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8 Best Used Cars to Buy in 2021
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
There are affordable used cars out there for just about every purpose and any lifestyle. Whether you’re looking for a compact, mid-size, full-size, family-friendly, foul-weather friendly, wallet-friendly used car for the daily commute — or perhaps a more rugged option for adventure-seekers — keep looking until you find what you want.
There are pros and cons to buying used — they’re usually less expensive to purchase, but may cost more to keep running. The top scorers on our list are also at the top of everyone else’s list, so pricing tends to be competitive. Used car prices have been through the roof lately, but there are still good deals to be found.
The best used cars tend to be the most reliable used cars. Experts recommend buying the best one you can find so it’s less likely to have problems down the road. Prices will vary by mileage, condition and trim level.
|TK Best Used Cars to Buy|
|Model||Score||KBB Fair Purchase Price||Best for|
|2012 Ford F-150||4.27||$11,534||Hauling, towing and family fun|
|2016 Subaru Forester||4.33||$15,763||Braving inclement weather|
|2018 Mazda 3||4.37||$16,375||Sporty handling and near-luxury interior|
|2014 Mazda CX-5||4.37||$11,749||Style and car-like handling|
|2017 Lexus NX||4.37||$22,463||Luxury ride and elegant style|
|2018 Toyota Prius||4.38||$20,471||Fuel savings and cargo space|
|2015 Honda Accord Hybrid||4.47||$18,248||No-compromise fuel efficiency|
|2018 Honda Civic||4.53||$18,602||Fun to drive and live with|
*KBB Fair Purchase Price as of Aug. 24, 2021; numbers are based on ZIP code 28203 (LendingTree’s Charlotte, N.C. headquarters).
How we chose the best used cars to buy
We ranked used vehicles according to expert and consumer reviews from Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds. We selected the top eight with the highest average scores, ranging from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score.
Still, just because a vehicle is not on this list doesn’t mean you should overlook it — these are just some of the most well-reviewed options of the best used cars to buy.
2012 Ford F-150
4.27 out of 5
$11,534 KBB Fair Purchase Price
19/17/23 MPG combined/city/highway
The full-size Ford F-150 has reigned supreme as the top-selling pickup for close to five decades, so it makes sense it’s also in high demand as a used car. (Consumer reviews often show drivers either planning to hold onto their F-150s for as long as they can, or expressing regret over selling an F-150 they previously owned and vowing to purchase another one in the future.) You can choose from many types of cabs, engines, drive trains and bed lengths to suit your needs. For 2012, engine options are a V6 or V8 with varying horsepower levels and two-wheel or four-wheel drive. And it’s safe, too: The 2012 model scored four out of five in the crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Whether you need a work truck or a family hauler, the F-150 will tackle just about anything you can throw at it.
2016 Subaru Forester
4.33 out of 5
$15,763 KBB Fair Purchase Price
27/24/31 MPG combined/city/highway
Subarus are known for their surefooted traction in all kinds of weather, and the Forester compact SUV is no exception. All-wheel-drive, five-passenger seating and a spacious cargo area make the Forester a family-friendly option. It also includes advanced safety features like an advanced collision avoidance system and adaptive cruise control. The Forester scored five stars in the NHTSA’s crash test ratings.
The 2016 model is available in six trim levels with either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, for more spirited performance. Even the base models are well equipped with full power accessories, cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity. Its tall cabin creates useful visibility and lots of headroom, but the height also makes it a bit roll-sensitive on curvy roads. Cross shop with others in the class like the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Explorer.
4.37 out of 5
$16,375 KBB Fair Purchase Price
32/28/37 MPG combined/city/highway
The sophisticated compact Mazda3 is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback and offers a long list of standard features. The Sport trim level comes with a 155-horsepower 2.0 liter four-cylinder, while the Touring and Grand Touring levels are powered by a 185-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission are available. The experts at Edmunds highlight the Touring trim as an attractive balance of features and pricing in the used market.
Experts laud the Mazda3’s nimble, responsive driving experience that makes it stand out from its competitors. It’s not necessarily the fastest, nor does it have the most room, but it is a car you’ll look forward to driving. It also performed well in testing, earning five stars from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS.
2014 Mazda CX-5
4.37 out of 5
$11,749 KBB Fair Purchase Price
29/26/34 MPG combined/city/highway
A compact crossover SUV, the CX-5 promises a useful combination of engine power, fuel economy and interior usability. The exterior styling draws the eye, and the car-like driving experience sets it apart from the competition. Like its Mazda3 sibling, the CX-5 is offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. The base-level Sport comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a list of standard features like keyless entry, full power accessories and split-folding rear seats.
The Touring and Grand Touring versions get a more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder and offer a moonroof and Bose Audio package. The Touring adds a rearview camera, blindspot warning systems and upgraded upholstery, while the Grand Touring level further adds automatic headlights and wipers, an eight-way power driver seat and leather upholstery. It also scored a five-star rating in NHTSA crash testing.
