The automotive industry may be in a scramble to secure engineering talent, but what it really seems to need are people who understand the Millennial generation. Every week there’s a new study claiming Millennials aren’t buying cars, or don’t want to drive, or would rather take Ubers everywhere.
Hatchbacks have always captured the attention of younger buyers, and the latest models bring a whole lot more to the table than just a useful shape. The Kia Soul may have been the victim of some strange Hamster-related marketing, but the product itself should be taken very seriously.
Eye-catching looks, solid build quality, and a sub-$16,000 price tag would be enough to entice Millennial shoppers, but stellar suspension tuning, intuitive convenience features, and a great warranty are responsible for the Soul’s immense sales success. While the standard four-cylinder powertrains deliver reasonable performance, Kia also offers an all-electric version with 90+ miles of range per charge.
While some Millennials see their vehicles as extensions of their personality, or access to a certain lifestyle, others just want a cheap, reliable form of transportation. For these individuals, the Toyota Corolla delivers, flawlessly. Fresh from a redesign, the new Corolla has just enough styling intrigue to usher buyers into dealers, but stops short of being truly desirable.
A good mix of soft-touch materials and thoughtful designs can be found in the Corolla’s cabin, along with a user-friendly touchscreen interface. Don’t expect a Mazda3-esque performance driving experience out of the Corolla, but instead you can rely on 37 mpg on the highway and enduring comfort.
Staying within the sub-$20,000 price point, Chevrolet’s second generation Cruze touts class-leading connectivity and upscale styling to attract Millennial customers. With a standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, several in-car apps, and available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the new Cruze speaks in a language Millennials can understand.
In addition to its long list of convenience features, the 2016 Cruze has lost 250 lbs in its transition from the first generation while borrowing design traits from the new Chevy Malibu. The automaker’s new 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder is also standard on every trim, delivering 155hp and returning 40 mpg on the highway. The Cruze is an excellent option for Millennials who are looking to purchase their first new car.
For Millennials with a few more dollars in their pockets, the Lexus CT200h costs a premium, but boasts additional refinement. Lexus may not be the only player in the small luxury hybrid segment, but its stylish hatchback is already a hit within its target demographic.
Borrowing a 1.8-liter four-cylinder and an electric motor from the Toyota Prius, the CT200h delivers 134hp. Only a CVT (continuously variable transmission) is available, which helps the luxury compact hit a combined 42 mpg, a few miles per gallon less than the lighter Prius. Though rivals like the A3 e-tron and BMW i3 will have no trouble out-performing the CT200h in a straight line, they do so at the cost of efficiency.
When it comes to hot trends in the automotive world, subcompact crossovers are perched at the very top of the “it” list. As Millennials exceed Baby Boomers in population, it makes sense that these affordable, stylish vehicles are doing so well. Among the entrants to the market, Mazda’s CX-3 races to the front of the class thanks to bold styling, superb ride quality, and swift handling.
While the base level CX-3 doesn’t offer much in the way of convenience features, higher trim levels boast large infotainment displays, advanced safety technology, and premium materials. Powering the CX-3 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 146hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. In a vehicle that weighs less than 2,900 lbs, that’s plenty of pep. Millennials who love to pile friends into their cars will also appreciate the added legroom and utility of a subcompact crossover.
Speaking of great subcompact crossovers, Jeep’s Renegade was an instant success when it rolled onto the scene in 2015, and continues to be one of FCA’s best-selling models. Based on the Fiat 500X platform, the Renegade wraps off-road engineering within an affordable, clever package. Millennials who enjoy breaking from technology every once in a while will appreciate the Renegade’s sizeable cargo volume and generous ride height.
There are a few different trims available on the Renegade, but the most rugged of shoppers will want the Trailhawk edition, which includes a one-inch lift, tow hooks, all-terrain tires, and more durable bumpers. The Renegade is the perfect introduction to the Jeep brand, at a price thousands less than the next most affordable model, the Cherokee.
Honda’s Civic has held a vice grip on the 18-35 age group for years now, and its all-new 10th generation model should maintain the trend for years to come. The four-door sedan and two-door coupe isn’t just attractive, it’s also a return to fun-to-drive form for the Japanese automaker. With an available 174-hp turbocharged engine and a smooth-shifting six-speed manual, Millennial car shoppers with personality are flocking to the new Civic.
Honda says buyers in this age range often settle on their next car purchase when spotting it on the road, before they ever test drive it. That’s probably why the 2016 Civic’s exterior styling is so dramatic. Inside, the car can be optioned with the latest in safety and infotainment features to turn a compact commuter into a veritable entry-level luxury car. Apple Carplay, Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automatic braking assist…the list goes on. To top it all off, whichever motor you choose returns some of the best fuel economy figures in the class.
The VW Golf has been a hit since it first went on sale over 30 years ago. In the time since its inception, the German automaker has refined the hatchback into one of the most appealing vehicles for buyers young and old while 18-35 year olds remain the Golf’s target audience. Like the Fiesta ST, the Golf will cost more than most vehicles on this list, but Millennials will appreciate the car’s mature image.
The seventh generation Golf comes in a few flavors, but the range-topping R designation is all-wheel drive performance at its best. Nearly 300hp and a 0-60 mph sprint of less than 5.0 seconds are on par with entry-level sports cars that wish they had the same utility as the Golf.
MINI Cooper Hardtop
MINI has always been, uh, unique, in the compact segment, and while its vehicles have grown over the years, the Cooper continues to stand for quirky fun above all. The Cooper Hardtop now comes in 2 and 4-door variants, letting Millennials choose whether they want to wedge their friends behind the front seats or treat them to an extra set of doors and more legroom.
Whichever body style you choose, the Cooper Hardtop is agile, peppy, and well engineered. A new 3-cylinder turbocharged powertrain serves up 134hp and is paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. In addition to a perky powertrain, the Cooper can be equipped with advanced safety and convenience features, but comes standard with cool technology like rain-sensing wipers and rev-match gear changes.
Ford Fiesta ST
If design and performance are your main buying criteria, then the Ford Fiesta ST is about as good as it gets for under $25,000. A turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder delivers 197hp and 202 lb-ft of torque - impressive power for a subcompact hatch. Complementing the Fiesta ST’s excellent powertrain is a crisp six-speed manual transmission, form-fitting Recaro sport seats, and a nimble suspension setup.
Though the Fiesta ST can promote a boy-racer vibe that Millennials might have outgrown, its styling is still attractive and the cabin employs quality materials. Rivaling sport models costing quite a bit more would have a tough time keeping up with the Fiesta ST, including iconic hot hatches like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
While the data is mostly accurate, the responses and interpretations of the study results are way off base. Some automakers seem to think loading a new car with gadgets will automatically sell more of them. Perhaps worse are those that ignore any obvious differences between Millennial and previous generations, choosing to produce the same conservative models year after year.
Fortunately, some brands have invested in diagnosing the needs and wants of this highly connected, diverse segment. Manufacturers who prioritize intuitive, adaptive in-car technologies packaged in affordable, handsome vehicles will own their respective sales classes. Let’s take a look at which makes and models are leading the charge.