Best Used Cars

Whether it’s something fun to drive, a reliable commuter, or a family car, these models represent some of the best used car values available today.

Volvo V70 XC / XC70: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

Volvo wasn’t the first automaker to offer a lifted, all-wheel drive wagon. That honor goes to American Motors, whose novel Eagle wagon first hit showrooms in 1979. Unfortunately for AMC, the Eagle was far ahead of its time. Sales were tepid, and it vanished from the market just eight years later.

But times change. When Subaru followed suit with the Outback, which first appeared for the 1995 model year, their timing was impeccable. Americans had just begun their love affair with the SUV, and the Outback offered much of an SUV’s utility in a friendlier-to-drive package. It was sales hit — and continues to be to this day.

Volvo — long the wagon-maker of choice for college professors and suburban carpoolers — took note of this development. They took their excellent V70 model, added 1.4 inches of ride height and all-wheel drive, threw on some rugged-looking trim, and voila! The Volvo “Cross Country” — or “XC” for short — was born.

The Cross Country wagon has been a mainstay in the Volvo lineup ever since. (It’s sold new today in two different formats: the midsize V60 and the full-size V90.) And unlike the Subaru Outback, which is now far more SUV-like, Volvo’s XC wagon has always stayed true to its longroof roots.

With the XC wagon nearing a full 25 years in production, now is an excellent time to look back through its variation generations, each of which offer some compelling value propositions for the used car buyer.

Lexus GX 470: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

With some vehicles, the designers and engineers get pretty much everything right. They look sharp, they drive well, and they last — sometimes well beyond 200,000 miles. The Lexus GX 470 (2003-2009) is one of those vehicles.

Hailing from some of the peak Lexus years, the GX 470 offers the unusual combination of off-road prowess with on-road civility. And it does so with both style and grace — not to mention a good dose of Toyota reliability.

Back in the day, a brand-new GX cost a pretty penny. One could easily top $50,000 with options. That reserved them mainly for the well-to-do (and/or highly leveraged). But nowadays, outstanding used examples can be had for less than half that amount, making the GX a relative bargain in the world of used SUVs — especially considering its superior off-road capabilities.

So if you’re in the market for a luxury vehicle that can almost literally go anywhere and won’t break your wallet in the process, a used GX should definitely be on your shopping list.

Volvo C30: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

The C30 is a different kind of Volvo. It’s small and nimble. It’s entertaining and quick. It’s brash and stylish. In other words, it’s everything that most Volvos are not.

At the same time, it’s very much a Volvo — an upscale, safe, and reliable conveyance that traces its roots to classic models from the Swedish automaker dating back to the 1970s.

Best of all, the C30, produced from 2008 to 2013, is now an affordable used car, with excellent examples available for as little as $10,000.

In this buyer’s guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to find and buy the perfect one for you.

Buyer’s Guide: Volkswagen Golf / GTI Mk6 (2010-2014)

Suppose you’re looking for one car that’ll do it all. Slip into compact spaces with ease. Accelerate and handle with grace. Fit four adults and their luggage in a well-appointed interior with little apparent cost-cutting. Command the road at highway speeds. Let’s throw in 30+ mpg fuel economy for good measure.

Now suppose you’re looking to spend $15k or so, and the cheaper the better. If you’re thinking about new cars, don’t waste your time. Even the cheapest new car on the lot will likely surpass the $15k threshold, and the only boxes it’ll check are the ones pertaining to parking and fuel economy.

But for the same money or quite possibly far less, you could have a sixth-generation (Mk6) Volkswagen Golf. Step up to the 200-horsepower GTI version if you’re feeling frisky; it’s in your price range too. As the final Golf built in Germany before VW shifted to a more global (read: cost-conscious) product strategy, the Mk6 arguably represents the pinnacle of Volkswagen’s small-car engineering.

Thanks to the magic of depreciation, a gently used specimen can now be yours for pennies (okay, quarters) on the dollar, promising years of delightful motoring with hardly any age-related drawbacks.

The Chevrolet SS is a Used Car Hidden Gem

The Chevrolet SS is a bit of an odd duck. It looks unassuming, but it boasts Corvette power. It’s a big sedan, but it handles well. It’s an American car, but it’s imported from Australia. Perhaps that makes it less of an odd duck and more of a platypus.

Like the platypus, the Chevy SS is a pretty rare sight. Despite plans to sell as many as 15,000 units a year, GM unloaded only a fifth of that number, or about 13,000 total over its four-year run (2014-2017).

That’s mixed blessing for used car buyers. On the plus side, the limited supply helps to keep depreciation at bay. On the minus side, a good used SS still commands a premium, with prices ranging from around $30,000 to as much as $50,000 or more, depending on the year, miles, and options.

But considering what that buys you — a modern Q-ship that’s equally capable of driving grandma to bingo as it is of breaking the tires loose on the 2-3 upshift — we think that makes the Chevrolet SS a used car hidden gem.

