Used Vehicle Mashup: Popular Mid-Size Cars

The mid-size car is the go-to means of conveyance for thousands of Canadian drivers – on both the new and used sides of the marketplace. If you’re looking for a new-to-you ride, there’s a solid chance that it might be a mid-size car.

Reliability, residual values, safety, and quality

Below, we’ll highlight five of the most popular mid-size cars on the used market based on recent sales figures, and give you a few tips and some advice to help you find a top-notch used copy of each.

For more info on other used models, or other generations of the mid-size models listed here, visit our massive archive of used vehicle reviews.

And remember: use our tips below in conjunction with a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) at the vehicle’s dealer, or at the service centre of your choice, for maximum confidence.

2007 to 2011 Toyota Camry

Why You Want One

As one of Canada’s bestselling mid-size cars, and a model with a solid reputation for reliability, residual values, safety, and quality, the Toyota Camry is a smart buy. Selection abounded throughout this generation, with four- or six-cylinder power on offer, numerous trim grades and options packages, and upscale feature content including a JBL stereo system, sunroof, automatic climate control, heated leather, and more. Base model units were called LE, with the SE and XLE models offering more content. Owners love the V6 engine’s performance, the Camry’s roominess, generous cargo hold, and up-level stereo, but some wish for a more exciting cabin, and more comfortable seats.

Important Checks

A Toyota dealer will be familiar with any of the Camry’s more commonly reported problems, and able to quickly identify and address any affecting the unit you’re considering. Carefully check the level and condition of the engine oil on your test drive, and regularly during ownership, as some owners have reported oil consumption on certain models in this generation, particularly newer units with the four-cylinder engine. Check and change your Camry’s engine oil religiously, for maximum longevity. A technician should also check the oil lines on the V6 engine, which could leak or rupture, causing potential engine damage and an awful mess. Toyota fixed this issue in production later in this generation’s life, but a check for oil-line integrity is still advised for all models, for maximum peace of mind.

Any questionable gearshift behavior from the automatic transmission can likely be fixed with a software update or reflash, but be sure that’s the case if you note any issues, by consulting a service advisor.

Check all remote keyfobs, the push-button engine-start system, and the climate control system, ensuring each consistently operates as outlined in the owner’s manual. Some owners have also reported premature braking system component wear, so be on the lookout for worn pads and rotors. If you’re unsure how, ask a technician to take a look.

2008 to 2012 Honda Accord

Why You Want One

This one’s another award-winning bestseller, which stands with the Camry as one of the most popular mid-size sedan picks amongst Canadian motorists – and for many of the same reasons. Available feature content included heated leather, heated mirrors, Bluetooth, a sunroof, remote access, navigation, voice-command, wood trim, automatic lights and climate control, and plenty more. Look for Accord with four- or six-cylinder power, and one of the only available two-door coupe variants offered in the segment. The Accord’s LX and EX models were basic and mid-line, respectively, with the EX-L taking the top-line position. An update for 2011 improved the Accord’s cabin with new interfaces and materials. Owners rave about the fit and finish, comfort, front-seat space, and overall easy-to-drive manners, but some wish for a roomier rear seat, and a manual-mode for the automatic transmission.

Important Checks

Due to numerous reports of poor brake-component life, approach a used Accord from this generation assuming it needs a brake job, until you or a mechanic confirms otherwise. Be on the lookout for squeaky brakes, a soft pedal, or poor braking performance as trouble signs.

Next, be aware of a reported issue with oil consumption on this generation of Honda Accord, noting that it didn’t affect all (or even most) units, but that it’s worth being aware of. Check the condition and level of the engine oil in the Accord you’re considering, and continue to do so every week during ownership. Ask a dealer service advisor about Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) 11-033, which outlined steps for dealer technicians to help remedy the problem, including a software update. Some owners report that updated computer software, which alters some cold-start oil control and other engine calibrations, fixes the issue.

Confirm that all remote keyfobs work properly, and that the climate control system works properly, too. Failure to pump strong heat into the cabin could be the result of a bad thermostat, and any A/C-related performance issues might be caused by a broken A/C condenser that may have been damaged by a rock or piece of road debris, as it’s mounted in a vulnerable place in the bumper opening.

Check for proper functionality of the seat heaters, power mirrors, turn signals, and high beams. If one or more of these isn’t working, a blown fuse may be the culprit. Finally, be sure to turn the wheel a few times, fully, from side to side, while the vehicle is parked and with the hood open. If you hear a noise like an overloaded shop-class wood planer, the power-steering pump is likely borked.

2007 to 2012 Nissan Altima

Why You Want One

Another popular Japanese pick in a mid-size sedan, Nissan’s strong-selling Altima targeted shoppers after space, comfort, storage galore, and a quiet ride. Four- or six-cylinder engine options were available, as was a two-door coupe model. Distinctive styling and relatively sporty performance helped round out the package.

Altima could be had as a basic family sedan, a luxurious performance coupe, or just about anything in between. This one’s generously sized, and should prove roomy enough for four adults and their gear on an extended road trip. Owners report fuel economy that ranges from good to excellent, and the V6 engine’s performance is rated to be strong and thrilling, though blind spots and a large turning circle are common gripe-points.

