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Autobytel Names the Best Used Sedans

Christian Wardlaw
by Christian Wardlaw
February 13, 2013
9 min. Reading Time

For every new car sold in the United States, 3.25 used cars change hands, and yet much of the research available to car buyers pertains to new cars. Autobytel has developed a “Best Used” series designed to help used car buyers figure out which models are the best, as determined by a combination of reliability and crash-test ratings.

In this best used sedans buying guide, we explore the best used sedans for sale. To create this guide to good used sedans, we examined reliability ratings for all used sedans going back to the 2007 model year, which is as far back as many factory-sponsored Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) programs go. To qualify for our list of the best used sedans, each model needed to display a better-than-average reliability rating for at least four consecutive years between 2007 and 2011, as determined by Consumer Reports.

Next, we took a look at crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Only those used sedans that received a 4-star or 5-star rating from the NHTSA combined with “Good” and “Acceptable” ratings from the IIHS could qualify for our best used sedans buying guide.

The 11 used sedans detailed below are the best used sedans for sale today, offering used car buyers a favorable combination of dependability and safety.

Best Used Sedans: 2009-2011 Acura TL

Say what you will about the Acura TL’s styling, there’s no questioning this car’s record for reliability and its excellent crash-test ratings. In each of these model years, Consumer Reports gives the TL its highest possible reliability rating. The 2009 and 2010 models received 5-star crash-test ratings from the NHTSA, across the board (the NHTSA did not test the 2011 model). In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the TL received the best rating for its performance in frontal-impact, side-impact, and rear-impact tests. The car also receives the best rating for the tough new small overlap frontal-impact test, despite the fact that it was designed and engineered half a decade ago.

The 2009-2011 Acura TL came in a standard level of trim with a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and front-wheel drive, and as a more powerful performance-tuned TL SH-AWD model. The “SH-AWD” stands for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and this model featured both a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine in addition to torque-vectoring AWD, a sport suspension, and larger 18-inch wheels with performance tires.

Both engines require premium gas, and the standard TL is rated to get 21 mpg in combined driving. The TL SH-AWD is expected to return 20 mpg, whether equipped with its exclusive 6-speed manual gearbox or the standard automatic transmission.

As this best used sedans buying guide is written, certified pre-owned Acura TL models with average mileage are offered for as little as $21,000.


Best Used Sedans: 2008-2010 Ford Focus

For a model that, by 2008, was an also-ran contender in the small car class, the Ford Focus Sedan makes a strong showing in our best used sedans buying guide. A combination of good reliability and good crash-test scores make the Focus a good used car. Reliability is consistently better than average, combined with “Acceptable” or better crash-test scores from both the NHTSA and the IIHS.

The 2008 Focus was a substantial refresh of the original Focus that debuted for the 2001 model year. The 2008 version of the car received new styling and a new interior, and offered Sync smartphone connectivity with voice-activated control. Stability control was offered for the 2009 and 2010 models.

Buyers could select between S, SE, SES, and SEL trim levels, all equipped with a 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The Focus was rated to get 28 mpg in combined driving regardless of transmission choice.

As this best used sedans buying guide is written, certified pre-owned Focus models with average mileage are on sale for as low as $9,900.


Best Used Sedans: 2009-2011 Ford Fusion

From the time it debuted in 2006, Ford placed the Fusion midsize sedan on a continual improvement program and by 2009, the car proved itself both safe and reliable, making it one of the best used cars you can buy today. The 2009 Fusion was the final version of the original car. In 2010, a refreshed model with modified styling, a revised interior, and new hybrid and Sport models arrived.

In 2009, the Fusion was sold in S, SE, and SEL trim levels with a choice between a 160-horsepower, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 221-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6. All-wheel drive and stability control were options. Modifications for 2010 added a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 175 horsepower, a more powerful 240-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6, and a 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 for the Fusion Sport model. Fusion Hybrids could achieve speeds of 47 mph operating solely on electricity.

Depending on engine, transmission, and drivetrain selection, the 2009 Fusion was rated to return between 20 mpg and 23 mpg in combined driving. In 2010, fuel economy for all but the Fusion Hybrid ranged from 19 mpg to 27 mpg in combined driving. The Hybrid was rated to return 39 mpg.

As this best used cars buying guide is written, certified pre-owned examples of the 2009-2011 Ford Fusion with average miles on the odometer are on sale for as little as $12,500.


