Welcome to LotPro.com’s list of the ten best used cars under $12,000. In alphabetical order they are…
1. 2006 Ford Focus – Even though the styling changes initiated in 2005 diluted the lines of the original 2000-2004 version and the interior became one more bland example of Ford’s corporate look, buyers of the 2005 version do have one advantage over previous owners – avoiding the dozen or so recalls of the earlier models. The 2005 Focus – especially in the 3dr and 5dr hatchback versions – is still a good looking vehicle with excellent gas mileage and euro-like handling.
2. 2005 Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis – sometimes you just need the feeling of being surrounded by lots of American iron and the Crown Vic doesn’t disappoint. With over 111 cubic feet of interior space and 20 cubic feet of trunk space, you can easily fit 3 adults into the back seat – something no other car on this list can match. I know it’s a throwback, but for those of you looking for a limousine, the big Ford won’t disappoint.
3. 2004 Honda Civic – Although the rice burner community looks askance at the seventh-generation Civic due to its less-than-stellar ride and handling characteristics, this list isn’t about getting your nitrous fix. The ’04 Civic is still a typical Honda – solid, reliable and fuel efficient.
4. 2002 Honda Accord – The Accord is another perennial favorite from Honda. Making Car and Driver magazine’s 10 best list for as long as can remember, the Accord is also the darling of Consumer Reports magazine. Although the styling of this particular generation is, at best, nondescript, the Accord is an Energizer Bunny when it comes to durability.
5. 2006 Kia Optima – While not offering the style of either the Accord or the Altima, one of the virtues of a used Optima is its lower resale value. Instead of settling for a 6 year old Accord, you can have a 2 year old Optima with plenty of factory warranty left. In addition, the Optima is a solid people mover with standard front side and side curtain airbags – both unavailable on the ’02 Accord and the ’05 Altima.
6. 2004 Mazda Mazda3 – Although the Mazda3 has a tendency to get lost among the Honda Civics and the Toyota Corollas of the world, Mazda’s smallest sedan scores big with the enthusiast magazines. The 3 is the successor to another sporty Mazda, the Protégé. With standard 4 wheel disc brakes and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, the 3 is based on the newest European Focus platform. For those of you looking for a lot of trunk space, the smallest of Mazda’s sedans may disappoint. But for someone looking for better handling and performance than the offerings from either Toyota or Honda, all we can say is “zoom-zoom”.
7. 2005 Nissan Altima – Although not as big a seller as the Accord, the 4-cylinder Altima offers more style and, due to its lower resale value, more bang for the buck than the Accord. Although interior dimensions are roughly the same, the Altima has a 3” longer wheelbase than the Accord and is 3” longer overall.
8. 2005 Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix – The nerd in you wants the Toyota for the name and perceived quality. The sporty part of you wants the Vibe for its style. It’s your choice. The Pontiac version has the more handsome interior/exterior and benefits from a build quality normally associated with Toyotas. The Matrix (no word yet on a Neo version) is, well, a Toyota.
9. 2003 Subaru Forester – The first year of the second-generation Forester combines car-like handling with the versatility of a wagon. Standard features include 4 wheel drive, ABS and side airbags. Manual transmission models feature a “hill-hold” feature that’s activated by stepping on the brake and prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards. Especially for northern climes, the Subaru is a good choice for all-weather transportation.
10. 2005 Toyota Corolla – Last, but not least, the Corolla is the best selling Toyota sedan – ever. With styling your grandmother could love, the Corolla also has the quality and durability that… your grandmother could love (25% of Corolla buyers are over 60). We enjoy making fun of the Corolla because of these qualities, but with sales topping 370,000 last year (combined with Matrix sales), the Corolla is nothing to laugh at.