Top used cars — $6,000 to $8,000
• 96 Lexus ES 300.On its way to a reputation as being one of the most reliably built sedans ever made. Hard to believe you can pay $7,600 for a 12-year-old car -- and still expect few if any problems.
• The 2003 Ford ZX2. According to about.com, a really fun ride and really hard to believe you could take a Ford Escort and make it sporty. Designers succeeded, but the marketers didn't, and this car was discontinued in 03. You can find a ZX2 for around $6,800.
• 03 Hyundai Elantra: Around $7,200, and an Edmunds choice as Most Wanted Sedan from 03. "A roomy economy car with high-quality materials," said the authoritative Web site.
• The Chevrolet Aveo. The smallest car in the General Motors line, it's actually made in Korea, and while the quality of Korean-built cars has climbed dramatically, this is car known for its price-cutting short-cuts. Experts like the 05 and 08 models, but diss the 04 and 06 versions. You can find an 05 Aveo for $6,800.
• The 97 Toyota Celica. Described by about.com as "the most Mazda-like vehicle in the Toyota stable. It had a lot of zoom-zoom to it and was a bit of a head turner in its day." Has posted a solid decade of above-average reliability, and you can find a 97 for around $7,000.
• A special shout-out for the Chysler Sebring. Before its latest redesign (an awful one, in our humble opinion) this was a good sedan that lots of people liked, and in fact, the convertible version was the top-selling soft-top in the U.S. for years. It was first introduced in 95-96 as a car built on the Mitsubishi Eclipse platform. The 95-00 generation can be found from $3,600 to $8,700; the 01 to 06 generation can be found from $6,000 to $10,200 according to KBB.
Sorta, kinda on this list:
• The Toyota Rav4 was totally redesigned for the 2001 year. From 1996 on, it had been made pretty much out of the spare parts bin -- a Camry engine and a Celica drive train, for instance. You can find a 2001 for $10,600; a 96 for as little as $5,750.
• A nod for the Jeep Cherokee from the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study The reliability ratings for this vehicle are better for the 97-01 version (as opposed to the stylings from 88 to 96), and a 97 can be found between $4,300 to $5,200; an 01 from $6,000 to $8,750).