10 Best Used Car Buys
Buying a used car used to be a daunting task fraught with sales reps in loud jackets, shady oil-stained lots and makeshift offices in trailers that could be spirited out of town overnight. That was a time when the used-car industry hardly inspired confidence in the buying experience. Today’s business model has adopted codes of conduct and dispute resolution policies that take a lot of the uncertainty out of the transaction. At the same time, the quality of the products on offer has improved too, according to J.D. Power and other benchmark surveys. Still, some used models are more trouble-free than others. We’ve highlighted 10 of the most reliable used vehicles we’ve come across in the past year, based on the testimonials of motorists who’ve documented their ownership experiences online. Our picks may inform and even surprise you.
2006-13 Hyundai Accent
Looking for an inexpensive ride? The third-generation Hyundai Accent was a game changer after the old car’s frumpy styling was abandoned for clean European lines. Initially sold as a four-door sedan, the Accent shared its front-wheel-drive platform with the Kia Rio. The body structure was made 39% stiffer with a wheelbase 6 cm longer and an 8 cm taller roof. It was an accommodating subcompact, boasting more interior cubes than a Chevrolet Cobalt. Its strut-front and beam-axle rear suspension were tuned for a compliant ride.
The lone engine was an iron-block 1.6-L DOHC four-cylinder, updated with variable valve timing to fatten the power band and add six horses (for a total 110 hp). Buyers could choose between an imprecise five-speed manual transmission and an extra-cost four-speed automatic. A three-door hatchback arrived in 2007; it made headlines the following year when Hyundai priced it at $9,995. Does it hold up? Citing its tidy size, cheerful demeanor and surprisingly durability, owners unequivocally say yes.
2010-13 Chevrolet Camaro
Inspired by the awesome 1969 Camaro SS, the resurrected pony car’s chiseled body was stretched over the Zeta rear-drive platform that had underpinned the short-lived Pontiac G8, developed by GM’s Australian division. Engineers shortened the wheelbase and stiffened the platform for Camaro duty. Like the G8, it employed struts up front and an independent multilink suspension at the rear. Unfortunately, the car’s hiked-up beltline and bunker-like greenhouse compromised outward visibility.
A 304-hp, direct-injection 3.6-L DOHC V-6 was the base engine, while the Camaro SS came with one of two 6.2-L pushrod V-8s. Automatic-equipped SS models got the 400-hp L99 with gas-saving cylinder deactivation, while manual-transmission cars earned the 422-hp LS3. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions were available with any of the powerplants. The base V-6 got a boost to 312 hp for 2011, and the soft-top convertible arrived mid-year. Assembled in Ontario, this American icon has not disappointed fans. Pilots praised their cars for their copious power, tenacious road grip, smooth drivetrains and fantastic curb appeal.
2004-11 Mitsubishi Endeavor
The rare-as-a-white-rhino Mitsubishi Endeavor plumbed the lucrative sport-utility segment using its California-sourced styling to great effect. Its prominent fender flares, oversized roof rails and elephant-ear mirrors differentiated the Mitsu in a crowded field. Inside, its large cabin was comfortably accommodating for five; the temptation to shoehorn a third row of seats was rejected to preserve cargo capacity. An independent multi-link rear suspension provided a well-mannered and quiet ride.
The lone engine was an iron-block 3.8-L SOHC 24-valve V-6 working through a four-speed automatic transmission and, in all-wheel-drive models, a viscous centre differential splitting torque 50/50 between the two axles. Power was rated at just 225 hp, but a big dollop of torque (250 lb-ft) kept the Endeavor quick on its feet, although owners paid for it at the gas pump. The steering felt light and responsive, and the four-wheel disc brakes scrubbed off speed effectively. A rare gem, this Mitsu rewards owners by avoiding repair bays.
2011-13 Mazda 2
The interminably cute Mazda 2 was sold here solely as a five-door hatchback, its front-wheel-drive platform shared with the Lilliputian Ford Fiesta. While the 2 wasn’t a big seller even when gas was $1.35 per litre, those who bought one rave about the 2’s elegantly simple design, urban practicality and cheap-to-keep character. Unlike the Fiesta, the 2 was free of frills such as sunroofs and telescoping steering wheels. Mazda’s weight-obsessed engineers made even the centre armrest a grudging afterthought.
The 2’s 1.5-L DOHC four cylinder engine produced just 100 horsepower; then again, the wee hatchback weighed 108 kg less than a Honda Fit. U.K.’s Car magazine called the 2 the coolest “supermini” with a lively chassis. Given its gadget-free interior and rudimentary five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, the Mazda 2 harks back to a simpler time. For budget-minded buyers, this back-to-basics automobile has lots of goodness baked in.
2007-11 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Gasoline-electric hybrids have been around for more than a decade now, yet the predicted failed-battery pandemic hasn’t materialized. Consider the mid-size Toyota Camry Hybrid, a well-regarded sedan that was made extraordinarily good when boosted with Hybrid Synergy Drive technology. Seemingly powered by good intentions, the Camry Hybrid could sprint to 97 km/h in 7.6 seconds – a full second quicker than a regular four-cylinder Camry.
