Comfortable cars that won’t break the bank

Horsepower is the first thing that some drivers look at when shopping for a used car, but all the power in the world won’t matter if the entire car is vibrating as it climbs up to top speed. Beyond simple performance measurements, a vehicle should more than anything be comfortable and enjoyable to drive and ride in.

There are several factors that go into this – suspension, the platform, even what the seat is made of and the reclining options. Yet not all of them will be readily apparent on one test drive.

That’s why Kelley Blue Book, the company responsible for listing used car values, recently looked at some top choices in ride quality. Since luxury vehicles frequently focus on smoother rides, an upper limit of $30,000 was established so that the list wasn’t dominated by more expensive vehicles. Here are some of their choices.

Two cars from Toyota made the list, and one was the company’s flagship Camry Sedan. Kelley singled out the car’s plush seats as particularly enjoyable. Under the hood, the company found the car’s “soft yet supple” suspension as more than adequate for providing a great ride. In addition, creature comforts like dual zone climate control are great for long road trips or stretches of traffic. The retail price on the base Camry is $22,225, but 2009 and 2010 models with limited mileage can be found for under $20,000.

Drivers who want an even more comfortable ride can step up to the Camry’s larger brandmate, the Toyota Avalon. The model comes in at around $28,000 for the 2010 model, although if a driver opts for a used Toyota Avalon from 2005 or 2006 they can likely get below $20,000. Yet the increase in price is well worth it, according to Kelley, as the Avalon delivers “Lexus-like comfort on a Toyota budget.” Passengers will appreciate the spacious interior and amenities like reclining rear seats, which comes standard. And while in the past drivers may have had to sacrifice handling in order to get a larger vehicle, advances in suspension technology makes the Avalon maneuverable while still providing comfort.

Another larger sedan that made the list was the Ford Taurus, which will slot in between the Avalon and Camry at about $25,000 when bought new. As one of the few sedans that can comfortably seat five, the Taurus is a great choice for families. The presence of Ford’s Sync system makes driving less of a hassle, as drivers can control all their portable devices hands-free. Still, the Taurus delivers sporty performance and styling while providing a quiet and gentle ride.

Drivers should know that although Kelley’s upper limit of $30,000 meant that many luxury cars didn’t find their way onto the list, it’s likely that car buyers can find used BMWs or used Mercedes – two brands known for their ride quality – for under $30,000 on the used car market.