In the used automotive marketplace, affordable and reliable are two adjectives that are sometimes at odds with each other. This is not always the case though, as we aim to prove in today’s blog post. We’ve rounded up some 2015 products, all under $15,000, from top five-ranked brands according to Consumer Reports. These include the tried and true Mazda3, which just experienced a major redesign three years ago bringing KODO — Soul of Motion styling to the popular vehicle. There’s also the venerable Toyota Corolla, running an efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder mated to a choice of three different transmissions.

2015 Mazda3

Fresh from a complete overhaul a year prior, the compact hatchback and sedan introduced quite a few innovations to the platform. The complete SKYACTIV suite made its first appearance, a variety of powertrain, chassis, and body technologies enhanced performance, in addition to improved fuel efficiency. The brake regeneration system named i-ELOOP, designed to recycle unused kinetic energy to power the vehicle’s electrical components, also made an appearance. On the safety side, there’s the front-collision detecting semi-autonomous Smart City Brake Support.

There are two SKYACTIV-G engines available on the model: a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter and a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter, the same unit found in the CX-5 crossover. Both a SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual and a SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission were offered.

2015 Kia Soul

Funky is an adjective that comes to mind when talking about the Kia Soul. The mini SUV has garnered numerous accolades, from being named one of the “10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000″ by Kelley Blue Book online to apeparing on the “2015 Most Popular” list on Edmunds.com. Like the Mazda3, the Soul received a reinterpretation in 2014 resulting in a longer and wider vehicle — with a torsional rigidity increase of 28.7 percent in the body — affording extra passenger and cargo space as well as a quieter, smoother, and better handling ride.

Complementing its playful nature is a wide spectrum of bright colors like Solar Yellow, Kale Green, and Inferno Red. The cabin is more luxurious than expected given the segment, featuring optional leather-trimmed seating, piano-black panels, Pandora internet radio-enabled UVO eServices infotainment, and a large eight-inch touchscreen display.

2015 Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla didn’t earn the title of best-selling nameplate of all time, moving more than 40 million units since 1966, by accident. One of the primary reasons for this success has been fuel economy, and a big milestone for the brand was when they implemented CVTi-S into car. The “S” stands for “Shift,” a key differentiation from other continuously variable transmissions. Integrated stepped shift points in within the acceleration and deceleration curves helps avoid the dreaded “rubber band” feel demonstrated in some other systems.

Throw in a dynamically-tuned suspension, a sub-2,900-pound curb weight, and a unibody construction full of high tensile-strength steel and you’ve got a Corolla that is fun to drive and yields a fuel consumption rating of approximately 40 miles per gallon. In addition, all grades are generously equipped: air conditioning, USB input, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and power windows and door locks are all standard.

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