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Wallet-friendly sedans

Searching for a used car can be an exhausting process, especially when budgets are tight. But these four-door bargains prove you can have it all – safety, reliability, comfort and style – for under $20,000. 

The competitors

2014 Mazda 6 Touring Sedan:
A high-tech, handsome tourer, the Mazda 6 has held its value well and offers superior on-road performance.

2014 Kia Optima Platinum:
The Optima is an obvious choice for those who want to stand out from the crowd, offering a striking design and impressive range of features.

2014 Toyota Camry Altise:
The Camry is a solid, reliable choice for anyone after a no-nonsense, hassle-free cruiser.

2014 Subaru Liberty 2.5i:
Thanks to Subaru’s legendary all-wheel drive system, the Liberty excels in handling and comfort.  

Cost to own and run

Unsurprisingly, the Camry has the cheapest running costs of all four sedans. With most parts readily available at Toyota dealerships around Australia, getting the Camry repaired and serviced is extremely affordable and hassle-free.  In late 2014, Kia introduced its generous seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Optimas built in the latter part of the year (and onward) will still be covered. In an even more impressive move by Kia, the warranty is transferable between owners.  None of our contenders are particularly frugal on fuel, but the Mazda 6 is the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, its other running costs aren’t quite as impressive. The Liberty has the highest servicing cost and highest fuel consumption, so make sure this is factored into your buying decision.

The drive

Prospective owners need to remember our contenders aren’t sports cars. Though performance is decent across the board, these sedans aren’t going to win you any medals on the racetrack.  Of the bunch, the Mazda’s free-revving SkyActiv engine performs better than the others. The hefty weight of the Liberty makes it a little slower than the rest of the pack, but its all-wheel drive system gives it great handling and comfort regardless of road surface or weather.  The Kia, the Mazda and the Toyota have conventional automatic transmissions whereas the Subaru has a CVT. While it’s one of the better CVTs on the market, it still produces engine noise on take-off, which can take some getting used to.


Each of our sedans were given a 5-star ANCAP rating in 2014. This means all come with dual frontal, side-chest and side-head (curtain) airbags. Antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic stability control (ESC) are also standard. When it comes to safety, the Toyota Camry is slightly ahead of the pack with knee airbags as standard. The Kia Optima comes with a reversing camera as standard and the Subaru Liberty has pretensioners fitted to the front seatbelts to reduce slack in the event of a crash.

Value for money

Both the Kia Optima and the Toyota Camry have experienced considerable depreciation, which for second-hand buyers, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, both models are now less than half the cost they were when new, with a lot of life left to give.

The Camry’s the cheapest to buy but as you’d expect, has the least standard features. Conversely, the Optima has all the bells and whistles, but is pricier. If you’re after a Camry, try to avoid ex-fleet vehicles as many have had hard lives. Finding a well-priced, well-looked after Optima may be difficult as they are a rare beast compared to the rest of our line-up.


The Mazda and Kia are still great looking cars six years on, while the Liberty and the Camry are at the more conservative end of the styling spectrum. All our contenders have spacious, comfortable interiors with split rear seats to make even greater use of the space. The Mazda 6 has the best design package and is ageing well, even in our harsh South Australian climate.

Tech and features. 

The Mazda 6 features SkyActiv technology, which lessens fuel consumption and improves efficiency. It also includes Mazda’s i-ELOOP system. This stores electricity generated on deceleration in a secondary battery, slowly releasing it to the traditional  battery, resulting in less power being robbed from the engine. Of course, the Liberty has Subaru’s iconic all-wheel-drive system, giving it great traction and handling in all conditions. Our other contenders feature relatively conventional but reliable technologies.

Final ranking

The Mazda 6 is the best of the breed with contemporary styling and class leading technology. It’s an all-round nice drive. There’s not a lot between the Kia Optima and the Toyota Camry, but the Kia is probably the better buy of the two due to  its  impressive features. Being more expensive than the others to run, the Liberty comes in last.

That said, there are no duds in our bunch. So long as the model you’re interested in buying has been looked after and serviced regularly, it should be a welcome addition to your driveway.



Engine - 2.5L I4

Layout - FF

Transmission - 6-speed auto

Fuel type - Petrol

Fuel consumption - 6.6L/100km

Price new - $37,500

Average price now - $15,500



Engine - 2.4L I4

Layout - FF

Transmission - 6-speed auto

Fuel type - Petrol

Fuel consumption - 7.9L/100km

Price new - $40,900

Average price now - $14,000



Engine - 2.5L I4

Layout - FF

Transmission - 6-speed auto

Fuel type - Petrol

Fuel consumption - 7.8L/100km

Price new - $30,490

Average price now - $13,000



Engine - 2.5L I4

Layout - AWD

Transmission - CVT auto

Fuel type - Petrol

Fuel consumption - 7.9L/100km

Price new - $32,900

Average price now - $13,500


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