NEWS

What Are the Best Used Cars for $15,000?

best cars under 15K jpg 2016 Toyota Camry | Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

It’s no secret that used-car prices have gone through the roof, which means you have to work harder these days to find a good buy on a safe, reliable used car. But affordable pre-owned cars still exist and can fit into your budget. To help you in your search, we poured over Cars.com’s listings to find a selection of solid vehicles for around $15,000. Tap the links below to see our picks if you’re on a $10,000 or $20,000 budget.

Related: What Are the Best Used Cars for $10,000?

Related: What Are the Best Used Cars for $20,000?

We included a variety of vehicles that accommodate different needs and tastes — be it a car, SUV or minivan. Vehicles older than the 2012 model year are excluded, as such examples are likely to have higher mileage and more mechanical problems. Some of our candidates offer sportier driving, more tech or a fancier interior, but all meet specific criteria to qualify for our list. First, Cars.com editors have judged them to be good vehicles for the years in question. They also all have respectable reliability scores in U.S. Vehicle Dependability studies by analytics company J.D. Power. Finally, none of the vehicles below have raised any red flags in crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

While the federal government’s inflation report in February showed used-car prices have fallen nearly 12% over the last 12 months, they remain well above the levels seen prior to the inventory shortage. Cars.com analyzed thousands of used-car listings as of February to identify vehicles that meet the criteria and have a median price range between $12,500 and $17,000. Median prices indicate that half of all examples are priced above the mark and half below — so you should be able to get one for around $15,000.

Unless noted otherwise, the listings below include all body styles and powertrains offered in those years. If you tap the link to each vehicle’s model years, details and reviews, you’ll see complete data on trim levels and features you might find while shopping.

Here are our safe and reliable used-car choices for around $15,000, listed by type. Of note, our listed EPA mileage comes after revisions the agency issued in early 2016 that may affect stated mileage as far back as 2011. As such, figures on certain older cars below may not align with the original window-sticker mileage.

Subcompact Car

2015-18 Kia Soul

kia soul 2017 rear three quarter oem jpg 2017 Kia Soul | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat hatchback
  • Median price: About $12,500-$15,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 26-28 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2015; 2016 with optional forward collision warning); Top Safety Pick+ (2018 with optional front crash prevention and specific headlights)

Note that this entry excludes the all-electric Soul EV, which has limited availability. Kia’s boxy, funky subcompact doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, but it remains a worthy, less expensive alternative to a subcompact SUV. It has surprising passenger and cargo space for its city-size footprint, and its big liftgate can handle awkward cargo. The Soul’s ride can be a bit busy and choppy — not unexpected for a car with such a short wheelbase — but it’s comfortable overall.

USB and Bluetooth are standard, but otherwise, the base model is plain, underpowered and sparsely equipped; even a backup camera was optional. A better choice is the Soul’s mid-level Plus trim, which gets an engine upgrade and more features. The Soul’s top Exclaim trim level had more features and options, from navigation to ventilated front seats, a panoramic moonroof and keyless entry with push-button start. The 2017 Soul introduced a new 201-horsepower, turbocharged engine for the top trim that also had the highest mileage rating of the three available powertrains. The 2018 model gained an available automatic emergency braking system, which helped it earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award.

Research Kia Soul model years, details and reviews.

Compact Cars

2013-15 Acura ILX

acura ilx 2013 exterior side profile oem jpg 2013 Acura ILX | Manufacturer image
    • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
    • Median price: About $14,500-$17,000
    • EPA combined fuel economy: 25-28 mpg (gas-only); 38 mpg (hybrid)
    • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2013)

Acura is Honda’s luxury division, and if you want a premium alternative to the Civic, this is it. Based on the Civic’s bones, the ILX was an all-new entry model for Acura for the 2013 model year. But it’s not just a dressed-up Civic — it’s lower and heavier than its Honda sibling, with upgraded suspension bits and steering, too. The ILX is noticeably quieter than a Civic, and its interior is competitive with entry-premium sedans of its day. Ride quality is good, and handling is competent.

