Top used cars for new grads

They’re rated as being safe and reliable and are reasonably affordable, bringing both peace of mind — and pocketbook — to those heading off to their first jobs.

By Jim Gorzelany CTW Features

 HONDA ELEMENT HONDA ELEMENT While many students get through their college years driving an old “beater” car or borrowing a ride from the family fleet as necessary, passing over to the “real world” usually necessitates getting a “real” car.

Though they might prefer something racier or fresh from a new-car showroom floor, recent graduates taking out their first installment loans (or who are fortunate enough to have a family member cover the cost) would be wise to look for a late model used vehicle that’s both safe and sane and won’t bust the budget.

To that end we’ve cross-referenced various sources to come up with 10 used cars and crossover SUVs from the 2011 model year that should be ideal for those venturing forth with a freshly printed diploma in hand.

Each received top marks in their respective classes for reliability from the most recent J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study and earned Top Safety Pick status among 2011 models from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We further narrowed our picks down to models that can be found in the used-car market for less than $20,000, based on retail prices provided by Kelley Blue Book for models in top condition and with average mileage (actual transaction prices should be somewhat lower).

 FORD TAURUS FORD TAURUS Here’s a quick look at 10 easy choices for recent graduates among three-year-old used cars:

 Buick LaCrosse. The kids might dismiss this midsize sedan as being “dad’s car,” but those having to chauffeur clients or superiors in their first jobs will appreciate its roomy, quiet and elegantly styled interior. Look for models with the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine for the best fuel economy in the line. ($17,400-$22,800).

 Ford Taurus. Granted the fullsize Taurus sedan can be dull as dishwater, but it delivers solid allaround performance, and bigger will always be better when it comes to choosing a safer car. The standard V6 should suffice for most buyers, though a quicker turbocharged version comes with the top SHO version ($16,750-$22,000).

 Honda Civic. It’s hard to beat the compact Civic for its winning combination of style and substance. Note that this recommendation is for four-door models (excluding the sporty — and pricey — Si) when equipped with the then-optional electronic stability control system ($11,050-$18,050).

 Honda Element. This boxy compact crossover SUV was discontinued after the 2011 model year, but remains both quirky and practical, powered by a peppy 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine ($19,350- $21,800).

 Jeep Patriot. The compact Patriot isn’t the most engaging vehicle to drive, but it scores highly for safety and dependability and is affordable. Plus it can be found fitted with a capable all-wheel-drive system for off-roading and features that burly Jeep appearance ($15,600- $17,700).

 Kia Sportage. Redesigned for 2011, this compact crossover SUV remains fresh looking. It’s entertaining to drive and is affordable, with a choice of two four-cylinder engines and either front- or all-wheel-drive. ($16,300-$23,700).

 Kia Soul. This boxy-by-design small crossover SUV is both practical and fun to drive, with still-distinctive styling that sets it apart in a crowded parking lot ($12,550- $15,400).

 Lincoln MKZ. Up-and-comers looking to impress can avail themselves of this bargain-priced midsize luxury sedan. It comes with a lively V6 engine and a full array of amenities in either front- or all-wheeldrive models ($18,300).

 Scion xB. Another box on wheels, the xB features energetic performance and the most spacious back seat among small crossover SUVs; fold the seat down and its cargo capacity rivals many far larger trucks ($14,550-$15,850).

 Toyota Corolla. The subcompact Corolla sedan may not make many hearts race, but it’s definitely a practical pick for its dependable performance and low ownership costs ($14,100-$15,550).

© CTW Features