Confused about which used car to buy for your family? Don’t be. There are lots of great choices out there. First, however, determine exactly what you need in terms of passenger seating, spaciousness, cargo-carrying capability, power and performance, fuel economy, amenities and safety features. Another consideration is your budget. Remember that you can buy more of a car for less money if you select a later-model used vehicle – and you’ll generally also benefit from the latest safety features and technological innovations.

The Top 3 Best Used Family Cars listed here are compiled using several expert sources, including the Consumer Reports 2009 Best of the Best most reliable used cars, the Edmunds 2009 Used Car Best Bets, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Picks, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

  • Honda AccordEdmunds hails the Honda Accord for its “completeness,” an “automotive icon” with a “sterling reputation for Honda_Accord_(2008)_frontreliability” that “continues to excel as a family sedan.” Completely redesigned in 2008 (its 8th generation), pros include high-quality interior, high resale value, above-average steering feel and ample passenger space. Cons include road noise, seats that some find uncomfortable and button-happy center stack. Accord is Consumer Reports top choice in family cars in its 2009 Best of the Best. The magazine’s editors say Accord’s been a “very reliable used car choice,” and the 2003 redesign made it “quieter and more agile” with standard antilock brakes (ABS). Electronic stability control (ESC) was standard on 2006 V-6 models and standard on all 2008 models. Accord is consistently on the IIHS Top Safety Picks for midsize cars and receives NHTSA top crash test scores.
  • Ford Fusion/Mercury MilanCorporate siblings, Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan debuted in 2006 as front-wheel drive only. Edmunds calls the 2009 Fusion “the best yet,” although Fusion/Milan were considerably refreshed for 2010. Edmunds says this restyling elevates Fusion “to elite status among midsize family sedans.” But “past Fusions are an attractive used car choice for those looking for a comfortable, well-equipped family hauler.” Pros include roomy interior, smooth ride, agile handling, available all-wheel-drive (AWD), and competitive price. Cons include short on power (improved for 2010), ESC optional, outdated stereo controls. Consumer Reports comments in the 2009 Best of the Best that Fusion/Milan “have very good reliability, tested well, and are very affordable.”  The 2009 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan with optional ESC are IIHS Top Safety Picks. The twins also received NHTSA’s 5 star rating in frontal occupant protection in frontal and side crashes, 4 stars in rear side crash protection, and 4/5 stars (FWD/AWD) in the agency’s rollover tests.
  • Toyota CamryEdmunds singles out the Toyota Camry (2002-2007) in its 2009 Used Car Best Bets midsize sedan category for its “fine build quality, legendary reliability and a hushed ride.” Camry (except ’08 V-6) is also listed in Consumer Reports 2009 Best of the Best as “Other good choices” in used family cars. Edmunds says the front-wheel drive Camry “continues to be a top choice for those seeking a roomy, comfortable and dependable family car.” Good values can be found in 2002-2006 models although standard ABS didn’t come until 2005 and 6th generation bowed in 2007. Pros include spacious cabin, powerful and fuel-efficient optional 268-horsepower V-6, ride quality and top crash test scores. Cons include inconsistent fit/finish, some low-grade interior plastics and minimal chassis feedback.

Also worth a look are the Acura TL and TSX, Audi A3 and A4, BMW 3-Series, Saab 9-3, Mercedes C-Class, Nissan Altima, Subaru Outback (6-cylinder) and Toyota Prius.

By Suzanne Kane

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