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.....

Once upon a time, buying a used family car meant ending up with a humdrum hatchback possessing all the kerb appeal of a wet sock.

Audi A3 cornering front three quarters

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 to give you the practicality, reliability and space that you need combined with the style, comfort and quality feel that you want.

What’s more, many of today’s modern family cars feature high-tech infotainment systems that allow you to stream music from your phone, and some are almost as much fun to drive as a sports car. But which one is best for you? To help you decide, we’ve brought together and ranked our top 10... We start at number 10 and work our way up to our current champion:

10: Honda Civic

Honda Civic Hatchback 2019 front tracking RHD

If reliability is your primary concern, you probably won’t do much better than the Honda Civic. It has a fantastic record, with owners reporting an extremely low number of faults. What’s more, the Civic has a huge boot and a decent amount of rear leg room. Just be aware that there isn’t much rear head room for adults and the ride and steering aren’t as polished as some rivals'.

We found: 2019 Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo Sport, 2148 miles, £19,000

10: Honda Civic

Honda Civic Hatchback 2019 dashboard RHD

Pros
Good to drive
Lots of safety kit
Big boot

Cons
Woeful infotainment system
Rear head room tight
Noisy on motorways

9: Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall Astra front three quarters

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 reasonably comfortable, reasonably spacious, reasonably efficient and reasonably 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: 2019 Vauxhall Astra 1.2T 125 SRi Nav, 3099 miles, £12,500

9: Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall Astra - interior

Pros
Good to drive
Relatively cheap to buy
Well equipped

Cons
Vague steering
Diesels can be noisy
Low-speed ride can be fidgety

8: Hyundai i30

Hyundai i30 front three quarters

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. Plus, the car offers plenty of equipment as standard, including air conditioning, alloy wheels, a DAB radio and automatic emergency braking. Also, every example should still have plenty of warranty coverage left, which is comforting.

We found: 2019 Hyundai i30 1.4 GDi Premium SE, 2500 miles, £17,650

8: Hyundai i30

Hyundai i30 - interior

Pros
Long warranty
Low prices
Useful boot

Cons
Sluggish performance
Bland to drive
Tight rear seat space

7: Mazda 3

Mazda 3 at a junction

If you want great fuel economy but also a car that’s fun to drive, you should have a look at the 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, plus the small windows can make it feel gloomy.

We found: 2019 Mazda 3 2.0 Skyactiv-G Mhev GT Sport, 6000 miles, £19,490

7: Mazda 3

2019 Mazda 3 interior

Pros
Impressive fuel economy
Easy to use infotainment system
Well equipped

Cons
Firm ride around town
Not as much fun to drive as some rivals
Expensive to insure

6: BMW 1 Series

BMW 1 Series front - red

Fancy the quality, image and exciting driving style of a BMW but in a family hatchback package? That’s where this second-generation version (there is now a newer third-generation version of the 1 Series on sale, based on BMW's own Mini) of the BMW 1 Series comes in. The sacrifice you make is that it isn’t as spacious as some rivals and standard kit is a bit stingy on some versions. But if driving involvement is paramount or you just want the quality and kudos of a BMW, the 1 Series will be hard to resist. And as an added bonus, it offers a range of very efficient engines.

We found: 2019 BMW 1 Series 118d Sport, 3386 miles, £16,980

6: BMW 1 Series

BMW 1 Series - interior

Pros
Strong performance
Economy in diesel versions
Class-leading infotainment system

Cons
Rear room a little tight
Not as well equipped as some
Relatively high prices

5: Ford Focus

Ford Focus rear action

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, and while the Focus isn’t quite as classy as the Volkswagen Golf inside, the ubiquitous Titanium variant does at least get plenty of equipment. What’s more, there are loads of examples out there to choose from, so finding a good one shouldn’t be hard.

We found: 2019 Ford Focus 1.5 Ecoboost 150 ST-Line, 2078 miles, £16,500

5: Ford Focus

2020 Ford Focus dashboard

Pros
Fine handling
Sweet petrol engines
Hugely practical

Cons
Interior
Brake pedal recall
Firm ride on sport suspension

4: Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf front - 67-plate car

The Volkswagen Golf is a fantastic all-rounder, combining excellent comfort, enjoyable handling, enough space for most small 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. But it still isn’t too expensive, and for its considerable range of talents, we reckon that extra is worth paying. Prices are softening now the new Golf Mk8 has arrived on the market, so it's a good time to bag a Mk7 model.

We found: 2020 Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo Match Edition, 5073 miles, £18,000

4: Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf - interior

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

Seat Leon front three quarters

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. Okay, so it isn't quite as plush as the Volkswagen Golf, but you can forgive that when you realise the Leon is cheaper to buy than not just that car but also the Skoda Octavia. An all-new Leon launched in 2020 means it's a good time to do a bit of bartering on the older model.

We found: 2019 Seat Leon 1.5 TSI Evo FR, 1332 miles, £16,293

3: Seat Leon

3. Seat Leon 1.4 ECOTSI FR interior

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

Skoda Octavia rear - 67-plate car

A strong combination of comfort, equipment and space have made the Skoda Octavia a real favourite with family car buyers. Granted, its interior isn’t quite as swish as that of the Volkswagen Golf, but what it does offer is 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: 2019 Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE Technology, 4294 miles, £16,295

2: Skoda Octavia

Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI 150 SE L - interior

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

Audi A3 cornering front three quarters

As a new car, we reckoned this 2012 to 2020 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. Despite being a premium product, it still has a spacious and practical interior that’s covered in high-quality materials, superb ride and handling and an excellent range of engines. What’s more, you don’t have to pay a proper premium to get in one, because there are plenty of nearly new examples of this just-replaced generation around in well-equipped Sport guise for similar money to the other cars on this list.

We found: 2019 Audi A3 Sportback 1.5 35 TFSI Sport, 10,321 miles, £18,850

1: Audi A3

Audi A3 Sportback interior

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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