By Andrew Ganz
Thursday, May 17th, 2012 @ 11:45 am
 
Congratulations graduates: The days of beer pong between classes and leftover pizza for a mid-afternoon breakfast are over. It's time to buckle down and get serious since you're - hopefully - headed into the working world.

That rusty Chevy Blazer, dented Vespa or twice-stolen Trek that got you through your four (maybe more?) years of college is ready to be retired, or at least passed on to someone else in your frat house. What's a college grad to do?

We'd never recommend dropping big coin on a brand new car unless you need one, but if you're financially inclined to make the plunge (hey, "responsible" is the new "frugal," after all), the choices have never been better. Our editors put our heads together to come up with a list of ten practical but still desirable new cars that can be found for under $35,000. We did our best to cast a wide net to cover various potential vehicles that would be appealing to us if we were headed into the full-time working world for the first time.

What cars would you add to our list? What was your first new car purchase after school?

10 great cars for new college graduates
Subaru Impreza Hatchback. Subarus are durable and practical, but they haven't really been all that fuel efficient until now. The freshly redesigned Impreza nets the best fuel economy of any all-wheel-drive vehicle on the market. In addition, an all-new interior is much more comfortable and grown-up feeling than before and the available hatchback body can haul you and your work buddies to lunch every day. Yep, that's what your life is now.

Jeep Grand Cherokee. All-new last year, the Grand Cherokee saw a hefty price cut (miracles do happen) for 2012 that makes it an even better value than ever before. It shares its bones with Mercedes-Benz's new M-Class, so it is highly refined on road, but it remains fairly capable when the pavement ends. Time to trade in that less-than-practical old Wrangler without losing too much of its capability!

Acura TSX. Acura's new Honda Civic-based ILX might be getting all of its attention, but our money would be on the slightly larger, slightly less fuel efficient TSX. For under $1,000 more than an ILX, you'll net one of the most underlooked premium sports sedans on the market today and its Acura badge says "high end" but not "extravagant."

Hyundai Accent. We really love the idea of an upmarket subcompact hatchback, but so many are priced at the same level as a number of fine pre-owned offerings. Not so the Accent, which comes fully loaded for well under $18,000 - that's at least a grand less than most rivals. We don't think it's as much of a looker as its similarly cut-price Kia Rio cousin, but the Accent is the more polished of the two on the road. Throw in Hyundai's killer warranty and this sedan and hatchback range is a smart buy.

Dodge Challenger R/T. Screw practicality. You're young and you're not tied down, but you (hopefully) have a steady income for the first time in your life. For around $30,000, the Challenger R/T nets you HEMI power, killer style and, for 2012, sharper handling. Well into its fifth year on the market (we can hardly believe it!), the Challenger remains in hot demand for good reason.

Suzuki Kizashi. Suzuki's heavily-discounted Kizashi is a screaming deal, especially since the Japanese brand's future in this country is looking cloudier by the day - and that likely means that bargains are plentiful. But don't let Suzuki's woes scare you: This humble-looking four-door is one of the best-handling sedans on the market, bettering premium brand offerings double or triple its price.

Mazda3 Skyactiv. Is there a better all-around high-value package for car fans than the Mazda3? We're not certain. The happy-go-lucky 3's new, oddly-named Skyactiv powertrain promises as much as 40 mpg, but its taut suspension and quick, communicative steering are just the opposite of most fuel misers. Add in the option of a practical hatchback and the Mazda3 is something of a do-everything right compact car.

Infiniti G25. With just 218 horsepower, the Infiniti G25 doesn't impress on paper, but we really have a soft spot for this cheapest of Gs. Its little 2.5-liter V6 is reasonably fuel thrifty but ultra smooth and it mates brilliantly to the standard seven-speed automatic transmission. What's more, it nets a decent 29 mpg and, at $34,000 well-equipped, it's something of a deal among entry-level luxury cars that run thousands more.

Ram 1500 Express. For less than $30,000 - and that's before any rebates or discounts - the folks at Ram have offered up something of a bargain in the pickup world with the Express package. In short, the package combines the power of a Hemi V8 with the style of 20-inch alloy wheels and painted bumpers at a price that undercuts rivals.

Nissan Juke. Pretty it ain't, but the Juke certainly holds its own in terms of smiles per mile. With its tiny 1.6-liter turbo four cylinder putting out an impressive 188 horsepower, the Juke is something of a pocket rocket with the added practicality of a hatchback shape. Just think of it as a warmup for the mega-buck GT-R-powered Juke R you're going to buy when you're promoted to CEO.