When I consider my commuting needs, I expect the car to be reliable, affordable, fuel-efficient, and require minimal upkeep over time.
Without a doubt, Toyota exceeds these standards, and then some. As a previous owner of many Toyotas, I am confident I can tell you which three models are the best Toyotas for the money.
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What’s the Best Toyota for the Money?
The Camry is the best Toyota for the money. While many Toyotas are reliable, Camry’s have maintained the title of The-Best-Selling-Car in America for 20 years. The Camry starts at a reasonable $25,045 MSRP with a maximum 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway depending on the vehicle’s specifications.
It’s considered the best and most affordable option for families and is rated 5 out of 5 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Also read: Are Toyotas Reliable? Which Toyotas aren’t?
1. Toyota Camry
The Camry made its debut in the 1980s and is a mid-sized 4-door sedan with tried-and-true quality. It’s a frequent choice for the American middle class and families alike because it’s well-rounded and affordable.
Since its inception, the Camry was available as a sedan, coupe, or wagon-style vehicle. However, in the fourth generation, Toyota discontinued the wagon-style and moved forward with the remaining styles. The Camry offers several trim levels that provide a range of fundamental and innovative features.
- MSRP – Generally, 2021 Camry’s range in cost from $25,045-$35,620 depending on the trim, luxury items, and upgrades.
- Features – The Camry boasts many standard features, but some noteworthy ones come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5; this system makes the Camry one of the safest vehicles on the road. Complete with adaptive cruise control, pedestrian monitoring, traffic sign recognition, automatic emergency braking, and a rearview camera.
- Engine – The 2021 model offers three engines with vastly different capabilities, including the hybrid version. The base model comes standard with a 2.5L, 4-cylinder that can reach over 200 horsepower and churn out 180 lb.-ft of torque.
The upgraded 3.6L V6 can reach over 300 horsepower and provide 267 lb.-ft of torque. While sacrificing power, the hybrid engine uses a modified version of the 2.5L engine but has exceptional fuel efficiency.
The standard 2.5L, 4-cylinder, and hybrid 4-cylinder consecutively have the best fuel efficiencies. However, hybrid engines can be a turn-off for some consumers.
Yet, the standard engine provides moderate power for a sedan and above-average 28-mpg city and 39-mpg highway. Considering today’s fuel economy, I choose the standard option any day as it provides excellent power and fuel efficiency all around.
- Reliability – You must schedule regular maintenance like frequent oil changes, buy quality replacement parts, check the car daily, and address issues quickly. This regimen will keep this reliable sedan in great shape.
On average, you can expect to get 10-15 years or between 200,000 to 300,000 miles out of your Camry; a friend of mine drove their Camry until it had 320,000 miles.
- Repairs – I expect you will spend an estimated $388 a year on annual maintenance costs for your Camry. Compare that to the average $651 annually on similar vehicles, and you see the bigger picture.
Generally, Camry’s are cheaper to maintain, and it’s estimated that about 11% of the time, you will have extensive repairs.
You can count on fixing issues with the automatic transmission, oxygen sensors, power steering pumps, and associated hoses, as well as leaking valve cover gaskets and failing passenger-side motor mounts.
- True Cost to Own – A table below shows the cost to own a Camry over a 3- and 5-year period.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Total|
|Taxes and Fees||$1,245||$41||$41||$41||$41||$1,409|
Is It Safe to Buy a Used Camry – As with most Toyotas on the market today, you can count on their continued reliability and longevity. The older Camry model these traits perfectly. So, I wouldn’t be worried about buying a used Camry; their reliability endures throughout each generation. While there are many reasons to buy new, the 7th generation of the Camry (2012-2017) is one you should focus on.
This generation has much to offer, but when buying used, you should stick to 2015, 2014, and 2013. Specifically, these three years achieved a 5 out of 5 on the reliability score by Consumer Reports. In addition, the recalls on these models were extremely low, and complaints about the vehicle, in general, were also negligent.
The 7th generation also is a better option because, through redesign, Toyota removed a defective piston ring and decreased the excessive oil consumption of earlier models.
2. Toyota RAV4
When the RAV4 debuted in 1996, the idea of a crossover SUV was considered an impossible ideal. Yet, five generations later, it is one of the best-selling cars of its kind and outpaces many other makes and models.
- MSRP – The 2021 RAV4 comes in six trim levels, and the cost ranges from $26,350-$36,280. The trim levels have more variety in their features than other models of Toyota, and they are LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, TRD Off-Road, and Limited.
- Features – The 2021 RAV4 comes standard with Toyota Sense 2.0, which contains pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams. Upgrades in higher trim levels include keyless entry and ignition, larger wheels, a sunroof, selectable terrain drive modes, and a navigation system.
- Engine – The 2021 RAV4 comes standard in all trims with a 2.5L, 4-cylinder engine capable of 203 horsepower and approximately 184 lb.-ft of torque. With this setup, the crossover can quickly get up to speed and provide the support and capability of SUVs.
The RAV4 also comes as an FWD vehicle, but AWD options are available. The base RAV4 can get 28-mpg city and 35-mpg highway as an FWD. When you add AWD to the base LE model, it slightly diminishes the mileage.
Any remaining AWD trims can get an estimated 25-27 mpg city and 33-mpg highway.
- Reliability – While it doesn’t have a perfect reliability rating, it still boasts a rating of 4.0. With its above-average rating, fuel efficiency, and features packed to the brim, it’s no wonder the RAV4 is a popular choice.
As mentioned earlier, reliability is affected by preventative maintenance and driving habits. Generally, the RAV4 is a leading runner in the crossover for longevity. This model is easily capable of running 10 years or more and reaching up to 250,000 miles.
