BEST USED CARS FOR LESS THAN $10K
Small Cars with ESC (Electronic Stability Control): Ford Focus (2009 and 2010), Pontiac Vibe (2006 thru 2009) and Scion xB (2008 and 2009). Consumer Reports cited the Focus for its "steady ride, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and sporty handling." We see the Vibe as an overlooked gem in the hunt to find a credible used car, sharing its platform with the Corolla-based Matrix. And the Scion (Toyota) xB offers a funky vibe enclosing an extremely useful interior; it's a cargo box on wheels. With the discontinuation of Toyota's Scion franchise, we already miss it.
Sedans: Acura TL (2006), Acura TSX (2006), Hyundai Sonata (2007 thru 2009) and Mazda's Mazda6 (2009). Historically, if shopping for a sedan 10+ years old, you'd be hard-pressed to purchase something you could regularly rely on. That, of course, was before Japan started building and distributing entry-level luxury. As CR noted, "you can stick to your budget and still get a reliable premium car if you choose the slick-handling Acura TL." And if the TL seems too substantial, Acura's smaller TSX is a sportier derivative, sharing its platform with the Euro-based Honda Accord. In 2007 Hyundai was fully invested in the building of its cars and rebuilding of its reputation; its Sonata (2007 thru 2009) reflects that work. Finally, the Mazda6 is a credible alternative to the Accord and Camry, assuming – of course – you can find one. Its sales have historically been a fraction of those enjoyed by Honda or Toyota.
SUVs and Minivans: Honda CR-V (2006), Honda Pilot (2006) and Toyota Sienna (2006). Ten years ago, SUVs and crossovers didn't enjoy the sales penetration they do today. But for Honda it didn't matter – the franchise had two of the hottest crossover tickets on the planet. The Honda CR-V remains the class standard, while the Pilot provides much the same thing, only in a bigger, more substantial offering. Finally, for families in real need of space and a tight budget in which to pay for it, there are few options better than Toyota's Sienna.
BEST USED CARS FOR $20,000 TO $25K.
Sedans: Ford Fusion (2014 and 2015), Subaru Legacy (2014 and 2015) and Toyota Avalon (2012). The magazine gave a shout out to the Ford Fusion, "with its composed ride and European-style handling the Fusion is a reliable, roomy sedan." In a Subaru showroom, the Legacy is a bit like the unwanted stepchild, with an accommodating interior, standard all-wheel drive and a price point that should be significantly more aggressive than its immediate competitors; it simply isn't an Outback. And since you were going to ask anyway, if looking for an expansive sedan well worth the money, check out Toyota's Avalon.
SUVs: Nissan Murano (2012 and 2013), Subaru Forester (2012 and 2013), and Toyota Sequoia (2008). Here we have something for virtually everyone. Consumer Reports cites the Murano's "secure handling and a rich interior." The Subaru Forester enjoys standard AWD, a generous rear seat, a credible attempt at visibility and a comfortable ride. And should you need to both haul and tow, you'll be hard-pressed to improve on the performance – especially in the context of carrying passengers and towing their stuff – than in Toyota's Sequoia.
Luxury: Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2009), Acura RDX (2011) and Lexus RX (2010). Pre-owned luxury is something CR is generally hard-pressed to get its editorial head around. With a 'fun-to-drive' footprint, smooth ride and first-class cabin the Mercedes delivers huge bang for your automotive buck. Although selling well, Acura's RDX remains relatively quiet in the near-luxury crossover segment. And the Lexus RX has proven to be both reliable and versatile – a lot to like when budgeting under $25,000. Opt for the hybrid version and enjoy efficiency not unlike that of a compact SUV – with considerably more space and refinement.
WORST (OF THE WORST) USED CARS
This collection is illuminating. We assumed the listing would be chock full of old German, and while vintage 'Deutsch' can certainly be found, so can a number of domestic products, despite the advances in quality and reliability among what we used to know as the Big Three. What follows is CR's 'worst of the worst'.
- BMW 5-Series: 2006 – 2008, 2010 – 2012
- Chevy Cruze: 2011 – 2013
- Chevy Traverse: 2009 – 2011
- Chrysler PT Cruiser: 2006 – 2008
- Chrysler Town & Country: 2006 – 2013
- Dodge Challenger: 2013 – 2014
- Dodge Grand Caravan: 2006 – 2013
- Dodge Journey: 2009, 2012 – 2014
- Fiat 500: 2012 – 2013, 2015
- Ford Fiesta: 2011 – 2014
- Ford Focus: 2012 – 2014
- GMC Acadia: 2007 – 2014
- Jeep Grand Cherokee: 2007, 2010 – 2014
- Mercedes-Benz GL-Class: 2013 – 2015
- Mini Cooper: 2006 – 2012, 2014
- Mini Cooper Countryman: 2011 – 2012
- Nissan Pathfinder: 2013 – 2014
- Pontiac Torrent: 2006 – 2009
- Saturn Outlook: 2007 – 2009
- Tesla Model S: 2012 – 2013, 2015
- Volkswagen GTI: 2010 – 2013
- Volkswagen Tiguan: 2009 - 2012