Best Used Sedans: 2007-2010 Honda Civic

A polarizng design when it debuted for 2006, this generation of the Honda Civic redefined small cars, blending quality, refinement, reliability, safety, and nimble driving characteristics in a thoroughly modern package. The 2011 model is not included only because the NHTSA revised its testing criteria, and the 2011 Civic’s overall rating dropped to 3 stars.

Numerous iterations of the Civic were offered. The DX, LX, EX, and leather-lined EX-L models had a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with a manual or automatic transmission. Honda also offered a performance-tuned Si with 197 horsepower and a Civic Hybrid designed to maximize fuel economy. In some regions, the Civic GX was available, a version designed to run on natural gas. Honda updated the Civic for the 2009 model, making subtle styling modifications, offering Bluetooth on certain versions, and adding DX-VP and LX-S trim levels.

The most popular engine choice, the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, was rated to get 29 mpg in combined driving, regardless of whether the manual or automatic transmission was specified. Civic Si models returned 24 mpg, while Civic Hybrids were expected to get 42 mpg.

Certified pre-owned Honda Civics with average mileage can be found for as little as $11,900 as this best used cars buying guide is published.


Best Used Sedans: 2010 Hyundai Elantra

A specific subset of the 2010 Hyundai Elantra qualifies for our best used sedans buying guide, and that’s any model built after November of 2009. Beginning with models produced on or after December 1, 2009, the 2010 Elantra received a “Good” side-impact crash-test rating from the IIHS, while previous iterations achieved a “Marginal” score.

The 2010 Elantra was the final version of the previous-generation model, sold in advance of a stunning redesign that placed the nameplate at the head of the compact car class in many respects. Nevertheless, the comparatively dowdy 2010 Elantra, offered in Blue, GLS, and SE trim levels, is a sensible choice among good used sedans. All trim levels included a 138-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and regardless of whether a manual or automatic transmission was installed, the Elantra was EPA-rated to return 29 mpg in combined driving.

Certified pre-owned Hyundai models offer a continuation of the car’s original 5-year/60,000-mile standard warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. As this best used sedan buying guide is written, CPO Elantra models with average mileage are available for as little as $11,700.


Best Used Sedans: 2007-2011 Lexus IS

Safe by evaluation standards that were in place when it was new, and long considered a reliable and dependable entry luxury sedan, the second-generation Lexus IS is one of the best used sedans available today.

If we have any reason to warn against purchase, it is that the IS receives a “Poor” rating in the new small overlap frontal-impact crash-test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS evaluated a 2013 model, structurally identical to the 2007-2011 models discussed here, and gave the IS its lowest rating for the new test, which is not entirely unexpected for a car designed and engineered nearly a decade ago.

Car buyers undeterred by this news can choose a used Lexus IS in IS 250, IS 350, or IS F model series. The IS 250 models have a 204-horsepower 6-cylinder engine, while the IS 350 models have a 306-horsepower 6-cylinder engine. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional. A manual transmission was available only for the IS 250 model.

The Lexus IS F is a different animal altogether, a performance-tuned variant arriving for the 2008 model year and stuffed full with a 416-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine, unique bodywork, and modified mechanicals. Fuel economy ratings ranged from 18 mpg in combined driving for the IS F to 24 mpg for the IS 250 with an automatic transmission. All models require premium gas.

Lexus made few changes to the IS over the years, but it should be noted that the IS 350 AWD didn’t arrive until 2011. As this buying guide to the best used sedans is written, certified pre-owned examples of the Lexus IS are on sale for as low as $19,500.


Best Used Sedans: 2009-2010 Lincoln MKZ

Though the Lincoln MKZ demonstrates a strong track record for both reliability and safety, it wasn’t until the 2009 model year that Lincoln made changes to improve the entry-level luxury sedan’s ability to protect front seat occupants against injury in a low-speed rear-impact collision, and so our best used sedans guide includes only the 2009 and 2010 versions of the car.

The 2009 Lincoln MKZ offered a 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. An all-wheel-drive system was optional for this model. The 2010 Lincoln MKZ received new exterior styling, a new interior, and new safety technology in the form of a blind-spot information system and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. A new Sport Package became available, too.

Fuel economy ratings were 21 mpg in combined driving (19 mpg with AWD), and the 2009-10 Lincoln MKZ models operated on regular unleaded fuel. Note that the MKZ, which was designed and engineered nearly a decade ago, received a “Marginal” rating in a new IIHS crash test measuring small overlap frontal impact safety. This is not as bad as the Lexus IS fares in the same test, but should be considered when shopping for good used sedans.

