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Best Cars for College Students

Your kid is heading off to college in the fall and you want to help him or her buy a new car to take to school. You might even want to surprise your teen with the car for a high school graduation gift. Maybe grandma and grandpa are helping out with a down payment.

While you might want to get your son or daughter a budget-friendly entry-level subcompact car, good things don't always come in small packages when it comes to crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommends midsize and large cars for teen drivers because they offer better crash protection than a compact car. According to a January 2015 IIHS status report, among four-door cars, drivers of very large cars, like the Ford Crown Victoria, were the least likely to die in a crash, while small and subcompact four-door cars, like the Nissan Versa and Kia Rio, had much higher driver death rates. Midsize and large cars also had lower driver death rates among four-door cars than small and subcompact cars.

2015 Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V (American Honda Motor Co., Inc.)

SUVs are also a great option if you're shopping for a new car for your college student. "With ESC dramatically reducing rollover risk, the inherent advantages offered by SUVs' greater size, weight and height emerge more clearly," the IIHS noted in its January status report. "Today's SUVs have the lowest driver death rate of any vehicle type." ESC stands for electronic stability control and is standard on all new vehicles. When there is a loss of steering control, ESC automatically kicks in and applies the brakes to individual wheels to correct the steering and help guide the vehicle back to the driver's intended course. Midsize and large SUVs, like the Kia Sorento and Toyota Sequoia, had lower driver death rates than small and very large SUVs, like the Jeep Patriot and Chevrolet Suburban.

[See photos of the 10 best cars for college students]

High-tech safety features, like forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera, forward collision prevention/automatic braking, lane keep assist, driver drowsiness monitoring and night vision with pedestrian detection are features you’ll want to consider getting when shopping for a vehicle for your college student. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends making sure any car you buy has at least a rearview camera, lane departure warning and forward collision warning.

Great Cars for College Students:

Subaru Legacy

The midsize 2015 Subaru Legacy is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and received the highest five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA. The Legacy is also fully redesigned for 2015 and comes standard with all-wheel drive, which will help if your teen is headed to a college that gets rainy or snowy weather. Reviewers like the Legacy's high-end cabin materials and easy-to-use infotainment system.

Chrysler 200

The 2015 Chrysler 200 is another car that is all-new for 2015 and has top safety ratings. This redesigned midsize sedan is available with all-wheel drive, which wasn't available as an option in the past. Your college student probably wants a high-tech infotainment system in their new car, and the Chrysler 200's system is known as one of the best in the class. The Chrysler 200's trunk is big for a midsize car, which will come in handy when Junior comes home for the holidays with a trunk full of dirty laundry.

[Slideshow: Safest Cars for Teens]

Mazda Mazda6

The 2015 Mazda6 gets great fuel economy for the midsize car class, which your college student will appreciate on those long road trips. You can sleep well at night knowing your teen is well-protected in case of an accident thanks to the Mazda6's strong safety ratings.

2015 Chrysler 200

Chrysler 200 (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Toyota Camry

Toyota gave the Camry some new styling for 2015, and reviewers think it's more attractive than the 2014 model. Test drivers think the Toyota Camry has composed handling and a very comfortable ride. The Camry is also liked for its extraordinarily quiet cabin, and it has excellent safety ratings. The Toyota Camry's high reliability rating makes it a car your high school grad will likely keep through college and beyond.

[Affordable Midsize Car Rankings]

Hyundai Elantra

The 2015 Hyundai Elantra is one of the larger compact cars. In fact, it’s actually considered a midsize car by the EPA. Critics say the available navigation system is easy to use. The 2015 Elantra sedan is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and it received the highest five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA. Its lower base price compared to midsize cars means you'll save some money too.

Great SUVs for College Students:

Kia Sorento

The redesigned midsize 2016 Kia Sorento is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and it has a five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA. Your college student likely doesn't need the optional third row of seats, but with only two rows, reviewers think it has plenty of passenger space. The Sorento's cargo space and fuel economy estimates are good for the class, and critics say the cabin is handsome and filled with premium materials.

Honda CR-V

Though the 2015 Honda CR-V is a compact and not a midsize SUV, it still has a four-star overall NHTSA safety rating and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with the optional front crash prevention system, which automatically applies the brakes if it senses an impending collision.The CR-V's cargo and back-seat space are excellent for a small SUV, and the CR-V comes standard with a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a USB port and Pandora Internet radio compatibility, which your high school grad is sure to like.

2015 GMC Terrain

GMC Terrain (General Motors)

Mazda CX-5

The 2015 Mazda CX-5 gets good fuel economy for the class, and reviewers think the CX-5 has a roomy, upscale cabin. With the optional low-speed automatic braking/front crash prevention system, the Mazda CX-5 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and has a five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA.

[Affordable Compact SUV Rankings]

Chevrolet Equinox

Though the 2015 Chevrolet Equinox ranks in our compact SUV class, it’s big enough that the IIHS considers it a midsize SUV and named it a Top Safety Pick. NHTSA gave it a four-star overall safety rating. Your high school grad will likely be impressed that the Equinox comes standard with a subscription-based 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot.

GMC Terrain

The 2015 GMC Terrain is similar to the Equinox in that the IIHS considers it a midsize SUV, and named it a Top Safety Pick. The Equinox also has a four-star overall safety rating from NHTSA. Although the GMC Terrain is very similar to the Chevrolet Equinox since both SUVs are built by General Motors, auto critics think the Terrain's cabin is more luxurious.