- Repairs – It seems that Toyota infused the idea of solid craftsmanship and innovative engineering in the RAV4. The cost to maintain the RAV4 is more affordable than you think, with the average being $429 a year.
While not impossible, it’s unlikely that you’ll bring the RAV4 in for unexpected repairs. However, about 10% of the time, your Corolla will need a tough repair job.
As your RAV4 ages, you will eventually repair issues like excessive oil consumption, problems with your car lurching forward at lower speeds, failing oxygen sensors, and replacing the EVAP canister to solve frequent EVAP sensor problems.
- True Cost to Own – I have compiled a table showing the cost to own a RAV4 over a 3 and 5-year period.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Total|
|Taxes and Fees||$1,388||$41||$41||$41||$41||$1,552|
Is It Safe to Buy a Used RAV4- Yes, it is safe to buy a used RAV4, and there is a reason for that. Over the years, consumer needs have changed, allowing the RAV4 to be in the spotlight. Currently, it outsells most of Toyota’s other models. So, it’s safe to assume that you can easily find a used RAV4 for a reasonable price.
If you want to buy a used RAV4, I suggest sticking to the 4th generation. While you can find older generations that hold their value and reliability, the 4th generation is a memorable one. Consumer Reports gives the 2016 model their highest remarks, stating that it earned a perfect score. The 2016 model ranks better than the younger 2018 and 2017, but you would be making a good choice if you purchased any of them.
The 2016 model also earned an 86 on the J.D. Power 100-Point Score, which ranks it higher than Honda, Mazda, and Nissan in the SUV category. Complaints were minor for this generation as well, as a few interior issues were noted. I should mention that this generation holds its value because current 2016 models are selling between $15,000-$19,000.
3. Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla is one of the most versatile vehicles on the market today, and it has been for decades. It is also the maker’s most affordable and best-selling vehicle, selling over 1.1 million cars worldwide in 2020.
It’s a smaller 4-door sedan with less trunk space that isn’t fit for an entire family. Instead, high sales are due to the veteran status that the Corolla earned in its 55 years on American roads. You would be hard-pressed to find a more reliable car, and here’s why.
- MSRP – The 2021 Corolla comes in five trim levels, and the cost ranges from $20,025-$28,310. This model is more affordable than the Camry.
- Features – The 2021 Corolla comes standard with Toyota Sense 2.0. In higher trim levels, the Corolla also has an 8-inch screen for more effective infotainment, heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, and an upgraded 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine.
- Engine – The 2021 model offers two different engine capacities, but they provide similar fuel efficiencies. The standard engine on the Corolla is a 1.8L, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 139 horsepower and 126 lb.-ft of torque and is limited to the L, LE, and XLE trims.
This option allows the Corolla to boast a tremendous fuel efficiency of 30-mpg city and 38-mpg highway. If you’re seeking an alternative that has more bang for your buck, then the 2.0L, 4-cylinder engine is also available.
This 2.0L engine is limited to the SE, XSE, Nightshade, and Apex trims and delivers 169 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft of torque. Although even more impressive is the hybrid option for select Corolla trims, boasting a 53-mpg city and 52-mpg highway, even the Prius struggles to beat this car.
- Reliability – As always, frequent oil changes and tire rotations are necessary to realize its full potential. Nevertheless, the Corolla has a 4.5 reliability rating, which is above average for a compact car. Overall, the Corolla is a consistent vehicle, and with the proper care, it will keep going, well after 300,000 miles.
- Repairs – On average, I expect that you’ll spend an estimated $362 annually to keep your Corolla in good shape. When you compare this number to the average compact car cost of $526 a year, this is excellent news.
No car is perfect, and you will likely replace some parts on your Corolla. It is common to replace the cruise control in new models. In contrast, older models can have faulty EVAP systems, issues shifting in automatic transmissions at high speeds, and starter problems.
It’s common for repair issues to be minor, and it is estimated that only 7% of repairs will be severe. Compared to the 11% average for compact cars, this earns this vehicle tremendous respect.
- True Cost to Own – I have compiled a table showing the cost to own a Corolla over a 3- and 5-year period.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5||Total|
|Taxes and Fees||$961||$41||$41||$41||$41||$1,125|
Is It Safe to Buy a Used Corolla– Short answer? Yes. As previously mentioned, Corollas sell like hotcakes, which means many used models are available and still out on the road today. If you are looking to buy used, I would suggest looking for a few distinct generations.
The models from 2011-2013 are outstanding because they are high quality and still very fuel-efficient (27-city/34-highway). The 10th generation model also has many features that modern drivers still need today, such as Auxiliary jacks, Bluetooth, and keyless entry. These models are usually sold from $10,000-$12,000.
The 9th generation of the Corolla (2007-2008) is also an excellent choice for anyone who is on a strict budget. These models usually price under $10,000 and had more space for their occupants due to their more prominent design. There were also few complaints about its reliability, and it’s as fuel-efficient as the 10th generation.
Throughout my experience with Toyota vehicles, I can say that I wouldn’t choose anything less than what they offer. With the Toyota name, their cars have earned and proven long-term dependability, affordability, and quality engineering. So, whether you decide to buy new or used, you can’t go wrong. Toyotas hold their value with proven durability and ingenuity.
You can rely on the Camry, RAV4, and the Corolla to outperform the competition many times over. The Camry is your best bet considering that it’s great for families that need more room, it has more engine power, it’s more affordable than some mid-size sedans, and it offers an array of features.
If you take your Toyota in for regular maintenance and keep an eye on the basics when inspecting it, you will never have to worry about it failing you. So, if you’re looking for innovation, boundless features, and eye-catching design, Toyota provides.