As this guide to the best used sedans is published, certified pre-owned examples of the 2009 and 2010 Lincoln MKZ with average mileage are on sale for as little as $16,500.


Best Used Sedans: 2009-2011 Mercury Milan

The Mercury Milan is basically a Ford Fusion with different styling. It comes as no surprise, then, that our best used sedans buying guide includes the same model year range as the Ford, and for the same reasons.

In 2009, the Milan came in base and Premier trim levels, equipped with a choice between a 160-horsepower, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 221-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine. A 5-speed manual gearbox was standard for the Milan with a 4-cylinder engine, but finding one of those is likely akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack. All-wheel drive was optional with the V-6 engine.

Like the Ford, the Mercury Milan received a significant update for the 2010 model year, offering revised front and rear styling, new powertrains, and new safety features. A 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine was standard, with a 240-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engine optional. Mercury did not offer the stronger 3.5-liter V-6, but a Milan Hybrid debuted providing 39 mpg in combined driving and the ability to accelerate to 47 mph on electricity alone.

Milan models equipped with the 4-cylinder and V-6 powertrains were rated to get between 20 mpg and 26 mpg, depending on model year, transmission, and equipment. The Mercury Milan’s final year of production was 2011.

As this guide to the best used sedans is written, Ford and Lincoln dealers are offering certified pre-owned 2009-2011 Mercury Milans with average mileage for as low as $12,900.


Best Used Sedans: 2009-2011 Nissan Altima

Long one of the best-selling midsize family sedans on the market, the 2009-2011 Nissan Altima offers a combination of reliability and safety that its two primary competitors, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, can’t match. Still, its record isn’t top-notch, falling between average and top-rated for both dependability and crashworthiness.

Nissan offered the Altima in 2.5 and 3.5 model series, the numbers matching the displacement for the 4-cylinder and V-6 engines. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder generated 175 horsepower, while the 3.5-liter V-6 produced 270 horsepower. Each engine could be paired with a manual gearbox or a continually variable transmission. Base, S, SE and SL trim levels were offered, and in California, Oregon, and the Northeast, Nissan also sold an Altima Hybrid model.

According to the EPA, fuel economy ranges from 21 mpg in combined driving for the Altima 3.5 with a manual transmission to 26 mpg for any Altima 2.5. The Altima Hybrid is expected to return 34 mpg in combined driving.

As this best used cars guide is published, certified pre-owned Nissan Altimas are available for as little as $12,750 with an average number of miles on the odometer.


Best Used Sedans: 2007-2011 Subaru Legacy

Our recommendation of the 2007 through 2011 Subaru Legacy spans two different generations of the automaker’s midsize family sedan, each of which is engineered with a Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame design contributing to excellent crashworthiness.

The 2007-2009 Subaru Legacy was sold in 2.5i, 2.5 GT, and 3.0 R model series. The Legacy 2.5i and 3.0 R models could be outfitted with base and Limited trim levels, and the 2.5i was also offered as a Special Edition model. The Legacy 2.5GT was sold in base and Spec.B trim.

A 170- to 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer-type 4-cylinder engine was standard for the 2.5i, while the 2.5 GT and 2.5 GT Spec.B got a turbocharged, 243-horsepower version of the standard 4-cylinder engine combined with a sport suspension. Introduced for 2008, the Legacy 3.0 R models relied on a 245-horsepower, 3.0-liter 6-cylinder boxer engine. All models except the 3.0 R offered a choice between a manual and an automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive came standard for all models. Fuel economy ratings vary from 20 mpg to 23 mpg in combined driving, depending on engine and transmission choice, the turbocharged and 6-cylinder engines requiring premium fuel.

For 2010, Subaru redesigned the Legacy. The 2.5i models had a carryover 4-cylinder boxer engine, now offered with a continuously variable transmission that greatly improved fuel economy. The turbocharged 2.5GT and new 3.6R models received more powerful engines than before, the former equipped only with a manual gearbox and the latter paired with an automatic. Gas mileage ratings ranged from 20 mpg to 26 mpg in combined driving, depending on model and transmission, with the turbocharged powerplant requiring premium fuel. As before, all Legacy models came with standard all-wheel drive, and the cars could be equipped with standard, Premium and Limited trim.

As this buying guide to the best used sedans is written, consumers can purchase a certified pre-owned Subaru Legacy with an average number of miles for as little as $12,850.



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