Its 2.4-L DOHC four-cylinder engine worked through a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission in concert with an electric motor. Tuned for economy, the Atkinson-cycle gas engine made 147 hp, while the AC motor churned out another 40 horses for 187 hp in total. With a balloon foot, the Hybrid could attain 50 km/h on electric power alone. Owners report an average 41 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) in mixed driving, but less in frigid weather. A fixture in the taxi industry, the Camry Hybrid is a remarkably reliable ride that has dispelled hybrid angst.
2010-13 Kia Forte
Kia’s tagline has a ring of truth for Forte owners who continue to be surprised by this compact car’s crisp styling, roomy interior, quiet ride and boatload of features. It took the shape of a four-door sedan and two-door “Koup;” a handy five-door hatchback debuted for 2011. The Forte’s somewhat plasticky cabin was loaded with standard gear including Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite radio, stability control, front-side and curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
Base LX and EX models got a 156-hp, 2.0-L four-cylinder tied to a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic, while SX models earned a 173-hp, 2.4-L four and a six-speed manual or five-speed slushbox. Both engines were muted and smooth, though the manual transmissions were judged to be sloppy and unsatisfying to use. The Forte earned the top score of “Good” in IIHS crash tests. Owners boast this Civic and Corolla competitor is a reliable runner that makes for a solid buy.
2010-13 Cadillac SRX
The aggressively restyled Cadillac SRX was downsized when it abandoned the rear-drive CTS chassis in favour of GM’s “Theta Premium” front-drive platform. The cabin featured some of the same high-touch furnishings seen in the newest CTS, including pearl-nickel chrome and walnut inlays matched with the sewn leather surfaces. There was good room for four adults and a fifth in a pinch. Drivers noted the small backlight and fat pillars compromised the view out, however.
The SRX was motivated by a base 265-hp, direct-injection 3.0-L V-6 and an optional 300-hp 2.8-L turbo V-6 supplied by Saab; both were married to a six-speed automatic transmission. The turbo engine proved so non-linear and lumpy in its power delivery that buyers avoided it, so the CTS’s 308-hp 3.6-L V-6 was tapped as its replacement in 2012. Owners were delighted with the SRX’s executive-class cabin, high-tech features, hushed comportment and edgy curb appeal. Negatives included the base engine’s somnolent nature, the constricted sightlines and rapid depreciation.
2010-13 Subaru Outback
In its fourth generation, the wagon-only Outback – which was among the first all-wheel-drive cars to be dubbed a “crossover” in 1994 – finally addressed its tight rear quarters with a 7-cm-longer wheelbase, allowing for bigger rear doors and 10 cm of added legroom. Changing the previous car’s multilink rear suspension to a control-arm setup created a more usefully shaped cargo hold. Like all Subarus, the Outback featured standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive since the “boxer” engine architecture permitted equal-length output shafts.
The Outback offered Subaru’s familiar SOHC 2.5-L flat four-cylinder engine, putting out 170 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, and an optional DOHC 3.6-L flat six, making 256 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. The four cylinder mated to a six-speed manual transmission or a chain-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while the six came bundled with a conventional five-speed automatic only. Cheery Outback owners value their wagons for their practical size, all-weather tractability, fuel efficiency and all-round saintliness.
2011-13 Toyota Sienna
If space is the final frontier, the 2011 Toyota Sienna delivers it in spades. The redesigned minivan was no bigger than the previous model on the outside, but it felt like an Escher-inspired warehouse inside. The middle-row seats slid a metre fore and aft, and the expansive windows provided great visibility all around. Seven- and eight-seater models offered ample comfort, although some cost-cutting was evident in the hard plastics, cheaper upholstery and thin carpets.
The Sienna was powered by a 266-hp 3.5-L V-6 or a surprisingly capable 187-hp 2.7-L inline four cylinder – which was dropped for 2013. The Sienna drives much better than previous models, thanks to communicative steering and a tuned suspension that no longer wallows in the corners. Road noise remains muted, although the big van doesn’t seem as well insulated. As a family conveyance, minivans take a lot of abuse by design, yet the Sienna has the mettle to deliver years of flawless service thanks to its bulletproof engine and transmission.
2009-13 Suzuki Grand Vitara
What the Suzuki Grand Vitara isn’t – besides a familiar household name – is another cute-ute. Engineers built the third-generation Grand Vitara like a Land Rover: a boxed ladder-type frame underpinned its unibody structure to doubly insure its rock-hopping integrity. The rear suspension was fully independent, but unlike car-based crossovers such as the Honda CR-V, the little Suzuki was predisposed to spinning its rear tires – just like a real truck.
A 166-hp DOHC 2.4-L four cylinder was the base engine, working through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The optional 3.2-L V-6 made 230 horses, tied to a five-speed automatic. The V-6 was dropped for 2011, leaving the four-banger to soldier on. Safety was enhanced with more airbags and standard traction control on all models. The Grand Vitara won fans for its stout construction, genuine off-road credentials, useful towing capacity, good value and relative exclusivity. Weaknesses include its lethargic powertrains and cramped cabin.
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