Acura RL: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

In the race to establish premium Japanese automotive brands in the US, Honda was first with its Acura division. In 1986, Acura debuted its flagship model, the Legend, alongside a sporty hatchback, the Integra. Both sold well and established Acura as a top luxury marque in North America practically overnight.

The Legend was a truly remarkable car, deserving of its rather ambitious name. Shortly after its debut, it found a place on Car and Driver’s 10Best list three times in a row (1988-1990), and its second iteration, which first appeared in 1991, was even better. YouTube car reviewer Doug Demuro profiled the second gen Legend in this video, calling it one of the coolest cars of the era.

The RL was born when Acura changed its model naming convention, moving to alphanumeric monikers in the mid 1990s. Thus the third-generation Legend, which first appeared in 1996, became the Acura RL — or, more specifically, the “3.5RL” since Acura wanted to call attention to the new 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood.

While the RL was technically a new model, it built upon the essential goodness of the Legend that preceded it, featuring top-quality Honda engineering in a handsome and highly-functional package, with plenty of luxury touches to make it feel special.

And those are the qualities that make the RL an interesting used car purchase today.

Porsche 996: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

The ever-increasing mania and resulting skyrocketing values of air-cooled Porsche 911s have put those cars way out of reach for most buyers. Meanwhile, prices for the 996 generation, the first 911 with a water-cooled engine, have languished, in part because the prevailing wisdom among Porsche collectors is that the sun rises and sets only on the air-cooled cars.

Values are depressed, too, because of a known design flaw in the standard 996 engine that can, if not attended to, lead to a catastrophic failure, costing tens of thousands to repair. While this understandably gives most buyers pause, the truth is that a preemptive fix is readily available — and, even better, that many 996 examples on the market today have already had it applied.

This is all great news for the more practical enthusiast who wants to get in on the all-around goodness of Porsche’s iconic and entertaining sports car but without breaking the bank.

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive Porsche 911, there is no better choice than the 996. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to find and buy the perfect one for you.

Honda Element: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

Produced from 2003 through 2011, the Honda Element is practical, quirky, and unique. It’s also impressively space efficient. A full eight inches shorter than a Civic, the Element still has enough room inside for four six-footers to ride in comfort thanks to its boxy form and tall cabin. With a pair of smaller, reverse-opening doors next to the front doors and the absence of a “B” pillar, the Element offers a nearly 56-inch-wide opening with all the doors opened up, making it easy to load up passengers or cargo.

As far as styling, the Element is pretty hip for a squared-off form. Honda stated at the press intro that its design was inspired by a beach lifeguard station along with a surfboard, the latter’s influence evident in the curved roofline. They also noted that the Element was geared towards young and active sorts, including campers, dog owners, skiers and snowboarders, and of course surfers. As such, the front and rear ends are comprised of unpainted plastic composite panels, the idea being you didn’t have to worry about scratches or dings while exploring the great outdoors.

Yet, despite Honda’s diligent demographic angling, many older folks also have found the Element to be ideal for their lifestyles, which may or may not involve visits to antique shops, wherein the Element’s large portals and tall cabin can swallow up large pieces with ease. Of course, the Element’s elemental all-around goodness factors in as well, contributing to its popularity among the young and old alike.

These qualities, along with its solid Honda engineering, make the Element an excellent used car buy, with outstanding examples available for $10,000 to $15,000. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to find and buy the perfect one for you.

Buyer’s Guide: Mercedes-Benz SL-Class R129 Generation (1990-2002)

The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class traces its roots all the way back to the 300 SL Gullwing, a 1950s style icon that drove even better than it looked, capturing the checkered flag at storied races like Le Man and the Carrera Panamera. These days a Gullwing will set you back a cool million. But there’s another SL out there that’s not only a deserving heir to the name but also a great value: the R129 generation.

Produced from 1990 through 2002, the R129 Mercedes SL wears classic lines that look sharp to this day. Famed designer Bruno Sacco called it his masterpiece. And its beauty isn’t skin deep. Under the hood you’ll find a number of legendary engines, including V8 and V12 mills with their own impressive racing pedigrees.

The supply of nice R129 SLs is quite good, thanks in part to its long production run and also to the fact that many owners kept them as second or third cars, driving them only on special occasions. Now, thanks to the power of depreciation, these excellent roadsters are also about as cheap as they’ll ever be.

So if you’re in the market for a classic roadster that looks like a million bucks but only costs about $10-15 grand, you’re in the right place. Here is the Klipnik Buyer’s Guide for this thus-far overlooked generation of Benz’s iconic luxury roadster.

BMW 3 Series F30 Generation (2012-2018) Buyer’s Guide

The BMW 3 Series is as storied as they come. Spanning seven generations, from the E21 of the 1970s to the G20 of today, it boasts a legendary combination of athleticism, style, and livability. In fact, Car and Driver has named the 3 Series to its annual 10Best list a record 22 times in a row (from 1992 to 2014). No wonder it’s BMW’s best selling model, accounting for about a third of its worldwide sales.

