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Best used family cars for less than £20,000

Whether you're after something sensible, something stylish or just a great all-rounder, £20k opens up a raft of nearly new buys...


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by
Max Adams

Once upon a time, buying a used family car meant ending up with a humdrum hatchback possessing all the kerb appeal of an empty packet of crisps.

Happily, those days are long gone. There’s so much choice on the used family car market these days that you’re bound to find something that will give you the practicality, reliability and space that you need combined with the style, comfort and quality feel that you want. 

But which one is best for you? To help you decide, we’ve brought together and ranked our top 10...

10

Honda Civic

Used Honda Civic 17-present

If reliability is a big concern, you won't have any worries with the Honda Civic. It has a great record, with owners reporting a low number of faults. What’s more, the stylish Civic is good to drive, decently refined, surprisingly economical and has a huge boot, too. Our money buys a nearly new one, too.

We found 2021 Honda Civic 1.0 Turbo SR, 1000 miles, £18,995

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Pros

  • Good to drive
  • Lots of safety kit
  • Big boot

Cons

  • Woeful infotainment system
  • Rear head room tight
  • Noisy on motorways
9

Vauxhall Astra

Used Vauxhall Astra 2015 - present

Want lots of car for your cash? Well, the Vauxhall Astra offers just that, because it’s cheap as chips. We’d suggest going for the sprightly turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine over the noisy diesels, but on the whole, the Astra is comfortable, spacious and good to drive. A very reasonable car, in other words, even if it isn't one that will earn the envy of your friends.

We found 2020 Vauxhall Astra 1.4T 150 SRi Nav, 3000 miles, £17,500

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Pros

  • Spacious interior
  • Relatively cheap to buy
  • Well equipped

Cons

  • Vague steering
  • Diesels can be noisy
  • Low-speed ride can be fidgety
8

Hyundai i30

Used Hyundai i30 Hatchback (17-present)

The Hyundai i30 is softer than most of its rivals, giving a reasonably comfortable ride without being floaty. Its turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine dishes out decent rather than Earth-shattering performance but shouldn’t drain your wallet. Also, every example should still have plenty of its five-year warranty coverage left, which is comforting.

We found 2019 Hyundai i30 1.4 GDi N-Line, 2500 miles, £16,000

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Pros

  • Long warranty
  • Low prices
  • Useful boot

Cons

  • Sluggish performance
  • Bland to drive
  • Tight rear seat space
7

Mazda 3

Mazda 3 driving

If you want great fuel economy but also a car that’s fun to drive, you should have a look at the handsome Mazda 3. Both diesel and petrol versions achieve impressive real-world efficiency, while an involving chassis means it’s a treat if you get a bit of twisty road to yourself. The downside is that it’s not particularly roomy in the back. 

We found 2019 Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G Mhev GT Sport, 8000 miles, £19,490

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Pros

  • Plenty of standard equipment
  • Refinement at speed
  • Great interior quality

Cons

  • Poor wet weather grip
  • Cramped rear seats
  • Boot could be more versatile
6

BMW 1 Series

BMW 1 Series front tracking long-term test

Fancy the quality, image and exciting driving style of a BMW but in a family hatchback package? That’s where this third-generation version of the BMW 1 Series comes in. Prices have only just dipped below the £20k barrier, so you'll need to shop around. It's based on BMW's own Mini, and if it isn’t quite as spacious as some rivals the payback is a high level of driver involvement combined with all the quality and kudos of a BMW. 

We found 2019 BMW 1 Series 118i SE, 3000 miles, £19,950

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Pros

  • Superb build quality
  • Greater rear room
  • Class-leading infotainment system

Cons

  • Road noise at speed
  • Mercedes A-Class has a higher safety rating
  • SE model isn't as well-equipped as rivals
5

Ford Focus

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus is Britain’s most popular family hatchback, and it isn’t hard to see why. First up, it’s cheap both to buy and to run. It’s also great to drive, with a lively chassis and responsive steering. Ford's 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine is peppy enough for most people, too. What’s more, there are loads of examples out there to choose from, so finding a good one shouldn’t be hard.

We found: 2020 Ford Focus 1.0 125 Ecoboost Titanium, 1000 miles, £16,500

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Pros

  • Fine handling
  • Sweet petrol engines
  • Hugely practical

Cons

  • Interior
  • Brake pedal recall
  • Firm ride on sport suspension
4

Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf is a fantastic all-rounder, combining excellent comfort, enjoyable handling, enough space for most families, a high-quality interior and quiet road manners. Of course, the smart styling and VW badge make it a desirable car, and so it commands a bit of a premium over some of its rivals. Prices are steadying now the new Mk8 car's on the market, so it's a good time to bag a Mk7 model. 

We found 2019 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo R-Line, 5000 miles, £19,000

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Pros

  • Smooth ride
  • Enjoyable to drive
  • Upmarket interior

Cons

  • Not as cheap as some rivals
  • Could be more spacious
  • Question marks over reliability
3

Seat Leon

Used Seat Leon 13 - present

Sharp styling makes the Seat Leon an instant eye-catcher, but its beauty isn’t just skin-deep. It’s great fun to drive, too, with a taut chassis that makes it responsive and involving. Yet it's also comfortable, and it's endowed with a spacious interior full of tactile materials. An all-new Leon launched in 2020 means it's a good time to search for the last versions of the older model. 

We found 2020 Seat Leon 1.5 TSI Evo FR Black Edition, 10,000 miles, £16,495

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Pros

  • Good to drive
  • Well equipped
  • Cheap to buy and run

Cons

  • Firm ride
  • Not as refined as some rivals
  • Bland interior
2

Skoda Octavia

Used Skoda Octavia Hatchback 13-present

A strong combination of comfort, equipment and space have made the Skoda Octavia a real favourite with family car buyers. It offers a vast boot and loads of room for rear-seat passengers. What’s more, it drives tidily, with composed handling and a comfortable ride, and it’s great value. There may now be an all-new 2020 Octavia on sale now but this version remains one of our favourites. 

We found 2020 Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE L, 4000 miles, £17,999

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Pros

  • Smart, spacious and practical interior
  • Cheap to buy and run
  • Well equipped

Cons

  • Not as comfortable as a Golf
  • Pricier models best avoided
  • Entry-level S trim is a bit basic
1

Audi A3

Used Audi A3 Hatchback 2013-present

As a new car, we reckoned this version of the Audi A3 Sportback was the best family hatchback around. In fact, it was crowned our 2020 Used Family Car of the Year. It's a premium product with a spacious and practical high-quality interior, superb ride and handling and an excellent range of engines. What’s more, there are plenty of nearly new examples of this just-replaced generation around.

We found 2020 Audi A3 Sportback 2.0 40 TFSI Sport, 5000 miles, £19,850

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Pros

  • Strong engines
  • Beautifully finished interior
  • Great to drive

Cons

  • Not as spacious as the VW Golf in the back
  • Firm low-speed ride
  • Lower trims sparsely equipped
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