There's a lot to consider after graduation—where you're going to work, where you're going to live, what your friends are up to, and much, much more. I found myself asking a lot of the same questions yet one question kept coming to mind. Over and over again, it was, "What car should I buy?"
For most people right out of college, buying a new car off the lot isn't realistic. However, there are a fair amount of used European cars that should satisfy your needs. I've spent hours browsing used car sites and have compiled my top choices of cars I could see myself buying. Slight disclaimer to this list, I have never driven any of these cars, but I think they would be fun to get behind the wheel of.
Production Years 2015-2019
The 7th generation Volkswagen Golf is a great car for the money and can come equipped with many (usually much more expensive) features such as Apple CarPlay and adaptive cruise control. This car is perfect for the recent college grad for more than just a couple reasons. Besides the bang for the buck, the car is great on fuel economy. This is perfect for the recent grad who wants to be eco-friendly by getting nearly 30+ MPG. The Golf also features plenty of space for you and all your friends. It’s perfect for weekend trips or when you eventually have to move out of the house.
The Golf, in my opinion, is the car you get to make sure you have a practical and reliable car to start your adult life. While it is not the fastest hatchback on the market, you’ll be able to put tens of thousands of miles on it. It's a car that is practical, cool, and professional. And if you're looking for something one step above the base, you absolutely can't go wrong with the GTI for just a few thousand dollars more.
MK7 Volkswagen Golf Prices:
When I did my search, I looked at any MK7 Golf with less than 60,000 miles and under $15,000. There are hundreds of options available for this price point, so finding the perfect one should be easy.
Production Years 2009-2015
If you want a car that, in my opinion, has a timeless design, comfortable seats, and is reliable, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class from 2008-2014 is your ticket. To me, Mercedes has always been a status symbol owned by someone high up on the corporate ladder. For some of the higher-end Mercedes, this is true; however, these cars are more affordable than you might expect.
I would buy this car after college for a few reasons. First, it has all-wheel drive, and I live in New England so it could snow one day and be 70 degrees and sunny the next day. Secondly, it is a comfortable car for commuting. While I haven’t owned a W204, I do own a W203, and that is very comfortable. You might have to commute a long distance for your first job so it may as well make it a comfortable drive. Finally, I think that the W204 has a timeless design, so it is an excellent first out of college car that, if maintained, should last you many years while still looking good.
If you're considering purchasing a Mercedes-Benz W204, we have a convenient buyer's guide that will help you go into your purchasing process informed and with confidence.
Mercedes-Benz W204 C300/C350 Prices:
Depending on the exact model and how well it's equipped, good examples of these cars can be found in the $14,000 to $18,000 range. This all depends on the options it came with, mileage, and the shape the car is in. If you're patient, it's possible to find these a few thousand dollars cheaper than that even in really good shape.
Production Years 2006-2013
The BMW E90 is the 5th generation of BMW 3-series in the automaker’s lineup, and I think one of the better all-around cars you can buy right now. While the other cars on my list are more practical, I personally would buy this 3-series in the 2-door coupe, also known as the E92. They do come in sedan, hard-top convertible, and wagon variants, though. After doing some research, I think that the 328i is the better choice when it comes to power and reliability. One of the best parts is that you can get the 328i with an optional 6-speed manual transmission. And it's not just a manual, it is a good manual.
I have considered buying this car a few times because I own a 1987 BMW E30, and because of this, I have a soft spot for BMW coupes. This is a really cool first European car for the recent college grad for a few reasons. First, in my opinion, it is one of the best-looking modern and affordable BMW coupes, so it is sure to stand out among the friend group. Second, it is a smaller car, and right out of college, most people aren’t going to need the space for a car seat or five people. Finally, there are so many options for modifications with this car that any beginner car enthusiast can do, so this car should keep you satisfied for many years to come.
To learn more about the BMW E9x chassis, find additional content, and shop parts, visit our E9x hub.
BMW E90 & E92 328i Prices:
BMW made a lot of this generation 328i. With that, they are incredibly easy to find; you can find a clean example with less than 50,000 miles for $8,000 to $15,000. I wouldn't hesitate to look at them with higher mileage at a much lower price point either, as this is one of the last BMWs that's still fairly easy and affordable to work on.
Production Years 2001-2006
The R53 MINI is the first generation MINI produced by BMW and sold here in the United States. The R53 implies the “S” designation, which means it shipped with the 1.6L Tritec engine—a joint venture between BMW, the Rover Group (a failed purchase by BMW at the time) and Chrysler. What sets the S apart is the addition of the Eaton Roots-type supercharger, which ups the power output to 160 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque put down through the front wheels. With simple bolt-on modifications such as a supercharger reduction pulley, power output can be increased north of 200 horsepower.
The styling of the R53 MINI is reminiscent of the original Mini Cooper. At initial glance, it appears remarkably small on the outside compared to modern cars. When inside, however, the initial sentiment is that it’s much larger than expected. The R53 is known for its “fishbowl” effect, where you can clearly see out in every direction due to the expansive glass. The combination of low weight, front-wheel drive, and small stature, make it an unbeatable fun daily. Whether you’re on narrow, curvy back roads or navigating your way through a busy highway on your way to work, the R53 provides enough excitement to keep you engaged the entire time.
It’s the most affordable car on the list and easily the most fun. With a few modifications, both visual and performance-oriented, you can bring the R53 from just the “quirky little car” to an aggressive purpose-built machine.
R53 Mini Cooper S Prices:
Prices on R53 MINI Coopers have more or less, bottomed out; high-mileage examples that need some love start around $2500. Clean, low-mileage examples that have had maintenance done can get up into the $6000-$7000 range. I recommend staying away from automatics as well as manual cars that you don’t know when the clutch was last replaced.
Production Years 2008-2016
To me, the B8 Audi A4 is a perfect mix of luxury and performance. It has one of the best all-wheel-drive systems on the market, making it even safer for that younger driver. It feels like these cars are all over the streets, and there is a reason for that—they are simply great cars.
This car was a choice for a couple of reasons. First is that all-wheel-drive. You know that this car is going to do well in a slight bit of snow, so you won’t have to worry about getting stuck or needing to own another car that just for the winter months. Second, it is a very modern-looking car for the price. No matter the field you're going into after school, whether that's business, banking, or something creative, the B8 A4 blends right in. Its styling is modern and subtle, so you can drive it many years before it begins to look outdated.
If you're considering buying an Audi B8 A4, we have a convenient buyer's guide so you can go into the purchasing process informed and confident.
Audi B8 A4 Prices:
Looking at lower-mileage cars in the 50,000-mile range, you can find them anywhere from $10,000-$20,000. This will vary greatly depending on your location (if you live in the Northeast AWD models will command a premium, for example).
There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to buying a new car. What it comes down to the most for me are three things: Is the car going to be reliable? Is the car fun to drive every day? Can I comfortably afford the car and any slight modifications I want to make? I think that the five cars listed above can meet the criteria for almost all young drivers. While there are many other cars that could have made the list, these are the cars that I would buy for the money.