It's finally that time of year--when schoolgoers of all ages get very sad, when parents breathe a sigh of relief.

It's time to go back to school, and the kids are almost set: tablets, new sneakers, a sweet backpack. 

Wait, did you forget something? How about a new set of wheels? School time is a great time to consider a new car, because a new model year brings bigger discounts on the outgoing models. Never mind that; it's the perfect chance to show off in the pickup lane.

While you make one last back-to-school shopping list--cars to test-drive--we'll let you share our notes. We've picked our top choices for back-to-school vehicles, for every stage of education, from kindergarten to passing the bar. And in each case, we've picked some of the safest, most value-packed vehicles you can buy.

You need something that makes the wheels go round and round with maximum safety, a minimum of fuss, and the most entertainment per mile. How about something that actually looks like a bus? The top-rated Ford Flex wagon is stuffed with its DVD entertainment systems, Bluetooth streaming, and excellent crash-test scores. The only thing missing? Maybe a coat of school-bus yellow paint.

Middle School: 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan

Life's sloppy years force parents to think more practically when it comes to cars. What you really need to endure the early teen years and their overscheduled pace is a Dodge Grand Caravan. Base-priced from just about $20,000, you can spec out one of these minivans in the mid-$25,000 range and get Stow 'N Go seating, Bluetooth streaming audio, a reasonable amount of power and safety features, and save some bank for UConnect's in-car 3G data service so every passenger can log into wifi and email their homework ahead of class. We're sure that actually happens, somewhere.

High School: 2014 Honda Civic Coupe

If your high schooler is lucky enough to have earned a car, you want it to be safe. They want it not to be the social equivalent of leprosy. A nice compromise is the Honda Civic Coupe, which isn't too fast, and not unattractive. It's an excellent choice for safety and gas mileage, too--and it's likely to still be running when the next kid needs to inherit it.

College: 2014 Subaru BRZ

Since college is really just high school with an expense budget, some of the choices overlap. For the undergrad with a reputation to enhance--and the parents with a righteous amount of anxiety--something like a Subaru BRZ sends the right signals. The BRZ's a great choice, good-looking and trackable right out of the dealer box, but with Subaru's typically excellent safety ratings.

Law School: 2014 Ford Fusion

You're going to have to defend your choice of wheels to a broad range of judges--everyone from first-year hotties to more learned hands. You need something that stands up for freedom and justice too--so we're going with a Ford Fusion. Excellent styling, great handling and features, and a safety rating that can't be dismissed on any technicalities give the best American mid-size sedan the right to a place in your garage.

Medical School: 2014 Chevrolet Volt

You're going to have to be prepared for anything, so the drivetrain-androgynous Volt seems like a good fit. You can run on electric power for the short hops between campus and the clinic--or rely on gas when you're hunting down a residency slot halfway across the country. The Volt's hatchback cargo space won't hold much, but other than a black bag and a prescription iPad, what more do you need? Oh, right. Sleep.

Business School: BMW M3

Kellogg or Wharton or Gozuieta already has you down for a cool $100,000--so what's another $60,000? The BMW M3 is the ultimate acquisition target. Numbers people are driven to the BMW M3 by its siren song of performance stats and unquantifiable prestige. We're down with that, even though we were told there would be no math.

Ph.D. School: 2014 Chevy Spark EV

So, you're on your third or fourth degree. Sorry, you can't afford a new car. With all that grant money swinging your way, you may be able to lease one--so how about something green? The Chevy Spark EV has useful driving range, and you'll probably get great parking on campus at any school progressive enough to reward the plug. You can make change happen; you'll just have to hold your nose and overlook the guy who made it possible.


Follow The Car Connection on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

(c) 2013, High Gear Media.