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Half-price heroes! Affordable used alternatives for the new cars you want: Mazda CX-5, Ford Ranger, Toyota Corolla hybrid, BMW M2

All used vehicles should be checked first by an independent mechanic and ensure every scheduled service has been carried out.

With see-sawing currencies and tumultuous global events pushing new-car prices ever-higher, spending up big may not be an option at all for many of us right now.

Thankfully, there’s always the used-car market, where hundreds of not-so-old pre-loved alternatives await fresh buyers to love them once more.

This time in our continuing series on what’s worth taking a punt on out there, we take a closer look at what might scratch that brand-new Mazda CX-5, Ford Ranger, Toyota Corolla hybrid or BMW M2 itch.

NEW: Mazda CX-5 2.5L AWD

From $35,980 to $52,330

A perennial family favourite since 2012, the CX-5 has – over two stellar generations – walked the fine line between affordability and aspirational. It’s easy to see why too, deftly converging positive attributes like sound design, engineering, practicality, reliability, customer service and resale value.

But there’s more. The CX-5 is also an involving driving experience, especially with the larger of the two four-cylinder petrol engines on offer, backed up by keen handling and a confident, planted feel on the road.

Combine all this with a superlative all-wheel drive system, and it’s easy to see how the CX-5 can lure buyers away from the mainstream and premium brands alike.

USED: 2013-2018 Subaru S4 Forester 2.5i

From approx. $16,000 to $28,000, under 80,000km

The fourth-generation Forester is a characterful used-SUV proposition, with plenty to recommend it, including a light and airy cabin offering confidence-boosting vision, easy controls, excellent roadholding and strong resale – as stubbornly-high second-hand prices attest.

Subaru’s famous ‘boxer’ four-cylinder petrol engine sounds offbeat, but it’s also willing and frugal, aided by a smooth (continuous variable) auto transmission. Additionally, armed with ample ground clearance, the Forester is fine over light-gravel tracks – just don’t go bush in one, though. These are urban crossovers, after all.

Find a regularly serviced (these need six-monthly intervals, annoyingly) and maintained example, and the Forester should see you through for years.

HONOURABLE MENTION: 2016-2020 Ford ZG Escape

NEW: Ford Ranger Wildtrak

From $62,090 - $67,790

As the world’s only one-tonne pick-up truck wholly designed and engineered in Australia, nowadays, the Ranger looks and feels born for our environment, and this plays a big role in its towering success over the past decade.

The sportier Wildtrak, meanwhile, provides that extra dash of style and specification that – in the old days – a Falcon XR6 or Holden Commodore SV6 ute driver might gravitate towards.

For a medium-sized truck, it’s comparatively civilised to drive, though if you want refinement, bypass the hoary 3.2L five-cylinder turbo-diesel for the $1500 optional 2.0L Bi-Turbo. Note, too, that a complete redesign is heading our way late in 2021.

USED: 2016-2019 Holden RG Series II Colorado LTZ

$30,000 to $40,000, under 80,000km

For our half-price ute bargain, we’ve searched for 4x4 dual-cab diesel alternatives offering a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and for our money the Colorado comes out swinging.

But there’s a caveat here – we’re talking about the RG facelift from August 2016 onwards. This is when Holden helped re-engineer the Colorado for Australia, meaning it became substantially quieter, stronger, better to drive, more economical, cleaner running and far more comfortable in the suspension department than the similar-looking but hard-riding and half-baked earlier Brazilian Chevy iteration released in 2011.

The LTZ offers an attractive and contemporary cabin, as well as a decent level of standard equipment. Holden got this Colorado right.

HONOURABLE MENTION: 2017-2019 Nissan D23 Navara STX

NEW: Toyota Corolla Hybrid

From $27,395 - $34,695

Australians love a hybrid nowadays, and the Corolla version rides high on the sales charts for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it’s the second-most affordable new hybrid (the baby Yaris Hybrid is marginally cheaper); also, there’s choice: the hatch offers progressive, sporty styling (but pitifully little cargo space) while the more-family orientated sedan is hugely spacious and practical, with a massive boot; and thirdly, the Corolla is rewarding to drive as well as comfortable to travel in. It could use more muscle, though.

Still, factor in over half a century of reliability and value as well, and the Corolla Hybrid’s success is understandable – and deserved.

USED: 2010-2016 Toyota XW30 Prius

$14,000 to 20,000, under 80,000km

The car that started the hybrid revolution back in the late ‘90s had developed into a mature and sophisticated machine by the time the third-generation version appeared a decade later.

Sure, the dashboard may seem a little sci-fi for some, but otherwise the Prius III is very user-friendly, big enough for a smaller family and sufficiently compact for zipping in and out of tight spots. Plus, unlike earlier Priuses, it’s also a decent drive, with plenty of kick from the 1.8-litre petrol-electric powertrain, as well as brilliantly low fuel consumption.

The series-parallel hybrid system is similar in essence to the one found in today’s Toyotas. Just ensure all services have been carried out.

HONOURABLE MENTION: 2011-2015 Honda CR-Z Hybrid

NEW: BMW M2

From $102,900 - $139,900

What could be more quintessentially BMW than a compact two-door coupe boasting a ballistic in-line six up front, rear-wheel drive and a solid, quality base underneath?

The muscular M2 is all that and more, bringing to mind 1980s E30 M3 that we sadly never saw new in Australia, but with all the luxury, refinement, safety and sophistication of a modern M-car to go with astounding speed and physics-defying alacrity.

This is the sort of mad driver’s cars with a supernaturally gifted chassis to provide a honed, holistic driving experience. And the M2 CS is on another level again. Arguably one of the last decade’s greatest sports cars.

USED: 2011-2014 Audi TT RS quattro

$45,000 to $60,000, under 60,000km

Audi tried and failed to recapture the spirit of the 1980s Ur-Quattro that changed the landscape of both sports cars and rally machines, but the ultimate second-generation TT somehow seemed to get closer than most.

The RS is a seriously rapid sports car, with an unhinged level of theatre given its head from a highly modified AWD chassis that houses, among other goodies, a 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo heart that feels and sounds like Audi’s most coveted-ever car.

Rare and exquisite, the RS is every bit a worthy half-price alternative to the M2, even though they are – on paper as well as in execution – worlds apart.

HONOURABLE MENTION: 2000-2020 Lotus Elise