The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has a good balance of power and fuel efficiency; an upgraded 2.4-liter four-cylinder came only with a manual transmission for 2013-15. A hybrid version of the ILX was available for the earlier model years, but if that’s your inclination, it might pay to shop for the more efficient Civic Hybrid of its time.

Research Acura ILX model years, details and reviews.

Research Acura ILX Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

2013-15 Chevrolet Volt

chevrolet volt 2015 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2015 Chevrolet Volt | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, four-seat plug-in hybrid hatchback
  • Median price: About $12,500-$15,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 98 mpg-equivalent, with 37 mpg as a hybrid after 38 miles of all-electric range on a full battery charge
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2013 and 2015); Top Safety Pick+ (2014 with optional front crash prevention)

The main appeal of the Volt plug-in hybrid is a useful all-electric range for daily driving, plus good fuel economy (albeit on premium gas). The gas-electric hybrid is powered by a 16.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 149-hp electric motor, along with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that acts primarily as a generator. For longer trips free of range anxiety, the Volt gets about 38 miles of all-electric range before the gas engine kicks in to keep the batteries charged until the next charging stop. The 2013-15 model years have a four-seat interior layout with a divided backseat. The Volt has quality interior materials, though its touch-sensitive center controls can be annoying. A backup camera was optional, and it’s worth looking for given the Volt’s otherwise limited rear visibility.

Research Chevrolet Volt model years, details and reviews.

2013-15 Honda Civic

honda civic 2015 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2015 Honda Civic | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan or two-door, five-seat coupe
  • Median price: About $14,000-$15,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 25-34 mpg (gas-only); 44 mpg (hybrid); 31 mpg-e (natural gas)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2013-14 sedan with optional forward collision warning; 2013 coupe); Top Safety Pick (2015 sedan, 2014-15 coupe)

The 2013 Civic got an urgent makeover after its 2012 redesign opened to tepid reviews. In addition to a new look and improved interior materials, it also got a standard backup camera, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. The suspension also was tweaked to offer better ride and handling — to the point of shaming the rival Toyota Corolla of its time. The Civic’s coupe body style got the makeover for the 2014 model year, and higher-trim Civics got the option of a new 7-inch touchscreen system (plagued with a maddening touch bar for volume). In addition to the mass-market sedan and coupe, this generation of Civic also offered a sportier Si variant with more power (and only a stick shift) as well as hybrid and natural-gas versions.

Research Honda Civic model years, details and reviews.

Research Honda Civic hybrid model years, details and reviews.

2014-17 Mazda3

mazda3 2017 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2017 Mazda3 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan or hatchback
  • Median price: About $13,500-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 28-33 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014-16 models with optional automatic emergency braking, starting with 2014s built after Mazda made changes in October 2013 to improve crashworthiness; 2017 models with optional automatic emergency braking and specific headlights)

The Mazda3 was redesigned for 2014 with a sleek new look and upgraded interior, but it retained core values like good handling and driving fun. It offered two engine options: a 2.0-liter or 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with the more powerful 2.5-liter getting increased fuel efficiency. But the Mazda3 continued to have a tighter rear seat, firmer ride and less cargo room than a lot of rivals, so compact-car shoppers who value practicality over driving fun should look elsewhere. The 2017 model year brought styling, interior and media updates, but the Mazda3 still didn’t offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, which had become widely available by then. A low-speed front collision system with automatic braking was available for these years.

Research Mazda3 model years, details and reviews.

2017 Toyota Corolla

toyota corolla 2017 rear three quarter oem jpg 2017 Toyota Corolla | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan or hatchback
  • Median price: About $17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 30-34 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (sedan)

Midway through its extant generation, the 2017 Corolla got a light update with a big new grille. More importantly, it also got an impressive infusion of standard safety and driver-assistance features, including a backup camera, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane departure steering assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. The top XLE trim level offers a media system with navigation and 7-inch touchscreen but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. What hadn’t changed was the nameplate’s strong reliability, as well as its roomy but downscale interior, economy-car driving feel and noisy engine. The Corolla inherited a hatchback stablemate this year, dubbed the Corolla iM; it was previously sold as the Scion iM before Toyota retired the brand.