The sixth generation, dubbed F30 for sedans and F31 for wagons (or “Touring” in BMW speak), carries the 3 Series mantle quite well, despite some notable departures from prior versions (which we’ll discuss below). And now that most are at least five years old, the F30 generation has gotten quite affordable, too, with excellent examples available for as little as $15,000.

So if you’re looking for a great used car that excels at almost everything — from commutes, to road trips, to backroad blasts — an F30 generation 3 Series should definitely be on your list. In this buyer’s guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to find and buy the perfect one for you.

Porsche 981 Boxster/Cayman: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

Two seats. Mid engine. Flat six. Manual gearbox. Low price. The formula for Porsche’s entry-level sports car, the Boxster (as well as its fixed-roof sibling, the Cayman), is a great one. It’s made the model, now in its 25th year, a major success story for the German automaker.

The Boxster has changed quite a bit since its 1996 debut — and not always for the better. One of the most significant updates occurred with the current generation, dubbed “982” by Porsche, which first appeared for the 2017 model year. That’s when Porsche swapped its traditional horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine for a turbocharged flat four. To be fair, the four-cylinder version is still an excellent car. But there’s no doubt some of the original magic has been lost.

The good news is that the previous generation, known as the “981,” represents the best of everything Porsche’s mid-engine sports car has to offer, including a free-revving and sweet-sounding flat six as standard equipment. Combine that with the fact that these cars are now between six and 10 years old, making them more affordable than they’ve ever been, and you have a recipe for a genuine used car bargain.

Lexus LS 430: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

What’s the best car ever made? It’s a tough question. The answer depends largely on what you appreciate most in an automobile. It could be the Model T, which was the first car accessible to the masses. Or maybe the McLaren F1. Almost 30 years after its debut, it’s still one of the fastest cars ever made. Or perhaps it’s the Mercedes-Benz 600 Grosser, a limousine so opulent that, it seems, it could only be truly appreciated by corrupt heads of state.

But it could also be the Lexus LS 430. The third generation of Lexus’ flagship sedan combines luxury, engineering, and affordability in a way that arguably surpasses any vehicle to come before it. Or since.

Between 2001 and 2006, buyers purchased quite a few third-gen LSes — over 160,000 of them in the US, in fact. Many understandably used them quite extensively, piling on hundreds of thousands of miles. But there are still quite a few well-preserved examples out there. And after 15+ years of depreciation, even a pampered low-mile garage queen can now be had for as little as $10,000, making an LS from this generation not just a great car but a genuine used car bargain.

Ford Flex: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

Mix one part minivan, one part wagon, add a dash of SUV, and what do you get? Probably something like the Ford Flex. It’s the Blue Oval’s recipe for stylish family transportation for folks who want something a little different — and, in many ways, better — than the standard fare.

The public got its first glimpse of the Flex at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, where it was introduced as a concept vehicle. It was a hit, and Ford put the concept into production three years later, as a 2009 model, selling over 300,000 units during its ten year run (2009-2019).

Ford discontinued the Flex in 2019. But that’s good news for used car buyers. The attributes that made it popular when new — its distinctive looks, spacious interior, and overall practicality — make it an even better used car. Thanks to depreciation, you can find a good used Flex for as little as $10,000.

In this buyer’s guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to find and buy the perfect one for you.

Toyota FJ Cruiser: Model History and Buyer’s Guide

The FJ Cruiser began life purely as a design concept. It’s retro lines — penned by then 25-year-old Jin Won Kim of Toyota’s Calty design studio in Newport Beach — recall many elements of Toyota’s iconic FJ40, the original Land Cruiser.

Even though Kim was born a quarter century after the original FJ rolled off the assembly line, he nailed the look. In fact, it wowed people so much at its 2003 debut at North American International Auto Show in Detroit that Toyota greenlit the FJ Cruiser for production.

Three years later, a new icon was born.

What’s the Best Cheap BMW M3? Generations E36 vs. E46 vs. E92

As serious car enthusiasts, even we here at Klipnik are sometimes surprised by the skyrocketing values of certain models. For years these cars and trucks remain affordable to non-wealthy enthusiasts, then, seemingly as if a switch is flipped, they become the flavor of the month, and their values go stratospheric. Case in point is BMW’s E30 M3, whose values headed for the moon a few years ago. Indeed, top examples of these have become valued up to $70,000 and more.

Granted, they are certainly desirable cars with their unique, racing-derived, and high-powered (for the time) inline four, firm sport suspension, serious sport seats, and radical body modifications. And they also have the added cachet of being a model built and sold to be homologated for racing. We know, we know — it’s all about supply and demand as well as what the market will bear.

Great cars, those early M3s, but there are much more affordable and better performing alternatives to be found right within the M3’s own family tree. We’re talking about, and presenting for your consideration here, the three generations that came after that first M3 which offer much better performance at a much more approachable purchase price.