Des of Devonport writes: "I need a four-cylinder mid-size sedan or hatch that's roomy and reliable and have drawn up a list of three, the Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo and Mazda6.
"I'd be looking at an automatic rather than a manual. I'm working to a fairly tight budget so price is important and I'd be happy to look at well-maintained high-mileage examples. What do you think of my choices?"
That's a good selection, Des, but there are others to consider. We'll get to them in the recommendations.
Buyer takes your point about higher mileage vehicles being cheaper but highly recommends a full mechanical inspection.
A genuine high-mileage car can be fine if well maintained, but a dud can cost way more in repairs than any saving you make. Our comments refer to 2003-2004 models, where prices are good and the cars should have lots of life left. The prices are for cars over 100,000km and in good shape.
In a way a spiritual successor to the Cortina, the early-2000s Mondeo was a big success in New Zealand, especially in the fleet market. Years on, a decent example is still good to drive and still looks quite modern. It's notable for doing everything well, but nothing brilliantly.
Performance of the 2-litre four is good and the car handles and rides nicely, assuming the suspension's up to scratch. Overall reliability has been generally good.
When it replaced the old 626, the Mazda6 made a huge impression with its stunning styling, European-like ergonomics and dynamics and its fine reputation for build quality and reliability. The 2.3-litre four cylinder car is roomy, user-friendly and should not disappoint. And eight years on, it still looks good.
A little larger than most of its rivals, the ubiquitous 2.4-litre four cylinder XV30 Camry is always a strong contender in the midsize market. Compared with the others on Des' list, its ride is softer and handling a little less precise, although many may not regard these as disadvantages. It used to be said in business that "nobody ever got sacked for buying IBM" and something similar could be said of the Camry. It's a safe but bland bet.
It would also be worth looking at reasonably fuel-friendly 3-litre V6 versions.
Des asked for other, similar cars to consider.
From the same general grouping, Buyer suggests the Hyundai Sonata, the Mitsubishi Galant and Honda's Accord.
Of the three on his shortlist, we keep coming back to the Mazda6.
It stands out as our pick, but holds its price well and a decent example might be out of the budget range.
In that case, we're taking the "IBM" approach and going for the
Camry, probably the reasonably well-equipped Altise base model.
Whichever one you buy, Des, just remember to get those mechanical inspections done.