Research Toyota Corolla model years, details and reviews.

Research Toyota Corolla iM model years, details and reviews.

2012-15 Toyota Prius

toyota prius 2015 exterior side profile oem jpg 2015 Toyota Prius | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat hybrid or PHEV hatchback
  • Median price: About $13,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 48 mpg (hybrid); 95 mpg-e with 50 mpg after 11 miles of all-electric range on a full charge (PHEV)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2012-13); Top Safety Pick+ (2014-15 with optional automatic emergency braking, starting with 2014s built after Toyota made changes in November 2013 to improve crashworthiness)

The Prius was refreshed for the 2012 model year with multimedia updates, including a newly added touchscreen for the base model that came with a USB media port and Bluetooth capability. Higher trim levels got Toyota’s Entune system, which added navigation, satellite radio, voice control and an integrated backup camera (a useful provision, given the Prius’ limited rear visibility). This generation of the Prius maintained its primary virtues — exceptional gas mileage and a roomy cabin — as well as its ongoing flaws: a busy and noisy ride and a dated cabin compared to its rivals. The 2014 model year brought an optional forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking that helped the hatchback earn top IIHS safety scores. Many examples in this vintage might still have some of the transferable battery warranty, which was eight years/100,000 miles or 10 years/150,000 miles in states that adopted California emissions standards.

Research Toyota Prius model years, details and reviews.

Research Toyota Prius Plug-In model years, details and reviews.

2016-17 Volkswagen Jetta

volkswagen jetta 2016 exterior front oem jpg 2016 Volkswagen Jetta | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $14,000-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 27-33 mpg (gas-only); 44 mpg (hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2016 with optional automatic emergency braking; 2017 with optional automatic emergency braking and specific headlights)

This generation of Jetta lived in the shadow of its better-known compact car rivals in part because of sedate styling and a dated interior design. But it distinguishes itself with confident handling, a quiet cabin, an adult-size rear seat and the trunk space of a larger, mid-size car. The 2016 model at last got a standard USB port, as well as available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also got a significantly more efficient base turbo 1.4-liter engine. Also offered in 2016 was a fuel-efficient Jetta Hybrid. For both years, VW also offered a separate, higher-price GLI variant with upscale interior trim, its own chassis tuning and a 210-hp powertrain.

Research Volkswagen Jetta model years, details and reviews.

Research Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Compact SUVs

2013-14 Acura RDX

acura rdx 2015 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2015 Acura RDX | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $16,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 22-23 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2013)

A 2013 redesign brought a transformation of the RDX from a sporty but quirky small SUV into a bigger, more comfortable V-6 luxury cruiser. The cabin is quiet and upscale, with very comfortable leather seating as standard equipment and adequate cargo space. The ride is smooth, and handling remains competent (if dulled) from the previous generation’s racetrack-ready capabilities. Bluetooth and a USB port were standard, and an 8-inch touchscreen was optional. The redone RDX continued with little change through 2015.

Research Acura RDX model years, details and reviews.

2014-17 Chevrolet Equinox and 2014-16 GMC Terrain

chevrolet equinox 2014 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2014 Chevrolet Equinox | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $12,500-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 18-26 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014 with optional forward collision warning); Top Safety Pick (2015 and 2016 with optional forward collision warning)

The first-generation small SUV siblings from GM, the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain, continued into these model years with a few updates but no major changes to their primary strengths. They’re essentially the same SUV with different styling, so the choice is one of taste. Both are notably larger than their rivals, which is evident in their cabin comfort and ride. Interior space is enhanced by a sliding and reclining rear bench for grown-up comfort. Bluetooth calling and a USB port are standard, but if Bluetooth audio streaming is a priority, you’ll need to get the upgraded media system and 8-inch touchscreen. An underwhelming four-cylinder or a more powerful V-6 were the SUVs’ engine offerings at the time, the latter with up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity. Even though the pair was aging, both models finished second and third overall in Cars.com’s 2015 comparison of eight compact SUVs.

