2018 Nissan Leaf SL
5. Nissan Leaf
For students looking for an affordable, roomy electric car, why not go with the original.
Leafs are affordable, with leases in California starting at $219 a month with $3,979 due at signing. That makes it $120 less per month than the Bolt EV, and current Leaf owners can get another $1,000 off.
It offers good cargo space for a small hatchback, and newer or timid drivers can get a hand from Nissan's Pro-Pilot Assist.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV
4. Chevrolet Bolt EV
For students who want to go pure electric, it's hard to beat the Bolt EV. It offers more range than any car short of a Tesla—and even more than the entry-level Model Ses that started off this list.
The Bolt is compact and easy to see out of, and its tall hatchback format incorporates a deep cargo well inside. As in the Volt, the Bolt EV's modern touchscreen offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to keep students' familiar apps close at hand. Act fast! If too many students buy a Bolt, GM could be the next automaker to reach the limits of its federal tax credits.
2017 Chevrolet Volt in Vancouver, BC, Canada
3. Chevrolet Volt
The Chevy Volt is the longest-range plug-in hybrid on the market, and often the most affordable after accounting for rebates and special offers. Its gas engine can get 42 mpg on the way home from school or when taking friends off-campus for a weekend away. Fold the back seats down, and the Volt offers a roomy storage area under its big hatchback.
Right now, it's available to lease for $234 a month with $0 down for 36 months. that should get a student through most of what they need to accomplish. So far it's also eligible for the federal government's full $7,500 tax credit.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime test drive, Ojai, California, Sep 2016
2. Toyota Prius Prime
When driving around campus, very few students will probably go beyond the confines of the Prius Prime's 25-mile electric range. For trips home its gas engine will go the distance and get 54 mpg doing it. Like the Tesla, it has a huge center touch screen. (OK, not quite as huge, at 11.6 inches, and only included in upper trim levels. The Prime offers plenty of space to lug a dorm room full of stuff back to school—more than the Volt. It seats only four, but that could keep students from excessive distraction as they're driving.
Unlike a used Tesla, the Prius Prime will earn a $4,502 tax credit for whomever buys it—as long as they earn enough in a year to owe that much in taxes.
2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid
1. Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
The Kia Niro may be the perfect car for students. It has plenty of electric range to get off campus or to class, while delivering 46 mpg from its gas engine. It easily exceeds both its range and mpg ratings in real world driving. It has more space inside than the Toyota Prius Prime and can seat three tall frat brothers in the back seat. It also has one of the simplest center touch-screen interfaces around that also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Niro comes loaded, and buyers can even opt for features to get through the winter at an Ivy League or small liberal arts college in New England, such as rear seat heaters and a heated steering wheel. No one has to know you're riding in the lap of efficient luxury in the Kia. Buyers are eligible for a $4,543 federal tax credit.