Shop Smart: A list of the best used cars for model years 2003-12

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As owners hold on to their vehicles longer, fewer late-model used cars are available for sale, resulting in a limited supply and higher prices. To help shoppers choose the best used car for their money, Consumer Reports compiled a list of the best used cars for model years 2003 through 2012.

These are the best sedans, SUVs and small cars available in four price ranges: from $10,000 up to $25,000. Each performed well in its tests when new and had above-average reliability for the model years shown, based on Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Survey. All models came standard with electronic stability control (ESC), a proven lifesaver during the years indicated.

In the $10,000 to $15,000 price range, the following cars made Consumer Reports' list of the best used cars:

Small cars: Honda Fit 2011 and Mazda3 2011 -- The Fit is an excellent choice among hatchbacks. It has amazing space utilization; responsive, agile handling; and a superefficient four-cylinder engine that returns 30 mpg overall with an automatic transmission. For a bit more refinement, look for a Mazda3 hatchback or sedan.

Sedans: Honda Accord (V-6) 2006-2007 and Acura TL 2005-2006 -- The Accord is an excellent choice among used cars. Its smooth V-6 engine is economical and strong, the ride is comfortable and compliant, and reliability is excellent. The four-cylinder version is nice but didn't get ESC until 2008. A more luxurious option is the Acura TL.

Small SUVs: Toyota RAV4 (four-cylinder) 2006-2008 and Honda CR-V 2005-2007 -- The 2006 RAV4 gained more interior room, a V-6, and an optional third-row seat. The four-cylinder's nimble handling, very good 23 mpg overall and versatile cabin propelled it to the top of Consumer Reports' small-SUV ratings. The CR-V is a sportier, if somewhat noisier, alternative.

Midsized/large SUVs: Toyota Highlander (V-6) 2004-2007 and Infiniti FX 2003-2004 -- The Highlander is quiet and comfortable. Testers got 19 mpg overall with the V-6. The interior is roomy, and the controls are easy to use. A third-row seat was optional, and a hybrid version was added in 2006. The Infiniti FX is a sportier two-row alternative.

In the $15,000-$20,000 price range, the following cars made the list of the best used cars:

Small cars: Toyota Prius 2010-2011 and Hyundai Elantra (sedan) 2011-2012 -- At 44 mpg overall, the Prius delivers the best gas mileage of any nonplug-in, five-passenger vehicle. The 2010 redesign brought more room, better brakes and sound -- but not agile -- handling. For a more enjoyable driving experience, look for a Hyundai Elantra sedan.

Sedans: Toyota Camry (four-cylinder) 2010-2012 and Infiniti M 2006-2007 -- Expect impressive 26 to 27 mpg overall with the four-cylinder Camry in addition to a roomy cabin and superb reliability. If a powerful engine and luxurious interior are your passion, opt for the Infiniti M with the V-6.

SUVs: Honda Pilot 2007-2008 and Mazda CX-9 2009 -- The Pilot combines a roomy cabin, good driving dynamics, seating for eight and respectable fuel economy in a package that isn't too big to fit in your garage. But road noise is a bit pronounced. The Mazda CX-9 is a more agile alternative with an even roomier third-row seat.

The Consumer Reports worst used cars list includes 2003 to 2012 models that have had multiple years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability, according to Consumer Reports' Annual Auto Survey. Among the 20 models that made the list are the BMW 7 Series, the Ford Explorer (V-6, 4WD), the Kia Sorento (V-6) and the Mini Cooper S.

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Consumer Reports: www.consumerreports.org


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