Research Chevrolet Equinox model years, details and reviews.

Research GMC Terrain model years, details and reviews.

2014-15 Mazda CX-5

mazda cx 5 2014 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2014 Mazda CX-5 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat compact SUV
  • Median price: $15,000-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 26-29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014-15 with optional automatic emergency braking, starting with 2014s built after Mazda made changes in October 2013 to improve crashworthiness)

The Mazda CX-5 was an all-new compact SUV for the 2013 model year. The 2014 CX-5 addressed a major criticism that the debut model was woefully underpowered with the option of a bigger 2.5-liter four-cylinder (the CX-5 otherwise gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder); it made a big difference without sacrificing fuel-economy. Beyond that, the CX-5 was stylish and a little smaller than some other compact SUVs of its day, with an adequate rear seat and cargo area in its well-appointed interior. As with other Mazdas, the CX-5 distinguishes itself with better handling — and a firmer ride — than most of the competition, not to mention a multimedia system that trails many rivals for overall usability. A low-speed automatic emergency braking system became an option in 2014 and figures into the SUV’s IIHS safety ratings.

Research Mazda CX-5 model years, details and reviews.

2014-16 Nissan Rogue

nissan rogue 2015 exterior front three quarter oem 1 jpg 2015 Nissan Rogue | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five- or seven-seat compact SUV
  • Median price: About $14,500-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 24-28 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014 with optional forward collision warning); Top Safety Pick (2015 and 2016 with optional forward collision warning)

Redesigned for 2014 and immediately popular, the new-generation Rogue offered generous space for passengers and cargo, with quality interior materials and a chassis tuned for a comfortable and quiet ride. The continuously variable automatic transmission carried over and continued to contribute to drivetrain noise in an otherwise quiet cabin. Nissan also sold a related Rogue Hybrid in small numbers. Newly optional on the Rogue was a small third row, but it’s sized only for kids. This generation got updated electronics and an available 360-degree camera system; automatic emergency braking also became optional for the 2016 model year. Note that we are talking here about the updated Rogue — not the Rogue Select, an older-generation Rogue sold briefly alongside the newer model.

Research Nissan Rogue model years, details and reviews.

Research Nissan Rogue Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Mid-Size Cars

2012-15 Buick LaCrosse

buick lacrosse 2014 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2014 Buick LaCrosse | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $12,500-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 20-29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2012 and 2013)

The LaCrosse, from GM’s near-premium Buick brand, is comfortable, quiet, smooth-riding and well built. Falling somewhere in between the mid-size and full-size class, it’s a little tighter in exterior size, backseat and trunk space than larger cars of its time. Buick offered a base four-cylinder mild-hybrid powertrain with electric boost that provided class-leading gas mileage, though it made the car somewhat underpowered. The hybrid drivetrain’s battery cuts into trunk space, too, so you might want to consider the V-6 model, whose smooth-revving V-6 kept more with the LaCrosse’s premium billing; AWD was available with the V-6 only. Buick’s more modern IntelliLink touchscreen media system became standard for 2013; the 2014 model year saw styling tweaks and interior upgrades; and the 2015 LaCrosse gained a backup camera.

Research Buick LaCrosse model years, details and reviews.

2013-16 Buick Regal

buick regal 2016 exterior side oem jpg 2016 Buick Regal | Manufacturer image
  • Type: four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $12,500-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 22-29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2013)

While the 2013 Regal saw few changes from the previous model year (listed under the Best Used Cars for $10,000), the 2014 Regal got a lightly refreshed exterior and interior that enhanced its appeal as a more premium mid-size choice. However, it remained smaller outside and tighter inside (particularly in the backseat) than more family-oriented rivals. The redesign also brought a new 259-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as standard equipment. New options on 2014 models were a blind spot warning system, adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system with or without automatic emergency braking. The 2016 model added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

Research Buick Regal model years, details and reviews.

