I’m looking for a reliable budget sedan for less than $10,000. In my 20s, I bought status cars that I really couldn’t afford. I’ve just turned 30 and I’m realizing that I really don’t need anything fancy. Still, I’d prefer an automatic and keyless entry – I’m not a caveman. – Dave, Calgary

If you value, well, value, you’re not alone – the bestselling cars in Canada are all compacts.

For a dependable compact sedan for less than $10,000, there’s the 2011 Toyota Corolla ($9,845 used, on average, according to Canadian Black Book). It was reliable, but it was a little dull to drive. Two less-boring bets that you can still find for (relatively) cheap? The Honda Civic and Mazda3. To get either with an automatic, you’ll likely need to look at 2011 or earlier.

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2011 Honda Civic

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2011 Honda Civic.

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  • Eighth generation: 2006-2011 (facelift for 2009)
  • Average asking price for base: $8,006 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 140-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, five-speed automatic/Front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city, 6.5 highway (manual); 9.5 city, 6.8 highway (automatic)

A quick Civic lesson: Canadians bought 55,090 of them in 2011. And there’s a reason for that.

“No other car in this class has crisper steering, better brakes or superior ergonomics,” Globe Drive said.

For 2011, the Civic sedan had four trims: base DX (manual only), DX-G and SE (both with an optional automatic) and the EX-L (automatic only).

The DX was pretty basic. For air conditioning, power locks with keyless entry and cruise control, you’d have to move up to the DX-G ($9,695 with automatic). The loaded EX-L, with leather seats ($12,909) is the only version with electronic stability control.

For 2011, there was also the Si ($15,480 used) with a 197-hp 2-litre engine and a six-speed stick.

Consumer Reports liked the Civic’s fuel economy, fit and finish and crash-test results. It griped about its “pronounced road noise” and lack of electronic stability control in the lower trims.

“The Honda Civic is refined and economical, with fairly nimble handling and a relatively comfortable ride,” it said.

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Consumer Reports gave the 2011 Civic five out of five for reliability. There were complaints from its subscribers about loose trim.

There was one recall to fix the potential risk of a fuel leak in a roll-over crash.

2011 Mazda3 sedan

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2011 Mazda3 sedan.

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  • Second generation: 2010-2013 (facelift for 2012)
  • Average asking price for base: $8,595 with automatic (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 148-hp 2-litre four-cylinder, 167-hp 2.5-litre
  • Transmission/drive: five-speed manual (with 2-litre), six-speed manual (with 2.5-litre), five-speed automatic (optional on both) /Front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 city, 7.1 highway (2-litre manual), 7.2 city, 8.7 highway (2-litre automatic)

The second-generation Mazda3 had a built-in happy face – and there was plenty to smile about, reviewers said.

“Just as with its predecessors, this version of the Mazda3 is gifted with agile handling and a well laid out passenger compartment hosting quality materials,” Consumer Reports said. “Still… the rear seating area remains a bit tight and road noise is somewhat pronounced.”

For 2011, the Mazda3 sedan had three trims: base GX ($8,595), GS ($9,226) and GT ($10,527).

The GX and GS had the 2-litre engine and the five-speed manual while the GT got the zippier 2.5-litre and a six-speed – the automatic was optional on all three.

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Power locks, keyless entry and stability control were standard. Air conditioning was an option on the GX and standard on the rest. There was also a hatchback version – the Mazda3 Sport.

Globe Drive said the Mazda3 was well-equipped, practical and fun to drive – but we weren’t crazy about the slightly confusing radio controls.

Review site Edmunds said the Mazda3’s ride might be too firm for some – and the cabin and trunk were snugger than some rivals.

Consumer Reports recommended the 2011 Mazda3 and gave it four out of five for reliability. There were subscriber complaints about the suspension, including struts needing replacement.

There were two recalls, including one for a driver’s seat that could, potentially, suddenly lower in height while you’re on the road.

Send your used car questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com with the subject: “Buying used.”

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