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Used Car of the Year Awards contenders: family cars
You’ll have to wait until 30 September for the winners of the 2021 What Car? Used Car of the Year Awards to be announced, but you can get a preview of the top contenders here...
Less than £8000
The Astra has always been a solid family car choice that manages to do well in most areas, and it's an exceptionally good-value used buy, because you can get a much newer Astra in a well-specified mid-range trim for your money compared with its main rivals.
As with the smaller Ford Fiesta, you'll have no trouble finding a tidy used example of the Focus. Go for a Zetec-spec car or above, because that way you'll get all the equipment you'll need for the best value for money.
Given that the Ceed is the only car in this price point that's still covered by a manufacturer's warranty, and gets decent reliability scores, you can understand why used buyers are attracted to them. Most examples you'll find will have a frugal diesel under the bonnet, keeping running costs low.
Less than £12,000
The Leon is a previous What Car? UCOTY winner, because it's a highly impressive car that features all the best technology from the Volkswagen Group parts bin but is generally much better value both new and used. It's also sharply styled and nice to drive, making it a very compelling package.
Perhaps encouraged by the onset of the latest Golf Mk8, the previous-generation Golf can be found for bargain prices used. Admittedly, most examples at this age and price come with a 1.0-litre engine, but don't let that fool you, because it's still a surprisingly potent engine with low fuel consumption.
Practical, well equipped and above all reliable, the Honda Civic is a great used family car. As with the Volkswagen Golf, most will come with a 1.0-litre engine, but the one in the Civic is a little more powerful.
Less than £16,000
BMW 1 Series
With our increased budget, we have the opportunity to plump for something truly premium, like the BMW 1 Series. It may not have the space of a Volkswagen Golf or a Skoda Octavia, but for most that won't really matter. What's of more importance is the top-notch infotainment system and fantastic driving dynamics – both areas in which this BMW excels.
Our 2020 Used Car of the Year winner, the Audi A3 is a great car that has an even finer interior than the BMW and, while it has to make do with front-wheel drive (there are four-wheel-drive quattro versions, but not for our budget), it is no less capable in the real world. Mid-range Sport is best, as is the economical 1.5-litre petrol.
Some might be wondering what an Octavia is doing in the highest price point, but we should explain that it has a lot in common with the A3 we've just been talking about, and you can have a newer and better-equipped Octavia for the same money. Plus, it's huge inside.