2014-17 Ford Fusion

ford fusion 2016 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2016 Ford Fusion | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $13,000-$16,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 20-29 mpg (gas-only); 41-42 mpg (hybrid); 88-97 mpg-e with 38-42 mpg after 20-22 miles of all-electric range on a full charge (PHEV)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014 with optional front crash prevention); Top Safety Pick (2015 and 2017)

This generation of the Fusion, redesigned for 2013, offered a foursome of four-cylinder engines, three of them turbocharged, as well as an improved gas-electric Fusion Hybrid and PHEV Fusion Energi. A new Sport trim, added for the 2017 model year, brought a 325-hp, twin-turbo 2.7-liter V-6 to the powertrain party. The Fusion came with standard FWD, with AWD offered on top trim levels. Among non-hybrid models, the mileage king was a new-for-2014 turbo 1.5-liter engine. Despite some hard-to-use controls, the Fusion was more fun to drive than most of the competition and classier in terms of looks and interior design — as long as you avoid the base S model which came with a notably cheaper-looking interior. A refresh for the 2017 Fusion brought a better multimedia system, increased storage in the redesigned center console and updated safety tech.

Research Ford Fusion model years, details and reviews.

Research Ford Fusion Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Research Ford Fusion Energi model years, details and reviews.

2013-15 Honda Accord

honda accord 2015 exterior rear three quarter oem jpg 2015 Honda Accord coupe | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan or two-door, five-seat coupe
  • Median price: About $15,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-30 mpg (gas-only); 47 mpg (hybrid); 115 mpg-e with 46 mpg after 13 miles of all-electric range on a full charge (PHEV)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2013 and 2014 with optional forward collision warning); Top Safety Pick (2015)

Along with Toyota’s Camry, the Accord is one of the go-to choices in mid-size sedans for a pleasant, smooth and quiet family car. It was redesigned for the 2013 model year, with a sportier coupe sold alongside the sedan. The Accord offered four-cylinder, V-6 and hybrid powertrains (as well as a PHEV, briefly). The four-cylinder is a good choice — adequate and efficient without sacrificing trunk space for the hybrid’s batteries. However, the Accord Hybrid at the right price could be a good pick for commuter duty. The new generation got a more refined interior with Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for even the base model’s media system.

Research Honda Accord model years, details and reviews.

Research Honda Accord Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Research Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

2014-16 Mazda6

mazda6 2015 exteiror front three quarter oem jpg 2015 Mazda6 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $15,000-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 29-32 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2014-16 with optional automatic emergency braking)

Sometimes overlooked among mid-size sedans, the Mazda6 is the fun-to-drive choice for these years — not to mention one of the more stylish ones with its 2014 redesign. The 2014 model year also brought Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain technology with significantly improved fuel efficiency for the four-cylinder, while the prior generation’s V-6 option was dropped. In higher trim levels, the Mazda6’s interior has a more premium, driver-centric design than most in the class, though noise can intrude. Low-speed automatic emergency braking was available on higher variants and figures into the sedan’s IIHS safety ratings. The 2015 model carries over, but the 2016 Mazda6 got some mild styling tweaks, a revised dashboard, availability of higher-speed automatic braking and a new media system with center console controller.

Research Mazda6 model years, details and reviews.

