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Is there a better used car than the Corolla for less than $10,000?

The Toyota Corolla is reliable, but it’s not very fun to drive

Why don’t you ever recommend the Corolla? I dare you to show me a better used car for under $10,000. And don’t tell me to buy a Hyundai.Dave, Guelph, Ont.

Since 1966, Toyota has sold more than 44 million Corollas. They must have been doing something right.

But popularity isn’t everything, right? For looks and overall driving experience, there are less bland bets.

To keep it under budget, you’ll probably have to look at 2011 models for most. The best in the class? The Honda Civic, ($7,388 for the base DX) followed by the Mazda3 ($9,371).

Others to consider? The Volkswagen Golf ($9,201), Chevrolet Cruze ($8,623), Ford Focus ($6,738) and, yes, the Hyundai Elantra.

Still, the Corolla is reliable – and Consumer Reports recommends it. It took second place in the compact-car segment in J.D. Power’s 2014 dependability study of three-year-old cars (Chevy’s Volt came first and the Civic came third).

Corollas tend to stay on the road for quite a while.

2011 Toyota Corolla

2011 Toyota Corolla S.

  • Ninth generation: 2009-2013
  • Average asking price for base: $9,764 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city/6.7 highway (manual), 9.1 city/6.8 highway (automatic)

Oh, what a feeling? Not while you’re driving.

“While the Corolla has never been described as being fun to drive, the current car feels so disconnected from the road that you may find yourself thinking you’re playing a very dull video game,” review site Edmunds said. “If you think we believe that you can do better than the 2011 Toyota Corolla, you’re right. It’s not just us, either.”

Toyota redesigned the Corolla for the 2014 model year, the 11th generation of the car. For the 10th generation model, Edmunds asked six regular drivers to compare the Corolla, Honda Civic and Mazda 3.

“None of our testers put the Corolla in first place and all but the most senior members of the bunch placed it dead last,” it said. “They echoed our opinion that the Corolla feels disconnected to drive and expressed disappointment with the look and feel of its cabin.”

Still, Edmunds liked the comfortable ride, simple controls, good fuel economy and quiet cabin. It has also said, “No manufacturer is better known for building stalwart, reliable cars than Toyota.”

Consumer Reports recommended the Corolla and said it “handles soundly but is not engaging to drive.” It praised its fuel economy, ride, quiet interior, turning circle, controls and crash-test results. It panned the lack of steering feel and the “blank switch plates, hard plastic and rough edges” inside.

The magazine gave the Corolla a five out of five rating for reliability.

There were no recalls.

2011 Hyundai Elantra

2011 Hyundai Elantra.

  • Fifth generation: 2011-2016
  • Average asking price for base: $9,169 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic/Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.3 city, 6.3 highway (manual), 8.4 city, 6.3 highway (automatic)

A 2011 redesign gave the staid Elantra some style – but beware reliability issues for that first year.

“Like Cinderella ditching her rags, the Elantra sheds the frumpy exterior that frequently relegated an otherwise very likeable car to afterthought status for many car shoppers,” Edmunds said. “Over all we think that the new Elantra’s combination of distinctive styling, fuel efficiency, a high-quality interior and an affordable price tag may very well help it become the belle of the ball.”

Edmunds liked the Elantra’s outstanding fuel economy, ample features, comfortable and well-built cabin, and big trunk. It complained about tight headroom and a lack of sportiness compared with some rivals.

“Compared to last year’s car, this new Elantra is more fun to drive,” Edmunds said. “It doesn’t have the outright handling abilities of the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Mazda 3, but in general, its balance between ride and handling is one of the best in the segment.”

Sure, Hyundai’s cars are far more reliable than they were in the Pony days – but the 2011 Elantra gets lousy reliability scores from Consumer Reports.

It gave the Elantra two out of five, citing reader reports of rough shifting, leaking struts and wonky device connectivity. That score rose to five out of five by 2014.

“An easy car with which to live, the Hyundai combines nimble handling with comfort and a well-controlled ride,” it said. “The car also offers a neatly laid out and well-equipped interior.”

There were three recalls, including fixes to suspension coils that were potentially prone to corrosion.

Trying to decide on a used car? Send your questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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