Finding an affordable used car can be tough. The car industry is starting to climb out of the hole known as the Great Recession, which saw new-car sales drop and used-car values rise.
Yet while $10,000 used cars may be harder to find than before, there are still plenty out there. And because of the high quality of cars made over the last 10 years, there are plenty of models to choose from.
After all, yesterday’s “Car of the Year” doesn’t necessarily stop being brilliant when it leaves the showroom floor.
Here are 10 cars that were segment leaders when new, and still make great used buys.
These cars should be safe bets when you stroll onto the lot and confront the man in the shiny suit. However, keep in mind that there are many variables involved when buying a used car, including mileage, the condition of individual cars, and local availability.
When it first launched as a 2004 model, the TSX was the European sports sedan many enthusiasts had been waiting for. It was actually a rebadged version of the more petite Euro-market Honda Accord, but with an upgraded interior and a few extra gadgets to make it worthy of an Acura-esque price tag.
More important than the features list, though, was the eager four-cylinder engine, smooth-shifting manual transmission, and well sorted suspension. Those items still make the TSX a good driver’s car, and thanks to typically excellent Acura/Honda reliability, it makes for a good used purchase as well.
The belief that American manufacturers can’t build decent cars began to disappear when the first-generation Ford Fusion hit the market.
It may not look as sleek as the current model, but the original Fusion is still a decently reliable car with plenty of available trim levels that should be perfect for the motorist looking to fly the flag.
For some added visual punch, look for a Fusion equipped with the optional Sport package.
The Civic is the gold standard of compact cars because it manages to be safe, fuel-efficient, and reliable.
With its futuristic styling and two-tier dashboard, the eight-generation (2006-2011) model is probably the most controversial Civic ever, but if you can get used to the aesthetic flourishes, you’ll find an excellent all-rounder available in a wide variety of configurations.
Mid-2000s Hyundais make great used cars. They come from a period when Hyundai massively improved its products’ quality, but still didn’t have the reputation to charge more money for them.
Consequently, cars like the Sonata sell cheap, but still have the reliability of their Japanese rivals. Today, the Sonata is a relatively handsome (if plain), well-equipped midsize sedan, just like when it was new.
When it was launched in 2003, the G35 was named Motor Trend Car of the Year because it did something no other Japanese luxury car had managed to do before: compete with the vaunted BMW 3 Series.
The G35’s combination of sturdy build quality and rear-wheel drive (or optional all-wheel drive) chassis make it an excellent used car for people who enjoy driving. The fact that it doesn’t have a German badge could make finding a cheap one easier as well.
Many compact cars can turn out to be surprisingly fun, but the Mazda3 was designed to lift the spirits of its driver from the start.
With its lively personality, the Mazda3 is a practical car that won’t make its owner howl with boredom. Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” tagline is more than just marketing hype when it comes to the company’s newer models, and the same influence can be felt here.
The 2008 model year was also one of the last for the first-generation 3. two model years later it received a somewhat controversial restyle.
A MINI is a great option for urban driving, or for anyone who just likes to treat their morning commute like a game of Mario Kart.
Whether they’re a gear head or a car agnostic, it’s hard to find someone that doesn’t like a MINI, which means there are a decent number of used examples on the market.
However, when shopping it’s important to remember that new MINIs get expensive quickly with options, so you may have to comb through a few heavily-optioned models to find a cheap one. That also means there should be an electric variety of cars to choose from.
If you think the Scion tC is a sports car, you’ll be disappointed. While that misconception has been the undoing of many a frat boy, the tC is still a good car.
It is, after all, made by Toyota, which knows a thing or two about making cars that last. So if you’re looking for a compact car and want something that’s a little more interesting looking than a Corolla, the tC might be worth considering.
The Forester offers car-like handling in a boxy crossover body, but what else do you expect from a company known for its lineup of all-wheel drive vehicles?
Subaru’s compact crossover is one of the cult vehicles of the early 2000s, but even if you don’t worship at the company’s alter, it’s still easy to appreciate the Forester’s reliability, safety, and no-nonsense attitude.
Models equipped with the optional turbocharged engine are even decently sporty, although it may be hard to find one in budget.
Toyota trucks have survived everything from Top Gear to the Taliban, so if you’re looking for something that will take abuse and keep on going, the Tacoma is a pretty good bet.
The Toyota named after a Washington-state city also offers plenty of utility in a small package that uses less fuel – and is much easier to park – than full-size rigs. It hasn’t been substantially changed in around a decade, either, so it’s not like you’ll miss out on anything by buying an older model.