2014-16 Toyota Camry

toyota camry 2016 exterior action front oem jpg 2016 Toyota Camry | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $15,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 25-28 mpg (gas only), 39-40 mpg (hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2014s built after Toyota made changes in December 2013 to improve crashworthiness); Top Safety Pick+ (2015-16 with optional automatic emergency braking)

The Camry is a safe, reliable mid-size family sedan that’s good at most things and thrilling at none. The 2014 model’s roots date to a redesign for the 2012 model year, while the 2015 model brought more aggressive exterior styling. But a 2015 or 2016 Camry feels and drives about the same as before; it’s also about the same on the inside — comfortable but a little low-rent — with media tech that’s a step behind others of its era. V-6 and hybrid versions are available, but the standard four-cylinder is the sweet spot for fuel-efficiency and price.

Research Toyota Camry model years, details and reviews.

Research Toyota Camry Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

2016-17 Volkswagen Passat

volkswagen passat 2016 exterior side profile oem jpg 2016 Volkswagen Passat | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $15,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 23-29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2016 with optional automatic emergency braking); Top Safety Pick (2017)

The Passat was Cars.com’s Best of 2012 model in that generation’s debut year, and it’s a roomy, near-full-size sedan with a quality interior, giant backseat, smooth ride and sporty handling. It got a freshening for 2016 that brought multimedia system updates, added safety features and better gas mileage. Formerly behind in multimedia, the updated model brought a new system with a USB port, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility on all but the base S trim level. The Passat also got a standard backup camera and low-speed automatic emergency braking system on SE trims and above. For 2017, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking became standard across all trims.

Research Volkswagen Passat model years, details and reviews.

2013-15 Volvo S60

volvo s60 2015 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2015 Volvo S60 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $12,500-$15,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-29 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (2013-15)

The S60 is on the small side for a mid-size sedan, but it has a stylish premium look and upscale interior. The 2013-15 model year offered a buffet of choices in trim levels and options, as well as four-, five- or six-cylinder engines and a choice of front- or AWD; the link below will show you the powertrains options and feature availability by model year. These cars are also among the first to have standard low-speed automatic emergency braking, and 2013-2015 models earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation.

Research Volvo S60 model years, details and reviews.

Mid-Size SUVs

2012 Lexus RX

lexus rx 350 2012 exterior rear three quarter oem jpg 2012 Lexus RX 350 | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 20-21 mpg (gas-only); 28-29 mpg (hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

The 2012 RX is an SUV for grown-ups: impressively quiet, smooth-riding and unflappable. The cabin offers leather and real wood trim (though you could get cloth seats in base models, too). The powertrains — a gas-only V-6 in the RX 350 and a gas-electric V-6 hybrid in the RX 450h — go about their business without drama, which also describes the RX’s competent but less-than-sporty handling. The seats are comfortable; the sliding backseat is roomy; and Lexus offered a wide range of optional amenities. Lexus’ multimedia system was fine for its time, but some will find the console-mounted joystick controller cumbersome. Shoppers looking for racier styling can hunt down the sportier-looking F Sport version.

Research Lexus RX model years, details and reviews.

Research Lexus RX hybrid model years, details and reviews.

2012-14 Toyota Venza

toyota venza 2012 exterior side profile oem jpg 2012 Toyota Venza | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $15,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-23 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2012 and 2013)

Toyota resurrected the Venza nameplate as a hybrid-only SUV for the 2021 model year, but the original Venza — a high-riding revival of the former Camry wagon — was powered by a 181-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder or a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The 2012-14 Venza is a comfortable, well-behaved SUV with a nicer interior than the Camry of its time (not exactly a high bar). With a more carlike design that deviates from most mid-size SUVs, the Venza may turn off shoppers who want traditional upright SUV styling. The Venza can be a little noisy on the highway, with a ride on the firm side without a lot of payoff in handling. AWD was an option, as was the V-6 that gets nearly the same mileage as the base four-cylinder.

Research Toyota Venza model years, details and reviews.

