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I’m looking for a small car for less than $10,000 for my wife, the cheaper the better. She says she’s too busy with work to look for a car. She’s the frugal one here and she says she doesn’t really care as long as it’s from this decade, not weird-looking, cheap, reliable and she can connect her phone to it. – Sid, Ottawa

Consumer Reports chose the Ford Focus, Pontiac Vibe and Scion xB as the best used cars you can get for less than $10,000.

The three cars performed well in road tests and had decent reliability, the magazine said.

The model years matter. The Focus was redesigned for 2012, and the magazine says to avoid 2012-2014 models. It picked the 2009-10 Focus, the 2006-09 Vibe and the 2008-09 Scion – but since you’re looking for this decade, we’ll look at 2010 here.

We left the xB out because some might call it weird-looking. But, as Consumer Reports said, it’s a handy “cargo box on wheels, ready to haul almost anything you can throw in or at it.”

2010 Pontiac Vibe

Bob English/The Globe and Mail

Second generation: 2009-2010

Average price for base: $8,189 (Canadian Black Book)

Base engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder

Transmission/Drive: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.4 city; 8.4 highway (automatic); regular gas

The Vibe, a better-looking Toyota Matrix, was doomed when GM axed Pontiac.

That means speedier-than-usual depreciation than its Toyota sibling, Edmunds said – but if you’re looking for a reliable car to keep, you could find some good deals.

“The Vibe boasts a compliant suspension, intuitive cabin controls and plenty of cargo capacity, making it one of the more compelling choices in this segment,” Edmunds said.

There was also an available 2.4-litre four-cylinder with a five-speed automatic.

“After testing both, we’d opt for the smaller engine because it’s cheaper to buy and run and it doesn’t feel sluggish,” said Consumer Reports, which made the Vibe a top pick.

The magazine gave the 2010 Vibe its top rating for predicted used car reliability. The 2009 model was better than average.

It liked the fuel economy, ease of access, versatility, controls, roomy rear seat, crash-test results, and reliability. Gripes? Noise, hard plastics in the interior, uncomfortable driving position for tall and short drivers, and wide roof pillars that limit rear visibility.

The Vibe was built next to the Matrix at the same California plant and it shared some of the Toyota’s recalls – including the floor mat that could get stuck under pedals and cause unintended acceleration. It’s also part of the Takata air bag recall.

2010 Ford Focus S

Ford

Second generation: 2008-2011

Average price for base: $6,127 (Canadian Black Book)

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder

Transmission/Drive: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/front-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city; 8.3 highway (automatic); regular gas

A 2008 freshening didn’t make Ford’s Focus any sharper.

“Handling wasn’t as crisp, interior quality was not as good, and the cabin was noisier,” Consumer Reports said.

But, even though it was a step down from the original Focus, it delivers “a steady ride, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and sporty handling,” the magazine said.

Edmunds said the Focus hadn’t kept up pace with the competitors, who had added style and sportiness to their economy cars.

“There’s a general lack of excitement and curbside charisma when the Focus is taken out for a spin, which is a shame because it originally had these qualities,” Edmunds said.

Still, Edmunds called the Focus a respectable choice, but preferred the Mazda3. It also suggested a look at the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte.

It liked Ford’s Sync system, which lets the car provide directions and traffic information when paired with mobile phones. It also praised good fuel economy, a “plush” ride and the low price.

“The Focus is still haunted by the use of some low-quality interior plastics, subpar construction and a four-speed automatic transmission.”

Consumer Reports gave the 2010 Focus average predicted used car reliability. That rose to excellent in 2011.

It said “The Focus delivers a steady ride, an interior that feels upscale for the price, and sporty handling.”

There were no recalls for the 2010 Focus.

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