2017 Lexus NX
4.37 out of 5
$22,463 KBB Fair Purchase Price
31/33/30 MPG combined/city/highway
With its design based somewhat on the popular Toyota RAV-4, the NX compact crossover SUV adds luxury and high-tech features to an easy-to-live-with package. Both interior and exterior are cutting edge, leaving some people to prefer more conservative options like a Mercedes GLA or Infiniti QX30.
The NX upholds the Lexus reputation for a smooth engine and a quiet cabin. The 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive as an option. The base model has a long list of standard features, including keyless entry and ignition, simulated leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and eight-way power front seats. The Sport Package adds a sport-tuned suspension, sporty exterior styling and special interior upgrades.
While the NX is roomy for passengers in the front and rear, it lags competitors in cargo-carrying capacity. It has a total volume of 54.6 cubic feet, one of the lowest in its class. When the rear seats are in place, the cargo space falls to 17.7 cubic feet, smaller than some subcompact crossovers.
2018 Toyota Prius
4.37 out of 5
$20,471 KBB Fair Purchase Price
56/58/53 MPG combined/city/highway
As a hybrid, the Prius can return 50 mph in real-world driving with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, two electric motors and a continuously variable automatic transmission. You won’t compromise on comfort or interior space for better fuel economy.
The Prius is available in seven trim levels, with the Four Touring at the top of the heap; meanwhile, the Prius One is the base model, which comes with fewer amenities. The experts at Edmunds recommend the Prius Two trim that includes the Safety Plus package with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors and automated parking assist. If you’re looking for the most fuel-efficient model, go for the Prius Two Eco, which uses ultra-low-resistance tires and a lighter battery to get its 56 mpg on the EPA combined rating.
At one time, the Prius was the only hybrid game in town — today, competitors include the Kia Niro, Ford C-Max, Hyundai Ioniq and Chevy Volt. While the Hyundai Ioniq claims better fuel economy and the C-Max Hybrid has more space in the rear, the Prius is a proven package that retains its resale value well.
2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
4.47 out of 5
$18,248 KBB Fair Purchase Price
47/49/45 MPG combined/city/highway
The Honda Accord has been a long-time best-selling car, both new and used, and the hybrid version is no different. This particular model comes only as a sedan, pairing a four-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. While a standard Accord achieves 34 to 36 mpg, the hybrid can return nearly 50 mpg in city driving.
The Accord Hybrid includes everything that makes the Accord such a popular vehicle: a roomy five-passenger interior, standard technology, high level of reliability and easy-to-live-with manners. You won’t have to compromise on usable space like you might with other smaller hybrids.
Choose from three trim levels — base EX, EX-L and Touring. The EX is well equipped with full power accessories, blind-spot display, eight-way power driver seat and Bluetooth connectivity. Moving up to the EX-L adds a sunroof, leather upholstery and additional driver-assist features. The Touring adds adaptive cruise control and voice-control navigation.
In the midsize sedan class, the 2015 Accord Hybrid compares favorably to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Toyota Camry Hybrid, as well as the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Jetta hybrids.
2018 Honda Civic
4.53 out of 5
$18,602 KBB Fair Purchase Price
36/32/42 MPG combined/city/highway
Whether you’re looking for a compact coupe, sedan or hatchback, make sure the Honda Civic is on your list. When equipped with a 1.5-liter turbo engine, it’s fun to drive while delivering room for passengers and cargo in a stylish package.
There are six different trims, three more for the hatchback and one that’s coupe-specific. Each level adds a bit of technology and luxury, so if you’re looking for specific features, do your homework. The hatchback Type R is at the top of the line, with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission and a track-worthy rear wing, with performance suspension and brakes to match. The experts at Edmunds recommend the EX-T sedan or EX hatchback, which offer a touch screen infotainment system, proximity entry and push-button start, and Honda’s lane-sensing camera system. The entry-level trim LX sedan comes with a manual transmission and 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s still fun to drive while delivering comfort and storage space.
Ways to finance used cars
You can shop around for auto financing just like you shop for a car. Don’t accept the dealer’s financing until you’ve compared it with other offers. Potential lenders include credit unions, banks and online lenders. Apply to several lenders to compare offers and see which one is best for you.
Note that dealers may be able to raise your APR and make more profit off your loan, not just your car. To avoid this, go car shopping with a preapproved auto loan in hand, so you know what APR you can qualify for and can ask the dealership to beat that rate.
You can get multiple auto loan offers from lenders as you shop around for a rate. Plus, you can also talk to loan officers and ask them if they can beat or match a lower rate you received from another lender.
On LendingTree, you can fill out an online form and receive up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders at one time instead of filling out five different lender applications.