2018 Honda Civic Si

There's a reason everyone and their mother drives a Civic: It's a really, really good car. The turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine is our top choice, available in the sporty Civic Si seen here, or in the still-quite-good base Civic models.

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The 2018 Honda Civic sedan starts at $18,840, but you can also have a two-door coupe for $19,250 or a hatchback for $20,050. The Si coupe and sedan both start at $24,100.

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Of course, you can always go full-on wannabe-racer with the Civic Type R. With more than 300 horsepower, you shouldn't have any problem getting to your first day of work on time.

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2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata

A Miata is always the answer, so we couldn't resist putting it on our list. It starts at $25,295, but we like the Club trim, which costs $29,155 and gets you Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential and optional Brembo brakes.  

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The 2018 MX-5 is available with a soft top or with a supersexy retractable hardtop as on the Miata RF seen here.

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With a car as small and light as a Miata, 155 horsepower feels like much more. And do yourself a favor, get it with the six-speed manual transmission.

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2018 Toyota Tacoma

At some point in your life, everyone could use a truck, and we totally dig the Toyota Tacoma. A 2.7-liter engine is standard with 159 horsepower, but trust us, go for the 3.5-liter V6. The larger engine puts out 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet torque, all the better for hauling and towing. 

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With the TRD Pro model, you can get pretty much anywhere, but if you're more price-conscious, a base SR starts at $25,200 and includes Toyota's suite of advanced driver's aids standard. 

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Toyota's Entune infotainment system, however, is merely okay. It doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But hey, at least the Tacoma has Qi wireless smartphone charging

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2018 Jeep Wrangler

If your post-academia plans entail convertible rock-climbing, you can't go wrong with the 2018 Jeep Wrangler. Even the lowest trim comes standard with four-wheel drive and a new electric soft top can easily bring in the sun.

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Oh, and did we mention the windshield folds down? 

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The Wrangler starts at $27,495 and comes standard with a strong Pentastar V6 engine, or you can swap in a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine for an extra $1,000.

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2018 Ford Mustang Convertible

Celebrate your academic achievements with some classic Americana: the Ford Mustang Convertible.

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A convertible with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine starts at $31,180, but we can't resist the 5.0-liter GT with 460 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual transmission. 

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Mustang Convertible on the beach. Sounds nice doesn't it? (Just don't get stuck!)

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2018 Volvo XC40

If you know you'll be getting a big signing bonus (or have really generous parents), why not splurge on a Volvo XC40? And while you're at it, spring for the top-level Inscription trim, starting at $39,750.

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The XC40 comes in a number of two-tone combinations, like this R-Design model in white with a black roof.

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The XC40's interior features sleek Swedish design, but it's way better than Ikea. A 9-inch touchscreen houses Volvo's Sensus infotainment system, and everywhere you look, the cabin is nothing but clean lines and lovely inlays.

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2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Looking for an EV? If range is your top priority, go for the Chevrolet Bolt EV. With 238 miles of all-electric range you should be able to get to work and back with no problem.

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The Bolt starts at $37,495 but that can drop down to under $30,000 with federal tax credits, or even less than that, depending on state and local incentives.

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A 10.2-inch touchscreen runs the Bolt's intuitive MyLink infotainment system, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

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2018 Nissan Leaf

If you want an EV but are more concerned with price, the Nissan Leaf is a great choice. The smartly designed Leaf starts at $29,990 before state and federal rebates.

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The trade-off? Less range. The Leaf is estimated to get 151 miles of electric range. It's good, but the Bolt goes farther.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are only available on the upper SV trim. Nissan's excellent ProPilot Assist lane-centering system with adaptive cruise control can be had as part of the SV Technology Package. 

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2018 Ford EcoSport

The Ford EcoSport is a cute little crossover that starts under $20,000 and comes standard with a turbocharged 1.0-liter engine.

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For an extra $1,595, you can get a more powerful, 166-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, as well as all-wheel drive.

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An 8-inch touchscreen with Ford's Sync3 infotainment system is available, and it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

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2019 Volkswagen Jetta

For 2019, the VW Jetta is all new and vastly improved thanks to sharper looks, more features and a better ride. 

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Under the hood is a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The powerplant gets an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway.

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A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, but we recommend upgrading to the 8-inch. Not only is it visually more pleasing, it also comes with Volkswagen's Digital Cockpit. VDC is a fully configurable dashboard that puts all information right in front of the driver. It's guaranteed to impress your Tinder dates.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

The subcompact Hyundai Kona crossover SUV is a funky little runabout, perfect for those who want to stand out in the crowd. 

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Available with both front- and all-wheel drive, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, good for 147 horsepower. We recommending stepping up to a Limited or Ultimate trim, with 1.6-liter turbocharged engine putting out 175 horsepower. 

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The Hyundai Kona starts at just $19,500 for a base front-wheel-drive model, but a top-of-the-line Ultimate trim will set you back $27,400. 

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2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The all-wheel-drive Subaru Crosstrek is great choice for adventure types who need to get to work, the hiking trails and nearly everything in between. A 2.0-liter engine puts out 152 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed manual transmission in lower trims or a continuously variable transmission in higher models. 

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The Crosstrek gets Subaru's available EyeSight driver's aid technology, with lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The StarLink infotainment system now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

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The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $21,795 for a base 2.0i model, but our most recent, close-to-fully loaded Limited test vehicle with its tech upgrade ran $30,655.

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2018 Kia Soul

For fuel-efficient fun, the Kia Soul is a quirky, roomy ride. We particularly like the 1.6-liter turbo model, with 201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque and punchier dynamics.

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The Kia Soul starts at $16,200 for the base model with manual transmission, but the top-of-the-line trim with the turbocharged engine starts at $22,650. A $3,000 technology package adds driver aids. 

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The Kia Soul comes with the newest-generation UVO3 dashboard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Users interact via either a 7- or 8-inch color touchscreen depending on options chosen.

See more from CNET's Grads Gift Guide.

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