By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Younger drivers often buy cars for their looks — or performance. Older drivers do also — however, they often care as much or more about practical things such as whether the car is safe, has comfortable seats and a smooth ride — and whether it’s easy to drive/park and get into and out of.
So, which recent-vintage used cars are likely to be of special interest to older drivers?
Here are a few suggestions.
Toyota Corolla (2002-2007)
Expect to pay: $5,000-$12,000
The Corolla has many things going for it that will appeal to older drivers in need of a high-value small sedan. Though technically a compact, the Corolla is actually fairly large relative to the new class of ultra-compacts such as the Toyota Yaris and its equivalents. It has good head, leg and shoulder room for both front and rear seat occupants. Also, it doesn’t sit too low to the ground or have a steeply angled windshield/roof (as on some other models in this segment) that can make it harder for people with limited mobility to get into and out of the car. Additionally, the Corolla has a fairly soft suspension relative to some of the more sport-oriented models in this segment, such as the Honda Civic. The Corolla has also performed very well in government crash testing and later models will usually be equipped with features such as ABS brakes, dual front air bags — and even side-impact air bags on newer versions.
Chrysler PT Cruiser (2002-2007)
Expect to pay: $5,500-$20,000
This retro-themed runabout was hugely popular when first introduced — in part because of its custom hot rod styling but also because of its its versatility. It could function as a small minivan, but was much more maneuverable and less expensive to buy as well as easier on gas, thanks to its economical four-cylinder engine (vs. the larger, thirstier V-6s usually found in standard minivans). PTs are also suitable for people with physical handicaps because they can be readily modified for both wheelchair access and hand controls. These vehicles also have an easily accessed and roomy cargo area that makes them ideal for antiquing as well as longer road trips to visit family/vacation spots — or for bringing along the pets. Later models offer the option of a convertible top, too.
Buick LaCrosse (2005-2007)
Expect to pay: $11,000-$18,500
The LaCrosse is one of the “new” Buicks designed to appeal to younger buyers but which still retains the traditional Buick characteristics of a plush and quiet ride, roomy interior and upscale but not ostentatious styling. This car can seat as many six passengers, comes standard with a smooth and powerful V-6 engine and is much more refined and “finished” overall than the getting long-in-the-tooth Century and Regal sedans it replaced. As a ground-up new car for Buick, even the older ’05 and ’06 models are still very current in terms of features and equipment; yet prices for slightly used examples only a year or two old are extremely reasonable.
Ford Five Hundred (2005-2007)
Expect to pay: $12,000-20,000
Released as an all-new model in 2005, the Five Hundred is probably one of the most under-rated recent vintage mid-size sedans on the market. It offers a standard V-6 engine and available all-wheel-drive — yet can be bought for about what you’d pay to drive a current-year front-wheel-drive economy compact. Why is it such a great deal? Fairly bland styling and acceleration/ride quality that was considered “too soft” by many resulted in slower than anticipated sales. Ford hurried a restyled version — with a larger, more powerful (and fuel thirsty) V-6 — into production last year and christened it the reborn Taurus. But the Five Hundred (and its Mercury twin, the Montego) are nonetheless just what the doctor ordered if the prescription is a great deal on a quiet, roomy and very comfortable five passenger sedan — with AWD, too!
Toyota Avalon (2000-2007)
Expect to pay: $7,500- $25,000
The Avalon is Toyota’s largest passenger car; it offers as much (or more) interior volume than equally large American cars like the Chrysler 300, but its front-wheel-drive layout means it has better traction in wet and snowy conditions than rear-drive cars like the 300. This car also has some of the highest customer satisfaction scores of any car on the market as well as a reputation for high quality/reliability. Its large size also means it’s a very safe car in terms of crashworthiness, yet it is easy to drive, with good visibility thanks to large exterior glass and a fairly high driver’s seat. Newer models maybe equipped with a rearview back-up camera as well as side impact air bags and traction/stability control. The standard V-6 engine is one of the most powerful of its type available in this price/class.
Mercury Grand Marquis (2002-2007)
Expect to pay: Appx. $7,500-$19,500
The Grand Marquis (and its slightly more Spartan twin, the Ford Crown Victoria) are the last of the traditionally-built full-size Americans sedans. These vehicles will be very familiar in layout to older drivers, who grew up with full-frame construction, rear-wheel-drive and V-8 engines — all three of which are standard Marquis features. The 4.6 liter V-8 provides easy power without having to mash the gas pedal — while the cavernous interior can seat six adults comfortably. There is a huge (21 cubic foot) trunk, too. The rear-drive layout and heavy-duty frame allow this vehicle to comfortably pull a trailer — and is simple and rugged, for long service life and low-cost maintenance. Finally, the Marquis is exceptionally safe due in part to its size and mass. Ordinarily, you’d have to step up to a much more expensive car (such as Mercedes-benz E-Class or BMW 5-Series) to enjoy comparable security — but the Marquis costs tens of thousands less when new — and half to a third as much as those European brand cars when purchased slightly used.
The wide range given for pricing takes into account that used cars are individuals and prices can vary significantly even when comparing cars of the same make/model/year due to such things as condition, mileage and equipment. Check sources such as the NADA and Kelley Blue Book used car pricing guides to get a more accurate idea of the price of a specific used car, with specific mileage, features and so on.
The years given reflect the writer’s subjective opinion as to the general desirability of going farther back than about five model years, due to mileage and wear and tear issues. Newer model used vehicles will also be more likely to either have a portion of their original (and transferable) new car warranty still intact — or will be available with a manufacturer-backed extended warranty of some kind.
Image Credit: Luciano Meirelles