Heading off to university is an exciting time for students. For many, it’s the first time they have lived away from home. And it’s the time when young adults get to explore more about themselves and the world around them.

Heading to university also coincides with the time many students have just passed their driving test. So naturally, that means they want to have a car. But with most uni students being on a limited income, being without full-time employment - car costs are naturally going to be a major consideration. 

So here we are going to explore seven cost-effective options for students on a budget. We've also taken into consideration fuel efficiency. With rising petrol costs in Australia, no uni student wants to be forking out big dollars on their petrol bill.

The cars are ranked in no particular order but they have all been selected for their affordability, reliability and desirability.

So what are the best cars for students in 2022?

1. Mazda 2

The Mazda 2 was originally launched back in 2014. But despite being close to 8 years old now, the little Mazda remains a class act. The car has a quality feel and comes extremely well-equipped. And while it’s no longer the cheapest supermini out there, it still represents excellent value for money.

There is no denying this car's age though. While the interior is well-equipped, the infotainment system is a little clunky. And some of the plastics feel a little cheap compared to new rivals from Hyundai and Kia. But the fun handling more than makes up for any downsides.


Cute styling

Excellent safety rating

Playful handling

Good value for money


Outdated infotainment system

Not that spacious

Starting to feel its age

After A Reliable Small Car? See Our Top 7 List

2. Suzuki Swift

The Suzuki Swift is often overlooked by more modern rivals, but this is a fun little car that comes well equipped, has a five-star ANCAP rating and offers excellent performance and economy from its frugal 1.4-litre engine. And despite being one of the smaller cars here, the little Suzuki is surprisingly spacious inside.

On the downside, the interior is starting to show its age. The plastics feel cheap and simple luxuries like a central armrest are missing. And the infotainment system also feels a generation out of date. But the dynamic handling and zippy engine more than make up for any downsides.


Great handling

Excellent engines

Good standard of equipment


Interior lacks quality

Small boot

Feels underpowered

Looking For A Hatchback? Check Out Our Article On Australia's 7 Best Hatchbacks In 2022

3. Fiat 500

The Fiat 500 has long been a favourite for younger buyers thanks to its retro looks and zesty engines. But this car is getting on for 15 years old now, so how does it stack up against the more modern competition? Well, it’s lacking some of the latest safety technology and the rear seats are cramped. But it’s on the road where this car excels.

Few cars raise a smile like this one. The handling is crisp and the ride is surprisingly refined for such a small car. The interior is also a nice place to be thanks to its funky retro design and use of quality materials. So yes, the little Fiat can still hold its own against new rivals, but it’s not quite the bargain it once was.


Refined ride

Quality cabin

Retro styling


Cramped rear seats

Tiny boot

Recommended Reading: Australia's 7 Best New Cars Under $20k

4. Toyota Corolla

The 2022 Toyota Corolla is the only car in this list available with a choice of petrol and hybrid powertrains. But it’s also one of the more expensive cars here, with prices for the hybrid starting at $34,695. That being said, this is one of the cheapest ways to get a hybrid and it happens to be one of the best.

If a brand new Corolla is outside your budget, it's worth looking at some used models from recent years. Toyota's are known for their reliability so picking up a used Corolla can be a solid option while allowing you to save money.

The Corolla also handles well and comes equipped with the latest active safety technology. Pedestrian/cyclist protection, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and reversing cameras are all standard. So there isn't much negative to say about this car. It’s great value, fun to drive, cheap to run and looks great.


Looks great

Handles great

Generously equipped

Attractive pricing


Limited legroom in the back

Smaller engines lack power

Noisy on rough roads

See How The Toyota Corolla Compares To The Mazda 3

5. Hyundai i30

The Hyundai i30 received a facelift in 2022 to keep the now five-year-old model competitive against new models from Kia and Toyota. The update is subtle, but it only needed to be. The Hyundai i30 is one of the most well-rounded cars on sale today. The interior is well packaged, the ride is refined and the 2.0L engine is very efficient.

But it’s value for money where the Hyundai i30 excels. This is a family-sized hatchback but prices start at just $23,420 before on-road costs. And Hyundai offers a non-nonsense service program that caps service costs at $279 a year for the first five years. So all things considered, this is a great car that offers a painless ownership experience.


Spacious interior

Excellent ride

Low running costs


Lacks the wow factor

Buggy infotainment system

Driver aids are overly sensitive

Read Our Review Of The Hyundai i30

6. Kia Cerato

The Cerato is one of Kia’s best selling models in Australia. More than 155,000 of them have been sold since 2003. Aussies love the Cerato for its grown-up styling, spacious well equipped interior and dynamic handling. And with prices starting at just $25,990, it offers incredible value as well.

The Cerato is a mid-sized family hatchback that can comfortably seat four plus luggage. But that doesn't mean its handling has been compromised. Far from it, this is one of the most accomplished handling cars on the list. So if you are a student looking for a great value, spacious car that is also fun to drive, the Cerato is well worth a look.


Excellent handling

Quality cabin

Spacious interior

Great value


Gearbox slow to change

Dashboard feels dated

Learn More About The Kia Cerato

7. MG 3

MG has a reputation for delivering high-quality cars at affordable prices. And that tradition continues with the compact MG 3. Despite being the cheapest car on the list the little MG 3 comes equipped with 15-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, leather-trimmed steering wheel and rear parking sensors as standard.

However, some active safety features are missing including auto emergency braking, pedestrian/cyclist detection and lane-keeping technology. These are all standard equipment on the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato. But the MG is significantly cheaper than either of those two. So if money is tight, the MG is a good option.


Great value

7-year unlimited KM warranty

Well equipped


Missing some safety features

Fuel consumption is not class-leading

Related Reading: The 7 Best Cars For P-Platers In Australia

Final thoughts

Buying a car may seem like an extravagant luxury, especially for students struggling to pay off student loans. But, for many students, a car is a necessity. They need one to get to uni and attend off-campus interviews. Having a car at university can also save money on public transport.

The question then becomes, should you buy new or used? With money tight, many students will instinctively go for a cheap second-hand runabout. But this could be a false economy. What happens if something goes wrong? The last thing you want is an expensive repair bill. In this case, buying new may be the better option and it could last you 10+ years before you need to worry. 

With currently low-interest rates, a new car could be more affordable than you think when financed. With fixed repayments, you’ll know exactly how much to budget for each month. But if you would prefer to save some money and buy used, check out our article on 20 of the most reliable used cars in Australia. 

For a great deal on financing your new purchase, contact Australia's best reviewed finance broker on 1300 Credit (1300 273 348) today or visit CreditOne.com.au

Jordan Ballard

Jordan Ballard

Automotive Content Editor

Jordan is a car finance and automotive industry specialist at Only Cars. With over 20 years of experience with frontline and management roles in sales, finance and other areas, Jordan has an incredible understanding of the automotive industry. As Automotive Content Editor, Jordan loves sharing his passion for cars with the Only Cars audience.