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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 in the family car class...

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by
Mark Pearson
Published19 October 2023

Used family cars

Once upon a time, buying a used family car meant ending up with a humdrum hatchback possessing all the kerb appeal of an overflowing laundry basket.

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? Our team of experts say that the very best familat car for less than £20,000 is the brilliant Toyota Corolla. But if that's not the car for you, we've also ranked our top 10...

Our pick: 1.8 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.1 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 361 litres
Insurance group: 17E

Strengths

  • Great economy in the hybrid cars
  • Good to drive
  • Top-notch reliability record

Weaknesses

  • Rear-seat space a little tight
  • Infotainment not the best
  • The 1.8 not as refined as 2.0-litre version

Our top choice is this petrol-electric hybrid Corolla. The Corolla’s 1.8-litre hybrid system is one of the best in the business, and when we subjected it to a real-world fuel economy test it averaged 50.5mpg. The rest of it's really good, too - it's incredibly reliable, there’s plenty of room and the Corolla has a cosseting ride. It's also good to drive and decently refined. Entry-level Icon trim is our pick of the range, and comes with a long list of standard equipment, including adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and sat-nav.

We found 2022 Toyota Corolla 1.8 Icon, 6000 miles, £19,995

Read our used Toyota Corolla review

Search for a used Toyota Corolla for sale

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

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. 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. It's extremely reliable, too, more so than most of its rivals in this class, and used prices are really competitive. 

We found 2020 BMW 1 Series 118i Sport, 22,000 miles, £20,000

Read our used BMW 1 Series review

Search for a used BMW 1 Series for sale

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Neat handling
  • Impressive mild-hybrid engines

Weaknesses

  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Some rivals are more spacious
  • Still quite pricey
  • Reliability mixed

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 it's now possible to find used versions of this latest Mk8 car for our budget. Reliability is only average, though, otherwise it might have finished even higher. 

We found 2021 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo R-Line, 5000 miles, £19,995

Read our used Volkswagen Golf review

Search for a used Volkswagen Golf for sale

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Loads of space in the back
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride on FR models
  • Road noise
  • EHybrid's ride and boot space drawbacks
  • Reliability can be an issue

You can find some excellent examples of the latest Leon on the forecourts for well below our £20k budget. Sharp styling makes it 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. Reliability is a little below par, however, with issues mostly centred on the infotainment system. 

We found 2022 Seat Leon 1.5 TSI SE Dynamic, 6000 miles, £19,995

Read our used Seat Leon review

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Our pick: 40 TFSI e Sport 5dr S Tronic

0-62mph: 7.6 sec
MPG/range: 256.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 26g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 280 litres
Insurance group: 24E

Strengths

  • Eager handling
  • Great driving position
  • Punchy and frugal engines

Weaknesses

  • Some interior quality disappointing
  • Fiddly infotainment system
  • Awful reliability

This latest version of the classy Audi A3 Sportback is one of the best family hatchbacks around. We think it's great as a used buy, too. It's a premium product with a spacious and practical high-quality interior, superb ride and handling and an excellent range of engines, of which we'd seek out one of the smooth petrols. The only fly in the ointment is a rather poor reliability record, with a number of non-engine electrical issues.  

We found 2020 Audi A3 Sportback 35 TFSI SE Technik, 5000 miles, £18,850

Read our used Audi A3 review

Search for a used Audi A3 for sale

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Enormous boot
  • Plenty of rear-seat space

Weaknesses

  • Ride can sometimes be a little too floaty
  • Fiddly touchscreen
  • Some rivals are more refined
  • Reliability can be an issue

A strong combination of comfort, equipment and space have all combined to make the latest 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 really well, with composed handling and a comfortable ride, and it’s great value. Reliability is a bit mixed, alas. However, if you need to spend a little less you could always check out the previous version, which was also one of our favourites. 

We found 2021 Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE L, 9000 miles, £18,995

Read our used Skoda Octavia review

Search for a used Skoda Octavia for sale

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid mHEV Titanium 5dr

0-62mph: 10.2 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 118g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 15E

Strengths

  • Fun to drive
  • Punchy yet economical petrol engines
  • Roomy interior

Weaknesses

  • Sub-par interior quality
  • Ride firmer than those of rivals (more so ST-Line)
  • The Skoda Octavia has an even bigger boot

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 excellent range of petrol engines are 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. Reliability is good, too. 

We found: 2021 Ford Focus 1.5 Ecoboost 150 Active, 1000 miles, £18,500

Read our used Ford Focus review

Search for a used Ford Focus for sale

Strengths

  • Long warranty
  • Low prices
  • Useful boot

Weaknesses

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

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

We found 2022 Hyundai i30 1.4 GDi N-Line, 2500 miles, £19,000

Read our used Hyundai i30 review

Search for a used Hyundai i30 for sale

Our pick: 2.0 eHEV Sport 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 7.9 sec
MPG/range: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 113g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 415 litres
Insurance group: 28E

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

If reliability is a big concern, you won't have any worries with this just recently superseded version of 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 one of the last of this generation, too.

We found 2021 Honda Civic 1.0 Turbo 126 SR, 9000 miles, £18,995

Read our used Honda Civic review

Search for a used Honda Civic for sale 

Our pick: 1.2 Turbo 130 GS 5dr

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 422 litres
Insurance group: 19E

Strengths

  • Spacious interior
  • Relatively cheap to buy
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

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

Want lots of car for your cash? Well, the Vauxhall Astra offers just that, because it’s cheap as chips. There's an all-new model out right now, but our money buys one of the last versions of the current car with the uprated engines and tech. We’d suggest going for the sprightly petrol engines over the noisy diesels, but on the whole, the Astra is comfortable, spacious and good to drive. Reliability is a little mixed, however. 

We found 2021 Vauxhall Astra 1.2T Griffin Edition, 8000 miles, £17,900

Read our used Vauxhall Astra review

Search for a used Vauxhall Astra for sale