If you’re exploring options in a used vehicle that’s big on both space and fuel efficiency, you’ve come to the right place.
Below, we’ll look at several used vehicle options from a few different vehicle segments that are worthy of consideration when space to spare and a very reasonable fuel bill are priorities. Each of the models below also comes with a reasonable used car price tag.
We’ll provide some additional information on each model, as well as some test drive diagnostic tips that can help reveal potential problems and issues reported by the owner’s community and our network of expert technicians.
There’s also a link to a full used car buyer’s guide on each, allowing you to quickly dig deeper into the specs, features, recalls, commonly reported problems, and more.
Honda Fit (2015–2020)
The Honda Fit has long been a top choice for a compact car that offers big space in a small package. Honda’s wizardry at interior packaging combines with a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine to deliver a spacious and highly flexible hatchback with a tiny fuel bill. Look for automatic and manual transmission options, and don’t miss the slick Magic Seat rear seating setup, which enhances versatility and on-board storage in a big way. This car is big on headroom, big on versatility, well-rated for reliability, and won’t break the bank when it comes time to fill up.
The Test Drive
A water leak may see water enter the cockpit, possibly via blocked sunroof drainage tubes, damaged or missing weather seal gutters, or faulty door-handle weather seals. Remove all floor mats, flip up the rear seats, and press your hand (or a towel) into every square inch of accessible carpeting. Be on the lookout for sogginess or the smell of mould and mildew. Carpeting nearest the door openings and beneath the dash is most suspect.
Next, have the battery and charging system inspected professionally before you buy. Many owners have reported less-than-stellar life from the factory battery, and a weak battery can cause numerous electronic problems. If not in tip-top shape, recycle the battery and have a new one installed.
Finally, if your used Fit has the available CVT transmission, be sure to check maintenance records and confirm that no servicing or fluid changes are overdue. A CVT-equipped Fit that’s only been serviced in a dealer setting is your best bet.
Toyota Prius V (2012–2018)
The Prius V is a Toyota Prius variant that was intended to bring the brand’s proven hybrid technology into a larger and more flexible package. Like the standard Toyota Prius, the Prius V is powered by a self-regulating blend of gas and electric power, complete with a self-regenerating battery that doesn’t require any plugging in. But the Prius V is bigger, taller, and more spacious than the standard car, making it a perfect fit for busy families, pet owners, outdoor enthusiasts or anyone else after loads of flexible space and a tiny fuel bill.
The Test Drive
Start by triple-checking the climate control system and confirming that air at the selected temperature appears, when requested, from all vents and outlets. Some owners have reported problems with low factory refrigerant levels or refrigerant leaks, which may compromise air conditioner operation. Other problems with climate control system components and sensors may negatively affect heater performance in colder months, too. If a problem is detected, have a professional assess the system before you buy.
Next, plan to have a full inspection carried out by a Toyota dealer technician before you buy, including a check of the hybrid drive system. This is highly advisable when buying any used hybrid, and the Prius V is no exception.
If advanced camera and radar-driven safety features are equipped, test each before you buy. If warning lights or error messages relating to these systems appear, have the vehicle assessed by a Toyota technician before you buy. Models with even slight front-end damage are most suspect – even a slight impact to the front bumper can require recalibration of the sensors within before the related system begins working again.
Check the finish of the steering wheel for signs of excessive wear, and confirm that the stereo system works as expected, without lagging, choking, or crashing. If that’s not the case, fixes range from a simple hard reset to a software update to replacement of the head unit.
Finally, be sure to familiarize yourself with all maintenance requirements (via the owner’s manual) and plan to stick to these for the duration of your ownership to avoid potential problems including battery cooling issues common when owners fail to change the battery air filter on time.
Chevrolet Orlando (2012–2014)
The Chevrolet Orlando never really caught on and this five-door, three-row utility vehicle was discontinued after just three years. Drivers benefit from a very quiet ride, three seating rows with room for six occupants (including third-row seating that’s actually usable by adults), as well as flexible folding rear seating provisions and the better part of 1,600 litres of available cargo space. A proven 2.4-litre ECOTEC engine and six-speed transmission in the driver’s choice of manual or automatic help boost fuel efficiency, too. As a family runabout or a flexible tourer that’s ready for camping, pets, or hauling yard or home renovation supplies, the Orlando should prove generously spacious, cheap to buy, and cheap to run.
The Test Drive
Examine all seating surfaces, all interior trim, and all interior carpeting for signs of excessive wear, calling any you note into your pricing negotiations. Pay close attention to the outboard portion of the driver’s seat, which is the most susceptible to wear and tear over time.
Confirm proper engine oil levels and condition, as per instructions in the owner’s manual. Earlier versions of this engine were noted for a possible oil consumption issue, though this seems to have been resolved by the time the powerplant started being used in this application. Still, it pays to be on the lookout.
Some owners report less-than-stellar life from various engine sensors, and if out of whack, these can cause stalling, reduced power, or rough operation. Thankfully, it’s easy to check for engine sensor issues: just have a diagnostic scan performed by a professional before you buy. Note that not all such issues will necessarily cause a Check Engine Light (CEL) to illuminate, so have this check performed whether you see one or not.
Confirm satisfactory operation from the air conditioner, all power windows, all power door locks, and all remote key fobs several times.
