Good news for used-car buyers: Thanks to more vehicles entering the market, prices are finally edging down after hitting record highs during the past two years. The bump in leasing in 2010 will bring a slew of returns come fall, and because new car sales keep heading up, more trade-ins are in the works. So if you wait until 2014, you'll see even better deals.
We picked ten three- and four-year-old vehicles that not only were tops in Kiplinger's rankings for performance, value and safety when they were new, but also got good marks for reliability. (See our story for strategies on how to get the best deal).
Vehicles have automatic transmissions, unless noted otherwise, and all have standard stability control and front, front side and head-protecting airbags. Dealer, private-party and certified prices are averages based on actual transactions reported by Edmunds.com for previously owned vehicles.
2010 Kia Soul
- Price when new: $15,890 (Soul +, manual)Dealer used price: $11,104Private-party price: $9,948Certified used price: $12,405MPG (city/hwy): 24/30
When it rolled onto the scene in 2010, the Kia Soul was a breath of fresh air in the compact segment. Its funky looks, along with serious legroom for rear passengers, loads of cargo space and features such as USB and Bluetooth — at the time standard only on pricier models — helped it stand out from the pack. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it a Top Safety Pick as well.
2010 Ford Mustang convertible
- Price when new: $30,245 (V6 Premium, manual)Dealer used price: $16,856Private-party price: $15,455Certified used price $17,729MPG (city/hwy): 18/26
Ford's classic pony car got an aggressive new mug for the 2010 model year, with new sheet metal wrapped tautly around its muscular body. Bigger wheels and better handling make it more fun to drive. Standard features include Ford's SYNC system, which has Bluetooth (for hands-free calling and operation of media devices) and USB connections.
- Price when new: $18,675 (i Touring, manual)Dealer used price: $13,217Private-party price: $12,142Certified used price: $14,919MPG (city/hwy): 25/33
The Mazda3's sporty design and drivability make it a pearl among its more prosaic compact-car peers. The second-generation Mazda3 offers improved steering and suspension, redesigned driver controls, and seats sculpted for support. The Mazda3 was named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, and Bluetooth is standard.
2009 BMW 3 Series
- Price when new: $36,425 (328i xDrive, manual)Dealer used price: $19,623Private-party price: $18,252Certified used price: $21,454MPG (city/hwy): 17/25
BMW's compact sedan combines elegant design, superior driving dynamics and a potent powertrain. The all-wheel-drive system sends the majority of power rearward in normal conditions to preserve the sporty feel, but it adjusts continuously to changing conditions. The IIHS rated the 2009 3 Series a Top Safety Pick.
2009 Toyota Prius
- Price when new: $24,990 (Base)Dealer used price: $14,723Private-party price: $13,638Certified used price: $16,303MPG (city/hwy): 48/45
Toyota's ubiquitous hybrid is known for its fuel efficiency, but it gets kudos for comfort as well. Don't be fooled by the small exterior; its 38-plus inches of rear legroom and 14 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat rival the roominess of the Camry, a Toyota sibling. The Prius's 60/40 split fold-down rear seat provides additional storage — something you won't find with most hybrids. Look for models with the available backup camera to complete the user-friendly package.
2010 Honda Accord
- Price when new: $25,380 (EX)Dealer used price: $17,438Private-party price: $16,211Certified used price: $18,544MPG (city/hwy): 21/31
The eighth-generation Accord pushed the midsize boundaries when it grew by three inches and entered the Environmental Protection Agency's large-car class, but the result is pure comfort for passengers, with a roomy backseat and increased cargo space. Add to that a generous combination of power (190 horsepower) and respectable overall fuel economy of 25 mpg.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
- Price when new: $28,675Dealer used price: $17,939Private-party price: $16,688Certified used price: $18,982MPG (city/hwy): 41/36
A redesign for 2010 brought a sportier look to the Fusion and added a hybrid powertrain option for the first time. The Fusion hybrid gets 56% better mileage in combined city and highway driving (39 mpg) than the gas-engine model, but you lose a few cubic feet of cargo space to the battery pack. Ford's SYNC system for hands-free calling and operation of media devices is a standard feature, and the Fusion is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
2010 Cadillac CTS
- Price when new: $37,290 (Base)Dealer used price: $21,035Private-party price: $19,581Certified used price: $23,089MPG (city/hwy): 18/27
Sharp creases and angular styling make the CTS stand out in a sea of ho-hum midsize luxury sedans. The 3.0-liter V6 puts out 270 horses — enough power to pin you to its eight-way adjustable seat. It's nimble, too, gliding smoothly around curves and corners. Despite its power, the CTS still manages 27 miles per gallon on the highway and takes regular gasoline, making it wallet-friendly as well.
2009 Honda CR-V
- Price when new: $21,955 (LX)Dealer used price: $15,039Private-party price: $14,031Certified used price: $16,157MPG (city/hwy): 20/27
Known for reliability, Honda's CR-V has always scored well on the Kiplinger value scale. The 2010 model won Best in Class Small Crossover for its spacious interior, generous cargo room and competitive fuel economy. It was also rated a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. Look for models with the navigation system, which includes a rearview camera.
2009 Toyota Highlander
- Price when new: $30,745 (Sport)Dealer used price: $19,583Private-party price: $18,155Certified used price: $21,555MPG (city/hwy): 18/24
Toyota's bestselling crossover is the ultimate family car. Moms (or dads) on the go will love the eight-way adjustable driver's seat, standard backup camera and seven airbags (including one for the driver's knees). The IIHS Top Safety Pick features a customizable second row that slides fore and aft, reclines, and can be configured two ways — as a three-person bench or, when the middle seat is removed, as two captain's chairs.
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