Three-Row SUVs

2016 Kia Sorento

9567 2016 Sorento SXL 1 scaled jpg 2016 Kia Sorento | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five- or seven-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 19-24 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (with optional forward collision warning)

Kia redesigned the mid-size Sorento for 2016, but it remained bigger than most two-row rivals and smaller than most three-rows. It offered a small third-row option to increase seating to seven (that space was best left to kids), and it left very little cargo space when occupied. Space was plentiful in the first two rows, however. The Sorento is a quiet SUV with a comfortable balance of ride and handling. Three engines were offered for 2016: a conventional four-cylinder, a turbo four-cylinder or a V-6. AWD was available, though not on the base L trim. A backup camera was standard on all but the L trim, and a 360-degree camera system was optional for the top SX Limited. Forward collision warning was optional, not standard, on the 2016 Sorento, though that was enough to earn then-less-stringent IIHS awards.

Research Kia Sorento model years, details and reviews.

2012-13 Toyota Highlander

toyota highlander 2012 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2012 Toyota Highlander | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, seven-seat SUV
  • Median price: About $16,000-$17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 19-22 mpg (gas-only); 28 mpg (hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (both years)

The Highlander’s reputation for reliability and high demand for SUVs has kept used prices up even for older model years. The 2012-13 Highlander is a smooth-riding SUV with a family-friendly, if cheap-feeling, interior. The second-row bench seat slides to allow passengers to compromise with those in the third row for legroom; it also has a novel, removable middle section that converts the bench to captain’s chairs with a pass-through. A backup camera came on all but the base trim. Four-cylinder and V-6 gasoline engines were offered; a V-6 hybrid version was also available, but it could be harder to find. In its final year before a redesign, the 2013 Highlander didn’t see many changes aside from a new Plus trim that slotted above the base model.

Research Toyota Highlander model years, details and reviews.

Research Toyota Highlander Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Full-Size Cars

2014-15 Kia Cadenza

kia cadenza 2014 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2014 Kia Cadenza | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $14,000-$16,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 22 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2014)

The Cadenza made its debut in 2014, and it’s a classy sedan with a premium look and feel, plus a quiet interior, lots of room and a generous load of standard features even in the lower of its two trim levels. Under the hood is a standard 293-hp, 3.3-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; while the sedan isn’t geared towards performance, the engine brings ample power for daily driving. The Cadenza looks and feels more expensive than you’d expect with its price and Kia badge. The 2015 Cadenza saw minimal changes including tweaks to its front-end styling and a newly available rear cross-traffic alert.

Research Kia Cadenza model years, details and reviews.

2013 Toyota Avalon

toyota avalon 2013 exterior front three quarter oem jpg 2013 Toyota Avalon | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, five-seat sedan
  • Median price: About $17,000
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 24-25 mpg (gas-only); 40 mpg (hybrid)
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick

Redesigned for 2013, the Avalon is a bigger (and nicer) alternative to the V-6 Camry that makes a good family road-tripper — though it trades the prior generation’s boatlike softness for somewhat firmer suspension tuning. The backseat has adult-size comfort, and the trunk is huge. Even the base trim has a lot of features, though it would be worth looking for one with the upgraded 7-inch navigation touchscreen.

Research Toyota Avalon model years, details and reviews.

Research Toyota Avalon Hybrid model years, details and reviews.

Minivan

2012-14 Honda Odyssey

honda odyssey 2012 exterior rear three quarter oem jpg 2012 Honda Odyssey | Manufacturer image
  • Type: Four-door, seven- or eight-seat minivan
  • Median price: About $13,000-$16,500
  • EPA combined fuel economy: 21-22 mpg
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick (2012-13); Top Safety Pick+ (2014)

This prototypical family hauler was redesigned for the 2011 model year, and this generation has eight seats on all but the base LX trim level. The Odyssey includes an expandable second row that fits three child-safety seats, with a built-in trash bag holder and plenty of cupholders for cans, bottles and juice boxes. It also has comparable cargo space to rivals of its vintage. The 2014 Odyssey introduced updated front and rear styling and a handy built-in vacuum system on the top Touring Elite trim. A six-speed automatic transmission also became standard across all trims and was paired with the minivan’s 248-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

Research Honda Odyssey model years, details and reviews.

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Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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