10 Best Used Car Buys of the 2010s
All of the models here were selected for their proven reliability and are available at different price points to suit any budget.
When the calendar flips over to a new year that ends with a zero, it gives everyone licence to compile their 10-best lists of the past decade, documenting everything from genius food hacks to Russian dashcam videos.
Our own compilation offers information you can use to make a good used-car buying decision. It’s a handy thing in a country where used-vehicle purchases outnumber new ones by one million transactions annually.
All of the models here were selected for their proven reliability and are available at different price points to suit any budget. We’ve pored over real vehicle owners’ experiences archived on consumer-oriented websites to ensure the models we recommended five years ago still hold up today.
If you have an aversion to drinking lukewarm service-department coffee, try kicking the tires on these especially durable automotive buys.
The 11th generation of the world’s bestselling automobile introduced for 2014 actually turned some heads thanks to a little styling inspired by Toyota’s Furia design concept. Its edgier profile was helped by the Corolla’s standard LED low-beam headlights, an unexpected premium feature in an economy sedan that’s earned a stainless reputation in Canada.
A 10-cm wheelbase stretch paid dividends in terms of an improved ride and significantly more rear-seat legroom, while better seals, insulation and glass provided more quiet refinement. The new instrument panel imparted a more contemporary look inside, along with higher-quality cabin materials and some new features, including keyless ignition. Unfortunately, the optional Entune touchscreen may sometimes freeze and become unresponsive.
Making just 132 horsepower, the Corolla’s 1.8-L four-cylinder engine is sleepy, but sturdy. It’s been around a long time, and base models continued to use a medieval four-speed automatic or updated six-speed manual gearbox. Higher trims have a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission of Toyota’s own design. Owners have noted that the CVT may wear abnormally due to improper programming of the transmission controller. Maybe the old four-speed is the way to go.
The reincarnation of the storied Dodge Challenger wasn’t hard: it required shortening the Chrysler LX chassis (think Chrysler 300 and Charger) wheelbase by 10 cm and stretching some nostalgic sheetmetal over the stout rear-drive platform. The entire 2008 production run at Fiat Chrysler’s Brampton, Ont., plant was SRT8s equipped with a 425-hp 6.1-L Hemi V8 bound for collectors’ garages.
All Challengers received updated suspension, steering and brakes for 2011, resulting in a better-driving coupe. Base models got the new 305-hp 3.6-L Pentastar V6, SRT8 392 versions got a 470-hp 6.4-L V8, and the 5.7-L Hemi V8 featured Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System, which deactivated four cylinders under light throttle conditions to save fuel.
The Challenger delights with its powerful drivetrains, smooth and quiet ride, and spacious cabin. Downers include poor rearward visibility and a 1970s-era footprint that’s a little unwieldy. An eight-speed automatic transmission, introduced for 2015, may exhibit hard shifting, especially after a cold start in the morning. Owners have also reported fast-wearing front-end components and short-lived alternators. Still, all is forgiven when you light up a Challenger on the open road.
While it was only sold for part of the decade, the Acura TSX sports sedan is what Europeans have long come to know as the Honda Accord. Smaller and more lithe than the American-scaled Accord, the TSX features an upscale interior, lots of standard gear and, with its Euro-spec suspension, lively road manners. It’s been dubbed the four-door Prelude for good reason: its agile handling recalls one of the best front-wheel-drive cars ever made.
Honda’s K-series 201-hp 2.4-L four-cylinder engine loves to rev, yet it avoids gas stations. The slick six-speed manual gearbox is one of the best on the market; there’s a five-speed automatic available, too. In response to complaints that the TSX’s four cylinder was short of torque, Acura made its 280-hp 3.5-L V6 engine available starting in 2010, but coupled exclusively with the automatic transmission.
The TSX is one of those rare late-model Japanese cars that was actually made in Japan. Consider that the TSX achieved Consumer Reports’ highest possible reliability rating every year between 2009 and 2014. The few mechanical complaints mention malfunctioning power-steering units, short-lived brake pads and batteries, blown stereo speakers and some interior rattles.
Having been weaned off of Japanese cars, owners relish the latest-generation VW Golf’s stout construction, hatchback utility, superb suspension, interior comfort and European styling. The well-sorted platform makes it a rewarding car to drive, even while loaded with kids and cargo. In much of the world where car ownership can be punitively expensive, the Golf makes sense as the sole family conveyance.
Motivating newer Golfs is a 1.8-L four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine that’s good for 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. It replaced the former 2.5-L DOHC five-cylinder engine that was surprisingly reliable, but not very fuel efficient. The latest 2015-2019 Golf models exhibit fewer mechanical setbacks, though the TDI diesel models have grown troublesome due to their overly complex emissions systems.
The single most common complaint has to do with the optional sunroof, which has been known to leak water. An ongoing VW problem involving faulty clock spring mechanisms in the steering column may affect 2015 and 2016 Golfs, which can set off the airbag warning lamp, as well as disable the cruise control and other functions. Watch for short-lived water pumps, some infotainment system glitches and stuttering automatic transmissions.
Chevrolet called on its international resources on three continents to build a true world car that could compete in any market from India to Indiana. The first Cruze, unveiled in North America in 2010 was decent enough, but it suffered from some mechanical teething pains in the first few years involving clunky automatic transmissions and disappearing engine coolant.
The second generation Cruze, launched for 2016, was a considerably better car and might well be the best compact General Motors has ever produced. The Cruze compares well by delivering lots of useful tech features, a comfortable cabin, great fuel economy and a large trunk, all wrapped in slick bodywork in sedan and hatchback styles. It even offered a frugal turbodiesel engine, just as its predecessor did.