Finally, work with a local dealer to ensure the Orlando you’re considering has been subjected to a safety-related recall that addressed dangerous issues with steering system components on certain models. If the steering in the Orlando you’re considering feels notchy, inconsistent, or sticky, have it assessed professionally without delay, just to be safe.
Mazda’s now-discontinued compact minivan was a niche choice, and a model that didn’t intend to fit into any specific category. With three rows of seating, two sliding doors, four-cylinder power, and a compact footprint, this thrifty and flexible machine might make an ideal choice for a small family that’s always on the go, especially in tighter quarters. All models ran a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, and both manual and automatic transmissions were available. Seating can be flipped, folded, and slid as required to turn the Mazda5 from a family-hauling minivan into a miniature cargo van on the fly. Owners report solid ride quality and pleasing driving dynamics, too.
The Test Drive
Start by assessing the body and exterior of the vehicle, being on the lookout for signs of damaged or worn paint, rust (typically at the lower/inner edges of the doors, tailgate, and hood), and any signs of issue with the dual sliding doors. Open and close these several times, ensuring that the handles work as expected, and the doors slide through their range of motion without “sticking” or undue difficulty.
Non-functional door locks and latches will require further assessment by a professional.
Check exterior lighting housings (headlights and tail lamps) for signs of moisture buildup, pooled water, rust, or condensation within, which can cause numerous problems.
Next, ensure all seats fold, reclined, slide, and flip as intended. Problems with seat operation may be caused by a broken latch or lever, though problems here are reported relatively rarely.
Finally, consider having earlier models from this generation, especially with high mileage, subjected to a professional inspection of its wheel bearings, brakes, and parking brake componentry ahead of your purchase.
Volkswagen Golf Wagon/Jetta Sportwagen (2011–2016)
Here’s a good old-fashioned station wagon with a long roof, flat back, plenty of room for cargo, and a low load-in height that many crossovers simply can’t match. Upscale features and pleasing driving manners combined with a generous rear storage area that’s wide, flat, and square to the edges, maximizing its available space. Owners say the Golf Wagon – known as the Jetta Wagon in the US – is comfortable and athletic to drive, and that it delivers crossover-like cargo space with car-like driving manners, all with a highly respectable fuel bill. Diesel and gasoline engines were available. If you prefer gasoline power, a 2013 or newer model is advised, as a next-generation turbocharged 1.8-litre gasoline engine entered the lineup.
The Test Drive
Regardless of engine choice, accelerate at light, moderate and full throttle, several times over the course of your test drive. Be on the lookout for inconsistent performance, poor performance, or a “lumpy” sensation to the acceleration. Bad engine sensors are most suspect if problems are noted. Take this as a sign to have a diagnostic scan performed before you buy.
For maximum peace of mind when buying a diesel-powered unit, have a technician assess the fuel lines, fuel pump, and associated components for signs of fuel leaks. A computer diagnostic scan is also recommended.
Insist on test driving your Jetta Wagon only when it’s been parked for several hours. Sometimes, a seller will pre-warm the engine to try to conceal an issue.
Rough or jerky shifting from a model with the DSG transmission is typically addressed with a simple software update, but have a technician inspect the transmission’s operation to confirm that’s the case before you buy.
Check the wheels for signs of flaking or corrosion, which have been reported by numerous owners, often after just a few years. Some of these owners have had luck in having wheels with a defective factory finish replaced under warranty. Finally, check all steering-wheel mounted controls (including the horn), several times for proper operation. Try the windshield wipers and squirters on your test drive several times, too.
BMW X5 Diesel (2013–2018)
The diesel-powered variant of BMW’s best-selling X5 crossover offered up world-class luxury, all-weather capability, space to spare, and a fuel bill like a mid-sized car. The turbodiesel engine boasted tons of torque despite its highly respectable fuel bill. A power tailgate opened up on a generous cargo hold, and drivers report a confidence-inspiring driving position and locked-on road feel, even in inclement weather. This is one of the world’s foremost luxury utility vehicles, and build quality and feature content reflects this. Note that diesel-powered models may be rarer in the used market and that many tend to be higher-mileage units. Shop patiently and, ideally, from a Certified Pre-owned (CPO) program at a BMW dealership.
The Test Drive
Start by having the X5 Diesel you’re considering treated to a fuel system and emissions control system check by a BMW technician for maximum peace of mind. A full electronic diagnostic scan can reveal numerous other potentially hidden problems, too.
Confirm any remaining warranty coverage on the emissions system is still intact, and hasn’t been compromised or voided by some failure of the former owner(s) to properly maintain the vehicle.
Work with a dealer service advisor to confirm that all available software updates have been applied, too.
Quadruple-check the back-up camera on your test drive by engaging reverse gear. The camera image should appear almost instantly. If it appears after a delay, or not at all, the culprit may be a bad wiring ground or a bad camera module, which will need to be replaced.
Carefully inspect the wheels and tires for signs of damage, especially on models with larger wheel sizes. Lumps or gouges in the inner or outer tire sidewalls, or damage to the face of the rim, should be inspected and addressed.
If buying outside of a BMW dealership CPO program, consider a Pre-purchase Inspection (PPI) by a professional to be mandatory before you buy.