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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
Mark Pearson

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? To help you decide, we’ve brought together and ranked our top 10...

10

Honda Civic

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 126 SR, 3000 miles, £18,995

Shop for a used one here 

Pros

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

Cons

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

Vauxhall Astra

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 on the way soon, but our money buys one of the latest 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. 

We found 2021 Vauxhall Astra 1.2T Griffin Edition, 3000 miles, £17,900

Shop for a used one here 

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

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, 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 2021 Hyundai i30 1.4 GDi N-Line, 2500 miles, £18,000

Shop for a used one here 

Pros

  • Long warranty
  • Low prices
  • Useful boot

Cons

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

Mazda 3

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. Some won't mind that, though, as it makes the 3 a particularly good-looking family car.

We found 2020 Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-X Mhev GT Sport, 8000 miles, £19,000

Shop for a used one here 

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

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 recently dipped down to around the £20k barrier, but the recent boom in demand for used cars has put them up again, so you may 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 Sport, 12,000 miles, £20,000

Shop for a used one here 

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

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.

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

Shop for a used one here 

Pros

  • Fine handling
  • Sweet petrol engines
  • Hugely practical

Cons

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

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. It's now possible to find one or two of the newer Mk8 cars for our budget, but there are far more versions of this earlier model for sale and make no mistake this Mk7 version's still a humdinger. 

We found 2019 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo R-Line, 5000 miles, £18,000

Shop for a used one here 

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

You'll have to shop carefully but you should now be able to find some examples of the latest Leon on the forecourts for around 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. The older models are even cheaper, and well worth shopping for if you can't find the newer car. 

We found 2021 Seat Leon 1.0 TSI Evo SE Dynamic, 6000 miles, £19,995

Shop for a used one here 

Pros

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

Cons

  • Firm ride on FR models
  • Road noise
  • EHybrid's ride and boot space drawbacks
2

Skoda Octavia

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 really well, with composed handling and a comfortable ride, and it’s great value. There's an all-new Octavia on sale now, and if you shop around you might find one or two of these for our budget. However, if you end up with this version you'd be more than happy. It's one of our favourites. 

We found 2020 Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE L, 9000 miles, £18,000

Shop for a used one here 

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

As a new car, we reckoned this version of the classy Audi A3 Sportback was the best family hatchback around. We think it's great as a used buy, too. 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, of which we'd seek out one of the smooth petrols. What’s more, there are plenty of nearly new examples of this recently replaced generation around. 

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

Shop for a used one here 

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