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12 hatchbacks to haul new graduates into the real world

For the new graduate, cargo space and fuel economy define the best car choices. Here, we've assembled a selection of hatchbacks and compact SUVs that make great starter cars.

CNET Cars staff

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Subaru Impreza
1 of 12 Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Subaru Impreza

With a hatchback for versatile cargo space and fuel economy in the low 30s, the Subaru Impreza makes a practical car for the new grad. Standard all-wheel-drive makes it an even better choice for those who live or travel in locations with wintery weather, while new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support give its electronics a modern edge.

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2 of 12 Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Hyundai Elantra GT

The newest Elantra combines an impressively modern set of features, from active safety to its cabin electronics. In hatchback form it becomes very practical, yet for grads who love to drive, it can be had with a 201 horsepower engine and sport-tuned suspension.

Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback
3 of 12 Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback

The new hatchback version of Chevrolet's Cruze model adds cargo capacity to a solid platform, an economical car perfect for a new grad to pick and move as life requires. The Cruze Hatchback is notable for its smart MyLink dashboard system, supporting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Also standard is OnStar, a telematics system that helps keep drivers safe.

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4 of 12 Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Chevrolet Trax

For grads who want to stick to Chevrolet but want something a little taller than the Cruze Hatchback, the Trax offers similar practicality. It's an economical car with reasonable cargo capacity, and includes Chevrolet electronics, which mean OnStar telematics and MyLink for stereo control and phone integration. The Trax can also be had with all-wheel-drive, giving it a traction edge in slippery conditions.

Honda Civic Hatchback
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Honda Civic Hatchback

The Honda Civic sedan has always been a can't-go-wrong vehicle choice, but the return of the hatchback body for 2017 adds even more practicality with increased cargo carrying capabilities to help recent grads with moves and shuttling friends and their stuff around. For those looking for a sportier drive experience, a six-speed manual transmission is available on LX and Sport models, while the continuously variable transmission is also offered and helps return 40 miles per gallon on the highway. Bluetooth, Pandora capabilities and SMS text messaging is standard on all Civic Hatchbacks, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on EX models and above.

Honda HR-V
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Honda HR-V

With a starting MSRP of $19,465, the Honda HR-V is a solid and affordable choice for a recent graduate looking for their first new car. A trick second-row Magic Seat system provides unobstructed floor space for additional cargo carrying flexibility. For young adults who live in parts of the country that experience real winter weather, all-wheel drive is also available. Standard infotainment includes Bluetooth, USB audio interface and a 5-inch center screen, while EX models add SMS text messaging, Display Audio and a 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen display.

Mazda Mazda3
7 of 12 Mazda

Mazda3

If your favorite grad likes to strike out on the open road, the Mazda3 is an excellent choice. A manual transmission is available in all but the Touring trim line, and the optional 2.5-liter engine puts out 184 horsepower. Hello, twisties!

Mazda CX-3
8 of 12 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Mazda CX-3

The CX-3 is perfect for those grads who want a bit of driving fun and also need the security of all-wheel drive. It's not quite as big as the Mazda3 but still offers just over 42 cubic feet of space. With 32 mpg on the highway, the CX-3 will need minimal time at the gas station.

Nissan Versa Note
9 of 12 Nissan

Nissan Versa Note

At under $16,000 for a base model, the Nissan Versa Note is well within entry car pricing territory, but it looks more exciting than a typical economy car. Not only does it offer practical cargo space, but Nissan's latest styling language gives it flair that will make any owner happy. At 109 horsepower, its four cylinder engine isn't overly powerful, but a continuously variable transmission will wring out the most efficiency.

Although lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the dashboard offers a touchscreen-based stereo and Bluetooth phone system, keeping it up with the time.

Nissan Rogue Sport
10 of 12 Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Nissan Rogue Sport

For graduates looking for a small, but not too small of crossover, the arrival of the Nissan Rogue Sport may be for them. Sized below entries like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but bigger than the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, the Rogue Sport is a tweener when it comes to dimensions. It could prove to be the just-right option that's over a foot shorter than the regular Rogue. A host of safety tech will be available including blind-spot monitoring, forward emergency braking and rear cross-traffic alert.

2018 Toyota C-HR
11 of 12 Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Toyota C-HR

A combination sports car, at least in style, and compact SUV, the Toyota C-HR will earn both a second and third look as it drives down the street. Along with its style, grads will appreciate moderate cargo capacity and room for friends.

What might be more unexpected is the C-HR's comfortable ride quality and solid drive dynamics. Those qualities will make trips home for the holidays much more enjoyable than with a typical stiff-suspension economy car.

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12 of 12 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Kia Soul

The Kia Soul remains one of our top choices as an entry-level car, as it combines excellent practicality in its cabin space, a youthful design and fine driving dynamics. Coupled with its base price of around $16,000, the Soul looks too good to pass up.

Even better now, Kia offers a few different drivetrain options, making the Soul suitable for drivers with different needs. A 130 horsepower 1.6-liter engine offers reasonable power and good fuel economy, but step up to the turbocharged version and you're looking at a solid 201 horsepower. For the very eco-conscious, however, Kia offers the Soul EV, a fully electric car with about 93 miles of range, enough for most commutes.

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