“If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars.”
Jean Paul Getty was named the world’s richest person in 1966, back when $1.2 billion could buy a lot of top hats and monocles. While we can’t all be oil tycoons, this notorious miser could teach us something about hanging on to our money. Buying a used car is a good start.
For the many money-wise consumers looking for reliable second-hand wheels, we’ve pulled together the most surprising finds from our weekly used car reviews this year.
2011-14 Mitsubishi RVR
Cash-strapped Mitsubishi conjured up a new cute-ute on a budget by retaining the popular Outlander’s platform and paring the body down a few sizes. The surgery paid off.
The lone available engine was the Lancer’s 2.0-litre four cylinder, rated at 148 hp. It was mated to a five-speed manual or a continuously variable (CVT) transmission.
Two litres is not enough motor to move the RVR with any authority, but owners praised the relaxed ride, precise steering, quiet operation and AWD traction. There are scant mechanical lapses. The most common recounts a finicky tire pressure monitoring system, along with premature brake wear and a few faulty oxygen sensors.
2011-15 Chevrolet Volt
The Volt uses lithium-ion batteries that can power the car’s 149 hp electric motor by itself for about 60 km. Once the juice runs down, the car’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine fires up to recharge the batteries without interruption.
The Volt feels lively: zero to 97 km/h comes up in 9.1 seconds. All that hardware is tucked into the same compact, front-drive platform that underpins the Chevrolet Cruze – although the T-shaped battery cluster cuts into cabin space, rendering the Volt a four-seater.
Reliability has been exemplary; it may be General Motors’ highest quality model. A high voltage charging system warning may point to a low battery coolant level or bad battery temperature sensor. Coolant leaks aren’t unusual, along with troublesome charging ports.
2012-15 Toyota Yaris
The teeny-tiny Toyota Yaris had soldiered on virtually unchanged for six years until it underwent a redesign for 2012, returning in hatchback form only. The fresh, edgier exterior styling encompassed a marginally larger car.
A lot of that dimensional improvement went into the enlarged cargo hold, although the rest of the cabin had improved markedly with more soft-touch surfaces, better plastics and new upholstery. Mercifully, the instruments migrated back behind the steering wheel from their previous centre placement. Fun fact: the Yaris employs a single, massive windshield wiper.
Problems? There are none to speak of, really. The Yaris is arguably the most reliable car you can buy. It’s made in Japan and, um, France. Go figure.
2012-15 Fiat 500
The interminably cute Fiat 500 reintroduced the brand to North Americans in early 2011.
The base 500 was powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder that produced 101 hp and 98 lb-ft. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard; optional was a six-speed automatic. The 500 Abarth performance model squeezed 160 hp out of its turbocharged 1.4 working exclusively with the five-speed manual gearbox. A milder Turbo model with 135 hp on tap was offered for 2013.
The 500 did not endear itself to early adopters. The most common reported problem has to do with short-lived clutches and other manual transmission bits. Other reported issues include: noisy steering columns and suspensions, leaking valve-cover gaskets, faulty ignition coils, worn wheel bearings, broken power-window regulators, short-lived headlights and bad radios.
2011-14 Hyundai Sonata
The 2011 Sonata was strikingly swoopy, showing off its new “fluidic sculpture” design language.
The primary engine was a direct-injection 2.4-litre four cylinder that made 198 hp. The base model offered a six-speed manual, while most were outfitted with a six-speed automatic. A performance option arrived later in the form of a direct-injection, 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged four cylinder, good for 274 hp.
Reliability has been good for the most part - until drivers rack up high mileage. Owners report engine bearing failure, oil consumption, piston ringland failure and connecting rod knock, leading to engine failure, a devastating outcome for an automaker that’s spent three decades building its reputation. Fortunately, Hyundai is doing the right thing by recalling the 2.4-litre and 2.0-litre engines made in Alabama.
2012-15 Ford Focus
The new global platform Focus was launched simultaneously in Europe and North America early in 2011. The European-bred compact was lauded by the automotive press universally.
A new 2.0-litrefour cylinder engine powered every Focus, good for 160 hp and 146 lb-ft. of torque. It worked through a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed sequential gearbox. Developed by Ford and Getrag, the six-speed relied on dry clutches and electric solenoid actuation to provide quick shifts.
Unfortunately, that fancy automatic is the car’s Achilles heel. It has frustrated many drivers with its jerky shifts, slippage and outright mechanical failure. Fixes have included numerous software upgrades, new clutches, TCM computer swaps and complete transmission replacements. If you can work a stick, the Focus is a rewarding drive. Otherwise, leave it on the lot.