still quite limited. Of all the cars on this list, the Camaro might be the most fun car for a college student.