The dilemma:

Even if they weren't interested in buying a car, we'd feature this couple like a shot. Their last names are Smith and Wesson, the same as America's largest maker of handguns. Owners of a new small business, they need a cheap, mid-size wagon in good nick to carry their produce and make business calls. Something that looks good, too.

We can think of several silver bullets, all of which may well have been company cars at some point in their life. The virtues of ex-fleet vehicles are often debated. On one hand, they invariably have a high mileage racked up by drivers who may have been less than gentle. On the other hand, they will have been well-maintained and properly serviced.

The budget: About $5000


The shortlist:
Ford Mondeo
We're suggesting a third-generation model, introduced in late 2000, which addressed the modest rear legroom of earlier versions but continued Mondeo's reputation for class-leading handling and ride. Really good examples will break the budget, but higher-mileage ones with the desirable 2.0- litre engine are within the couple's sights.
From $4000
Hyundai Lantra

The Lantra wagon quickly became a fleet favourite, combining pricing the accountants liked with style, room and performance the drivers liked. We'd look for the range-topping GLS that's well-equipped, peppy and good to drive. Its 101kW 1975cc engine is willing, but starts to sound harsh if pushed. The Lantra family has proved reliable and parts prices are generally low.
From $4000
Toyota Caldina

Caldinas come in flavours from mild to wild: the all-wheel-drive (AWD) GT-T's turbo motor puts out a wicked 188kW and 302Nm of torque. Smith and Wesson might want something more mainstream, like a 2WD or the AWD with a 1998cc 103kW/190Nm engine. Caldina is generally reliable, but the motor can develop a noisy cambelt, a sign that it should be replaced. We're talking about the 1997-2002 model that should hit the budget target.
From $4000
Driven recommends:

Smith and Wesson should be happy with a good example of any of this trio. We think the best bang for the buck (groan) should be a Lantra GLS, but the used market has skewed the natural order of things for vehicles and mileage. Although the Lantra and Caldina are both top vehicles, Buyers' Guide is going out on a limb and recommending a Mondeo because it's a great looker and is easily the nicest of the three to drive.