Many people swear by only buying used cars. That being said, there are still a lot of cars to choose from. Here's what we consider to be the best used cars.

Buying a used car can be a hassle, don’t you think?

If you don’t know what you want, you usually end up having to start with hundreds of options and you waste time figuring out what you’re really looking for.

And you probably have to deal with annoying salespeople along the way.

This happened to me a few years ago when I was looking for a used car. I did all my research and found a car I liked. Until I met the salesperson, who was a complete jerk. We made an offer and he made us feel like idiots as he declined it. So we walked away and never talked to him again.

Instead of dealing with that kind of situation, you should know exactly what you want and exactly what you’ll pay ahead of time.

In this article I’ve narrowed down the best used cars for each of four categories:

  • Small cars
  • Midsize cars
  • Large cars
  • Sports cars

I focused on those that are not only good used cars but affordable used cars. You can pick up a two-year old Mercedes-Benz SL-Class luxury car, and it would probably be one of the best cars you’ve ever driven. But it’s not even remotely affordable for most of us.

Let’s start first with our favorite small used car – the Honda Fit.

Best small used car: Honda Fit

US News rankings:

  • 2016: 1
  • 2015: 1
  • 2014: [was not produced in 2014]
  • 2013: 2

I’m probably a little biased here because I own a 2015 Honda Fit, but it’s such a great car—hence the reason U.S. News has it ranked so highly over the past several years.

The car seats up to five people and gets up to 33 miles per gallon in the city and up to 41 miles per gallon on the highway. I can vouch for both of those numbers, as mine regularly gets in the high 30’s and I drive everywhere.

It has a ton of space, and the seats fold up and down for additional cargo storage, which is great for people of all ages. Before I had a baby, I was able to tote pretty much anything I needed around with me. Now that we have a baby, the extra space is great for a stroller (and all the other stuff babies seem to come with). On the downside, it’s not the fastest or the sexiest car, but anyone buying a Fit knows what they’re getting – a budget-friendly, great gas mileage hatchback.

Best midsize used car: Chevrolet Malibu

US News rankings:

  • 2016: 1
  • 2015: 4
  • 2014: 5
  • 2013: 7

You can see how in just four years, the ranking for a used Malibu in the eyes of U.S. News has gone from number seven to number one overall. The Malibu was completely redesigned in 2016, now with five different trims—with the base model being the least desirable for most consumers due to the lack of features.

The Malibu can accommodate five people comfortably and gets up to 27 miles per gallon (city) and up to 37 miles per gallon (highway). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the newest model a Top Safety Pick, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave a perfect rating for safety.

You’ll also find that the new 2017 model isn’t that much different from the 2016—so if you go for a low-mileage, 2016 model, you’ll still have most of the newest features. And while the older models don’t have the redesign, they’re still ranked very highly for a reliable, safe, used-car. One downside most drivers will find (at least in the 2016 version) are the larger blind spots, primarily due to the new design of the car which has gotten sleeker.

Best large used car: Buick LaCrosse

US News rankings:

  • 2016: 1
  • 2015: 1
  • 2014: 1
  • 2013: 1

This one’s a no-brainer. The Buick LaCrosse has been ranked as the best in its class (used) for the past four years. The LaCrosse has consistently delivered on having a luxury feel, particularly while driving it.

The cabin has remained spacious, comfortable, and quiet for the past four years. The LaCrosse is also keeping up with technology, and the dash entertainment system is on par with many other larger luxury sedans.

You’ll have no issues seating five people comfortably in the LaCrosse, and you’ll find gas mileage to be pretty favorable for a large sedan—up to 25 miles per gallon in the city and up to 36 miles per gallon on the highway (2016 model).

It’s also a safe car—the LaCrosse has consistently scored perfect or near-perfect in its safety tests for the past several years. The downside to this car has been the same for years – a smaller trunk. For the size of the car, most would expect a bigger cargo area in the trunk, but the LaCrosse falls somewhat short. Unless you’re planning on hauling luggage for four to five passengers, you should be fine.

Best used sports car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

US News rankings:

  • 2016: 3
  • 2015: 1
  • 2014: 4
  • 2013: 1

The MX-5 Miata gives you the look and feel of a luxury sports car for a fraction of the price. There’s a reason the Mazda MX-5 Miata is so beloved with drivers. It handles amazingly on the road and it’s just plain fun to drive.

As you can see, over the past four years, this model has consistently ranked in the top five for US News’ best used cars. In fact, it earned their Best Sports Car for the Money award in 2016. While it was fully redesigned in 2016, the older models are also very good. You’ll get excellent gas mileage, too.

The one thing to consider is safety ratings. Safety tests were not performed on the MX-5 Miata—and this isn’t to say it’s not a “safe” car—but you won’t find any stats or awards regarding the safety of the vehicle. Being that it’s a lightweight, small sports car, you’ll want to avoid driving it in any rough weather.

Summary

Narrowing down hundreds of cars to find the absolute top used models wasn’t easy – and some of these models may not fit what you’re looking for. If that’s the case, be sure to check out US News’ full year-by-year rankings to make sure you’re choosing the best car for you.

Your turn: what was the best used car you’ve ever purchased, and is it what you still drive today?

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About the author

Chris Muller picture
Total Articles: 203
Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He’s also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016. You can connect with Chris on Twitter.