Important Checks

To help avoid potentially frustrating problems with the continually variable transmission (CVT), ensure the model you’re considering has all transmission servicing and software up to date, including fluid changes, and that all transmission servicing prescribed as part of regular maintenance, has been carried out at a dealer, not a private shop. Problems can arise if a transmission-fluid change is performed without use of a very specific drain-and-fill procedure, or if a non-factory fluid is used to refill.

A braking-system warning light on the dashboard is cause for alarm. This likely references a somewhat-common master-cylinder leak, which can prevent your used Altima from being able to stop safely. Be sure this warning light isn’t present, and that the brakes on the model you’re considering perform strongly. If you notice the warning light, do not test drive the vehicle in question until it’s been repaired, as braking performance may be affected.

A technician should also inspect the suspension, undercarriage, and brake pads and rotors on the Altima you’re considering, to ensure the seller isn’t trying to pass off an upcoming repair bill. Higher-mileage units should also be checked for fluid leaks and wheel-bearing condition, just to be safe.

2008 to 2012 Chevrolet Malibu

Why You Want One

With reasonable pricing and a solid reputation for award-winning safety, owner satisfaction and overall value, the Chevrolet Malibu has been a strong contender for the dollars of Canadian mid-size car shoppers for many years – not to mention a former North American Car of the Year winner. Look for a full range of safety equipment, including GM’s exclusive OnStar system. Engine options included four- and six-cylinder power plants, and a mild-hybrid Malibu variant was available too, though we’ll focus on the far more popular mainstream models here. After a higher-end unit? Look for a Malibu LT or LTZ. Owners reported a remarkably quiet drive, good ride quality, a large trunk, and easy-to-use tech features, though some wish for a higher-quality feel to some interior trimmings.

Important Checks

Reported problems for this generation of Malibu are mostly minor in nature. Shoppers are advised to triple-check all door locks, several times, noting that failure to lock or unlock a door could be the result of a bad door-lock actuator, which isn’t uncommon.

Another check should involve having a good listen to the Malibu’s front end while driving on rougher roads. Ticking, popping, or snapping sounds could indicate worn-out struts or strut mounts, which should be replaced. Coax unwanted noises from a worn strut mount by turning the steering wheel fully, from one side to the next, while the vehicle is stopped, and listen for grinding or popping noises. If the Malibu you’re considering makes any unwelcome front-end noises, it should visit a technician for a closer look, sooner than later.

Warning lights and messages relating to the vehicle’s driveline, including a Service Traction or Reduced Engine Power message, could be caused by a bad throttle body or a corroded grounding point, but have a mechanic confirm that’s the case. These issues, whether present on your test drive or not, could store a trouble code in the Malibu’s ECU, so a diagnostic scan is highly advised ahead of purchase.

Confirm that carpeting in the front, outer corners of the front footwells is dry and free of mould or foul smells. If that’s not the case, a blocked sunroof drain tube may be allowing water to overflow or leak into that area of the cabin.

If you’re opting for a model with V6 power, be extra vigilant about on-time oil changes to prevent possible, but unlikely (in this generation) issues with the timing chain. Earlier versions of this engine had numerous problems documented, but they seem to have been remedied for this generation. Finally, note that some Malibus in this era were recalled to fix an issue with a sudden loss of power-steering assist, which could cause an accident. Contact a dealer with the vehicle’s VIN number to see if it’s affected by the recall.

2010 to 2012 Ford Fusion

Why You Want One

With some of the most distinctive styling and abundant technology in the segment, Ford’s updated-for-2010 Fusion was a popular pick for mid-size car shoppers after upscale design, and all of the toys. A decent trunk, strong brakes, and a highly functional Ford Sync infotainment system were noted by owners, though some wish for more rear seat space.

Look for a multitude of trim grades, including S and SE as more basic units, and SEL or Sport models taking top-line positions. Engines included four- or six-cylinder units, and some were available with a manual gearbox, too. Fusion is one of the only cars in this segment, and the only one on this list, to offer all-wheel drive (AWD).

Important Checks

Thinking of a Fusion? Think “transmission”. Work with a dealer service advisor to confirm that all applicable software updates have been applied to the model you’re considering, and that all fluid changes have been carried out on time, and performed by a dealer. Ensure that there’s no leakage from the transmission cooler, or associated cooling lines, too. If this is the case, and the unit you’re considering still exhibits any hard shifting, flaring, surging, clumsiness, or other transmission trouble signs, you’re best to move to another unit.

Though transmission-related issues weren’t massively widespread, some owners have reported that some problems stem from an internal problem with the transmission, not the software that controls it.

Vibrations felt through the Fusion’s floor, likely in the vicinity of your feet as you drive, could be the result of a transmission problem, too, or an issue with the driveshafts.

Have a technician inspect the power take-off unit (PTU) as well, if the model you’re considering has all-wheel drive (AWD). A not-uncommon fluid leak may be the result of a bad seal, and should be repaired before purchase.

Finally, note that many owners have reported premature brake system component wear, so be on the lookout for sellers that are hoping you’ll pick up the bill for an impending brake job.

Important checks for mid-size cars.