By Suzanne Kane

Looking for an affordable, yet reliable small or compact used car? Get ready to do some research on your own, but first take a look at the results from Consumer Reports. The magazine analyzed data from their Annual Auto Survey, Reliable Used Cars and Used Cars to Avoid to come up with their Best of the Best used vehicle lists in various categories. The models include those from years 1999 through 2008 and are not specific as to year. Highlights from various years for each of the magazine’s picks are featured here. These top 5 used small and compact cars can serve as the starting point in your research for your new used set of affordable wheels.

  • Honda Civic (2001-2006) – Consumer Reports calls the Honda Civic “reliable, economical and fun,” and highlights three model years. Honda redesigned the Civic in 2001, the 7th generation for the model. Available in coupe and sedan as well as 2-door hatchback Civic Si, the car was powered by a 117-hp 1.7-liter engine (127 horsepower in EX). The Civic hybrid debuted in 2003, powered by an 85-hp 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 13-hp electric motor. At the time, Honda Civic hybrid achieved 46 mpg city/51 mpg highway. In 2006, with its 8th generation all-new redesign, the Civic, available in sedan and coupe in DX, LX, and EX trim, and Si models, were powered by a single overhead cam (SOHC) 140-hp 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder engine (Si had the 197-hp 2.0 liter engine). Standard equipment included anti-lock brakes (ABS), curtain air bags and improved ride. The hybrid, with its now 110-hp 1.3-liter 4-cylinder gas engine and integrated electric motor, achieved EPA fuel economy (at the time) of 50 mpg city/50 mpg highway. New EPA fuel economy ratings put the 2006 Honda Civic hybrid at a 42 mpg combined rating (40 mpg city/45 mpg highway). Edmunds.com shows dealer retail price ranges for used Honda Civics from $5,274 (2001 models) to $18,167 for 2006 models.
  • Toyota Echo (2000-2005) – Toyota launched the Echo in 2000 in an attempt to bring younger buyers into the Toyota lineup with a mostly bare-bones model. Powered by a 108-hp 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine, Echo was available in coupe and sedan. Fuel economy at the time ranged in the mid-30s mpg, considered among the best for a non-hybrid model. Most features were optional to keep the prices low. Standard equipment included AM/FM four-speaker audio, tilt steering and 14-inch wheels. In 2001, side airbags were available, and in 2003, when Echo was restyled, 15-inch wheels were offered. In its final years, Toyota made Echo a special-order vehicle, causing its sales to plummet. EPA fuel economy (new) ratings for the 2005 Echo with manual transmission are 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway and 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway in the automatic. Edmunds.com posts dealer retail used vehicle prices for the 2000 to 2005 Echo from about $4,393 to $7,468.
  • Scion xB (2004-2008) – Toyota’s next new entry, Scion xB wagon, designed to lure younger buyers debuted in 2003 as a 2004 model and was only available in California. After a gradual rollout to markets like New York, Texas and Florida, Scion xB went nationwide in the 2005 model year. Part of the vehicle’s allure is its ability to be personalized, a big attraction for younger buyers. Standard equipment in the 1st-generation Scion xB includes ABS, stability and traction control, air conditioning, MP3-compatible CD player, power windows/mirrors/locks, 15-inch steel wheels and choice of plastic wheel covers. The powerplant from 2004-2005 was the 108-hp 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine, available with manual or automatic transmission. In 2006, the horsepower dropped to 103 due to new SAE certification procedures. Edmunds.com cites the vehicle’s used car price range at about $8,677 (2004) to around $14,417 (2008). EPA fuel economy (new) numbers for the 2004-2005 Scion xB are 27 mpg city/32 mpg highway (manual) and 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway (automatic). For 2006, the numbers are 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway (manual) and 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway (automatic).
  • Toyota Corolla (1999-2008) – Toyota’s 8th generation Corolla (1998-2000) featured an all-new (for 1998) all-aluminum 120-hp 1.8-liter dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4-cylinder engine. It was available in sedan only, and in base VE, midline CE and uplevel LE trim. ABS was optional as well as side airbags and CD package. In 2000, VVT-I variable vale timing was added to the 1.8-liter engine, boosting horsepower to 125. Corolla became a low emission vehicle (LEV). The 9th generation (2003-2008) featured a redesign to appeal to younger buyers. Corolla models included base CD, luxury LE or sporty S, powered by a 126-hp 1.8-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine. ABS was optional. The 2007 Corolla was named as one of the J.D. Power and Associates highest quality compact cars. In new EPA numbers, fuel economy ranges from 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway (manual) and 26/25 mpg city/ 36/30 mpg highway (4-speed vs. 3-speed automatic) for 2002 models to 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway (manual) and 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway (automatic) for 2008 models. According to Edmunds.com, dealer retail price range for used Corollas runs from $3,696-$4,090 (1998) to $11,979-$13,289 (2008)
  • Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe (2003-2008) – Both models are listed in Consumer Reports best used small/compact cars and both are fraternal twins from a Toyota/General Motors collaboration. They are, however, distinctively different-looking vehicles. Introduced in 2003, the Matrix took the place of the Corolla wagon. Matrix and Vibe both are powered by the base 130-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine (123 horsepower in all-wheel drive and 180 horsepower in XRS front-wheel drive or Vibe GT). Matrix came in standard, XR and XRS trim. Vibe came in base and GT models, with front- or all-wheel drive. ABS was standard on AWD and GT models and optional in base. Dual front airbags were standard with seat-mounted side airbags optional. Toyota Matrix, according to Edmunds.com, has dealer retail used prices that range from $9,898 (2003) to $14,378 in 2008. Consumer Guide lists used vehicle prices for Matrix from 2003-2008 from $6,800 to $15,900 and for Vibe from about $7,000 to $14,600. New EPA fuel economy ratings for 2003 2004 Matrix and Vibe models are 25 mpg city/30 mpg highway in automatic (Vibe is 31 mpg highway) and 25/22 mpg city/ 33/28 mpg highway (for 5 speed/6-speed manual, while Vibe 6-speed gets 29 mpg highway). For 2005-2006, automatic numbers for both are 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway, and 26/22 mpg city/ 33/29 mpg highway for the 5-speed/6-speed manual. In 2007-2008, the numbers for both Matrix and Vibe are 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway for automatic and 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway for the 5-speed manual.

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