Both the turbo gasoline and diesel engines feel a little underpowered, however, and owners dissed the automatic stop-start feature because it sometimes stalls the engine and the feature can’t be disabled. Owners of 2016 and 2017 models have reported problems with cracked pistons, a glitch GM has responded to with a technical service bulletin that specifies a new engine if certain conditions exist. Beyond that, the Cruze delivers the goods. Too bad it went out of production in 2019.
Sometimes only a van will do – and here’s the one to get. The 2011 Toyota Sienna was cast no bigger than the outgoing model on the outside, but they managed to make it feel warehouse-big inside. The windows are expansive for good visibility, there’s accommodations for seven or eight, and the middle-row seats slide a full metre fore and aft.
The Sienna uses a 3.5-L V6 that makes 266 hp in earlier models, while a different version with 296 horses was introduced in 2017. Thanks to more communicative steering and a reworked suspension, the Sienna no longer drives like a school bus. Road noise is muted, but the big van doesn’t seem as well appointed as the previous model that dates back to 2004. The Sienna is the only minivan on the market that offers optional all-wheel drive.
Overall dependability is very good as the engine/transmission duo is largely bulletproof. The most common complaint involves the power sliding doors that refuse to latch properly or whose thin cables can snap. The power-assisted rear hatch has also been known to break. Still, Toyota is motivated to deliver a durable van in a shrinking segment and for that reason the Sienna rules.
It’s hard to believe that Honda’s ever-popular CR-V is based on the diminutive Civic, in part to keep the crossover from being overly hefty. Regardless of the model year, every CR-V has an airy and inviting cabin that can coddle five occupants with its tall seating and great sightlines. Newer models have gotten quieter, more plush and gained more features, but the basic formula remains the same.
What has changed since the 2012 makeover are the powertrains. Making a return engagement was the 2.4-L four cylinder K-series engine with 185 hp – there’s no V6 option – but starting in 2015 the “Earth Dreams” direct-injected version made more torque available. The redesigned 2017 CR-Vs dispensed with the K series altogether, opting for an energetic 1.5-L turbocharged four that works in tandem with a CVT transmission to save fuel.
Errant vibrations have tainted the ownership experience for some who have 2015 and 2016 models. Honda came up with a fix that included new mounts and dampers to quell the shakes in the Earth Dreams motor. Watch for short battery life and a grinding sound at start-up that may be traced to a faulty VTC actuator. The new turbo engine had a problem with fuel contaminating the engine oil in low-temperature conditions; Honda found a solution for that, too.
The orphaned Vibe will likely outlive all the other Pontiacs still in circulation, mostly because it’s powered by the same Toyota-sourced 132-hp, 1.8-L four cylinder that makes the Corolla and Matrix such reliable buys. The Vibe uses an outdated, but durable, four-speed automatic transmission or five-speed stick with this engine. There’s no disguising the noisy powertrain and lumpy ride, unfortunately.
The Vibe was sold only as a mini wagon by its dearly departed dealer network. There’s decent room inside for five, thanks to the flat floor and upright seating. The cargo hold behind the folding rear bench isn’t very big, but the high floor is finished in hard plastic to accommodate wet and messy cargo.
Stick with the 1.8-L engine and pass on the larger 2.4-L four, which has a reputation for burning oil. Other problems include worn-out sensors that trip the Check Engine light, scratch-prone paint and some interior rattles. There’s an all-wheel-drive model, but you’re better off with a set of four snow tires. If you’re having trouble finding a Vibe in your area – it went out of production in 2010 – all the same info applies to the Toyota Matrix and it was sold until 2014.
As the top-selling luxury sport-utility crossover for much of the past two decades – hey, it invented the segment – the Lexus RX has all the right ingredients for a comfortable all-wheel-drive vehicle with one added benefit: it dominates reliability scores and demands little in terms of its care and feeding, especially if you opt for the hybrid model.
The RX got a thorough reworking for the 2016 model year, when it traded in its staid profile for boldly tailored – some say overwrought – sheetmetal over its well-sorted platform. The cabin retained its sumptuous materials, library hush and long list of amenities expected of the brand. The redesigned RX also received tweaks to its structure, suspension and steering, though it still can’t thread a twisty road with much confidence.
A 295-hp 3.5-L V6 provides decent motivation working through a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s virtually nothing to spoil the ownership experience, though a few pilots have noted that the new transmission may hesitate between gear changes and the driver interface with the infotainment system has grown needlessly complex. Still, the RX is the right prescription for buyers who want a no-fuss sport utility vehicle that pampers unconditionally.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The world’s bestselling sports car earned a rethink for its third generation to give fans of the Mazda MX-5 Miata a roomier roadster with a wider body and the 6-cm-longer wheelbase for better legroom. The chassis was 47 per cent more resistant to twisting, yet curb weight grew by just 25 kg. It retained its hydraulic power-steering system up until 2015, a key feature the newest Miata dropped to save weight.
The Mazda3’s 2.0-L four cylinder was massaged to produce 167 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque, and could propel the rear-drive ragtop to 97 km/h in 6.5 seconds. The slick five-speed and six-speed manual gearboxes remained among the best in the business (a six-speed automatic was available, too). The fourth-gen car for 2016 is significantly lighter, so it’s even more responsive than the old one, but we recommend them both.
In addition to being a talented driver’s car, the MX-5 is also one of the most dependable anywhere. However, keep in mind that premature clutch wear and clutch chatter are common gripes. Other nuisances? Newer models came with run-flat tires, which transmitted a punishing ride; some owners switched to regular tires and a can of tire sealant. And the Miata is so low-slung, it invites chipped paint and windshields.