Not everyone can (or wants to) shell out the money for a new car, but luckily there are plenty of great used vehicles out there.
We’ve already covered cars that cost less than $10,000, so here’s a list of pre-owned metal for those with a little more budget flexibility.
As always, keep in mind that while certain cars are safer bets than others, the condition and availability of individual vehicles can vary widely, affecting both the price and the advisability of a used-car purchase.
Acura is often criticized for building cars that are too similar to those of parent company Honda, but that’s good news for used car shoppers. It means an Acura will still work properly with a few miles on it.
The second-generation TL in particular was a sweet spot for Acura. Unlike the first-gen model, it has distinctive styling, but unlike the current model, that styling isn’t so distinctive as to be polarizing.
This TL was also considered to be one of the better-handling front-wheel drive cars of its day, and it functioned without the complicated technology that’s been piled on more-recent Acuras.
Few new cars come quite as well-recommended as the BMW 3 Series, which seems to win every magazine comparison test it’s entered in.
That’s down to a well-balanced rear-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is available on certain models) chassis and smooth inline engines. Since it’s a BMW, the cabin isn’t exactly the worst place to be either.
BMWs don’t have a reputation for being as bulletproof as other cars, but a well-maintained example can prove reliable. Remember to look for the best car possible, and keep in mind that the wide array of body, drivetrain, and trim combinations can make for a varied range of prices.
As the name implies, the X3 is positioned as the SUV counterpart to the 3 Series in BMW’s lineup, and it features many of the same good qualities.
The first-generation X3 was an attempt to follow on the success of the larger X5 with a smaller vehicle. So the X3 features similar styling to the bigger SUV, but in a smaller package more reminiscent of the smaller 3 Series.
As with all BMWs, you can expect smooth and powerful engines, and one of the better-handling chassis in its segment. Even on a relatively inexpensive used model, that BMW badge is also quite the status symbol. Find one with a clean service history, and you’ll be bragging in no time.
The Mustang is the quintessential affordable American performance car, and so it makes a good used performance car as well.
A $15,000 budget should net a model from after the 2005 retro redesign, so you can pretend to be Steve McQueen all day long.
With the departure of the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird in 2002, the Mustang was the only pony-car game in town for most of the last decade, so there should be many used examples to comb threw.
A healthy aftermarket means there also plenty of ways to upgrade and customize your ‘Stang.
The Pilot is the Accord of midsize crossovers, in that it’s generic to the point of being a Platonic ideal form.
So the Pilot is low on fun, but big on practicality and, quite frankly, if you’re planning on buying one of these school buses, fun was never really in the cards.
Still, this crossover will get plenty of stuff and people from place to place effortlessly, and like all Hondas it will do that without much of a fuss.
If style figures heavily in your decision-making process, consider Kia’s box on wheels.
The Soul is not a sporty car, but it is a fun one. Even if CGI hamsters weren’t schilling for it, anyone would have a hard time looking at a Soul without cracking a smile.
It’s also ideally sized for urban driving, and since it’s only been on sale for a few years, it hasn’t gone out of style.
The Mazda6 isn’t as popular as its rivals from Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Maybe that’s because fewer people have heard of it, or because those who have can’t stand looking at it’s grinning front fascia.
If the Mazda’s unusual styling is to your liking, you’ll find a reliable car from the company that created the Miata and RX-8. It’s a little funky and offbeat, but can still do everything important.
Also, you probably won’t see another one on the road.
Even if you’re buying on a budget, there’s no reason not to consider as wide a range of vehicles as possible. Whether you need to haul a lot of stuff that won’t fit in a sedan’s trunk, or just like pretending to to be a cowboy, a pickup truck could be just the ticket.
The Nissan Frontier is just as reliable as virtually everything else in Nissan’s lineup, and is part of a vanishing breed of smaller trucks that should be cheaper to run thanks to lower fuel costs.
Exemplifying the moribund nature of the midsize truck market, Nissan hasn’t redesigned the Frontier since the current generation’s 2005 model-year launch. That means you won’t miss out on much by buying an older model.
For most people, all-wheel drive and a high seating position are one and the same. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In addition to having impeccable reliability and safety records, the Impreza offers plenty of extra traction, which should come in handy if you live in a place where weather occurs.
That all-wheel drive system, combined with a decently powerful boxer engine, makes the Impreza a decently engaging car to drive. Plus, there’s the whole World Rally Championship halo effect.
The Outback is part station wagon, part crossover, and all awesome. Even if you’re not a Subaru cultists, it’s easy to appreciate the all-wheel drive Outback’s superior driving dynamics and fuel economy when compared to larger crossovers and SUVs.
Like all Subarus, Outbacks are legendarily reliable because they’re built like farm equipment, and are about as luxurious. With base models, at least, there just isn’t too much to damage.