Cheap doesn’t always mean tacky. Take these 10 used cars that suit the first-time motorists or the commuter who wants an inexpensive runaround or a buyer who wants a vehicle for infrequent travel.
These cars are selected because they have a decent price, good safety levels and are comfortable for the family and friends and won’t break the budget at the petrol bowser.
Remember to take the car for a drive before buying. Make sure you’re comfortable with the way it drives, handles, brakes and steers.
The hard work will be finding one you like, of course, but always remember that it’s vital the car should be inspected by someone knowledgeable about cars and that what you buy is checked to ensure it has no outstanding finance and that the sale is genuine.
Here’s 10 cars, in no particular order, that you may consider.
Volvo XC90: 2003-2015: Five-cylinder turbo-diesel, five-cylinder petrol, V8 or six-cylinder petrol, automatic transmission and has one of the best safety equipment lists in this category. Depending on the year and the model grade, this includes six airbags, rear camera, ABS brakes, parking sensors, rollover stability control, brake assist and an ANCAP crash rating of five stars. Seven seats, large boot and all-wheel drive for some off-road ability.
Upsides: Cheap, lots of features, comfortable, roomy, seven seats
Downsides: Petrol models are thirsty, high maintenance costs (but low-cost aftermarket parts are available), ensure it has a service history.
Nissan Murano: 2009-2015: Basically a Nissan Maxima sedan with a SUV body. It shares the 3.5-lite petrol V6 engine and transverse engine layout of the Maxima. The engine is shared with other Nissans including the 350Z. It has a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) which can have reliability issues, so that needs to be checked. The SUV body seats five people, has a modest boot space and a reasonable level of equipment. The ride and handling are good.
Upsides: Strong engine, modern styling, comfortable.
Downsides: CVT needs to be checked, feature list is wanting, infotainment unit is dated.
Toyota Camry (2011-2017): As common as noses with great reliability, heaps of spare parts, lots of service and repair outlets and a big, comfortable sedan with a decent safety list. Hard to pass up, and especially attractive for first-time motorists thanks to its size and safety levels. Four-cylinder petrol or hybrid although earlier examples hd a V6 option.
Upsides: Reliability, ease of repair/service, protective body shell, cabin room
Downsides: Service records mandatory, hybrid can have weak battery.
Holden Commodore (2006-2017): The VE and VF series were the last of the Australian-built Commodores. The VE line gives better choices under the $15k threshold but there are some of the VF available at that price. VF has a lighter body, upgraded infotainment, more rigid chassis and so on, but this may not b vital to a budget driver. Good safety gear, high driving dynamics, good power (even the base 3.0-litre V6) and lots of room along with thousands of repairers and technicians who cut their teeth on Commodores.
Upsides: Lots available, ease of service/repair, great to drive, lots of room.
Downsides: Noisy engine, trim and cabin can quickly look unruly, ageing infotainment.
Mazda CX-5 (2012-2014): Practical and long-running SUV that set the pace when launched here in 2012. Many components are shared with other Mazdas (engine, gearbox, cabin fixtures) making parts readily available. Lots of service outlets are experienced to work on these. Can be more expensive to repair than Toyota, Nissan but Mazda tended to aim their cars at a higher audience level. A service history is a must. The 2.0-litre engine is a bit asthmatic but the 2.5-litre is fine. Some manual transmission versions are available.
Upsides: Comfortable, versatile cabin, good quality, good parts/repair
Downsides: Needs service history, some repairs are more expensive than rivals
Subaru Forester (2012-2019): The third-gen came out in 2009 with the better fourth-gen in 2014, with upgrades including six-speed manual but the downside was the end of the conventional automatic, replaced with a CVT. There was a diesel and a turbo option in 2009-2014. Excellent versatility in this car with good off-road performance, but buyers should watch for any underbody off-road damage and ensure a solid service history. Some earlier models had cylinder had issues. Parts can be expensive but specialist technicians are available.
Upsides: Goes anywhere, versatile interior, safety, good quality, good service/repair outlets
Downsides: Off-road damage, poor service history, check CVT condition.
Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2018): Great family option with fuel efficient diesel option, good supply of parts and service outlets, and high safety features. Hyundai set the pace in the SUV race with this good-looking and durable wagon. In 2012 it appeared with more modern styling and a host of improvements including better safety and optional seven seats and all-wheel drive. Engines were four-cylinder petrol or turbo-diesel. The high-selling wagon offers lots of flexibility, plenty of sheet metal protection along with a high seating position, and good infotainment and safety features.
Upsides: Good driving manners, cabin space, strong engines, service/repair outlets
Downsides: Service history is important, front tyre wear, diesel can be noisy.
Toyota Corolla (2001-2018): Like the Camry, there’s a huge amount of these models on sale and on the street. Renown for reliability, durability and ease of driving, they are the ‘go to’ fo new drivers or those who want a budget commuter. It hasn’t changed dramatically from 2001 to 2017, retaining the 1.8-litre petrol engine (with long-life chain-drive camshaft) and simple four-speed auto (manual available). Heaps of parts and mechanics and a strong stock of used-parts. So many to choose from you can afford to be picky, so stay away from high-mileage cars (maybe rental cars) and watch for those badly treated or poorly serviced.
Upsides: Durable, reliable, lots of parts and service outlets, comfortable, fuel efficient.
Downsides: Watch for cars badly treated or not serviced.
Mazda MX-5 (any year): This is for those buyers who want a cheap, fun car. The MX-5 is already regarded as a classic. It’s easy to look after, easy to drive and inexpensive to own. Prices range from around $10,000 upwards. The best model is the NC (2005-2015) but prices may be too high, so settle for the NB (1998-2005) or, if you want the original, the NA (1987-1997). Engines are four-cylinder petrol units borrowed from other Mazda models but slick five (and six) speed manuals are unique. The MX-5 is a front-engine, rear-drive car with folding soft top or, later, metal folding roof.
Upsides: So much fun, cheap to own, probably get your money back on resale
Downsides: Tiny cabin and boot, wet weather protection, vulnerable alongside other road users
Holden Colorado 4x4 (2012-2019): There’s lots of 4x2 Colorados on the market but only a few 4x4. However, the model boasts good off-road credentials and good parts supply. Petrol (Commodore V6 derivative) and turbo-diesel (related to the Jeep Wrangler’s engine) are available. Had a five-star rating when launched. Trade-related cabin and infotainment can be upgraded to improve comfort and convenience. Upsides: Simple mechanics, lots of parts, great in the dirt
Downsides: Check for underbody damage, check 4x4 mechanics, old-style infotainment