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Used family cars: Kia Ceed vs Mazda 3 vs Skoda Scala

Which used family car choice offers the best value: the classy Mazda 3, the hugely practical Skoda Scala, or the excellent after-sales package of the Kia Ceed?...

New Mazda 3 & Skoda Scala vs Kia Ceed

The Contenders

Kia Ceed 3 1.0 T-GDi

List price when new £21,010
Price today £13,863*
Available from 2018-present

This mid-spec trim looks good value, and you get an unrivalled warranty.

Mazda 3 Skyactive-G 2.0 122 SE-L Lux

List price when new £21,695
Price today £16,060*
Available from 2019-present

Offers a relatively large engine with mild-hybrid tech, plus a big step up in interior quality.

Skoda Scala 1.0 115 SE L

List price when new £20,385
Price today £15,245*
Available from 2019-present

Far better than the old Rapid and manages to be a budget family car without feeling cheap.

Prices are based on a 2020 model with average mileage and a full service history using the What Car? Valuation tool, and are correct at time of writing

You might think all family cars are broadly similar given that they have one remit – to carry five people with a degree of comfort in the smallest space possible. The three we've lined up here, though, show the sheer variety of the class. After all, we know families come in all different shapes and sizes, so shouldn't that be extended to the cars they drive?

Kia Ceed rear

First up is the Kia Ceed, which represents the more conservative family that wants the reassurance of a long warranty and expects good value for money. Not only do you get plenty of the former on a year-old example but, in high-spec 3 trim, you also get tonnes of toys thrown in.

Next is the Mazda 3. It's billed as one of the sportiest family cars around (Mazda also sells one of the best sports cars going, the MX-5), and its 2.0-litre engine, which is enormous compared with the tiny 1.0-litre units its rivals are saddled with, suggests plenty of performance potential.

Finally, we have the Skoda Scala, a car that's a far better all-rounder than the rather dull Skoda Rapid Spaceback it replaced, and has all the rear leg room and boot space a growing family needs.

Mazda 3 rear

But which of these three diverse family chariots makes the most sense as a year-old used buy? Let's find out.


Performance, ride, handling, refinement 

We’re used to cars in this class having small turbocharged petrol engines, but while the Skoda Scala and Kia Ceed don’t mess with that formula, the Mazda 3 goes off-piste.

Skoda Scala rear

At first glance, its engine looks like a bit of a throwback. For a start, while its 2.0-litre capacity is twice that of its rivals, the absence of a turbocharger means it’s not much more powerful. Then you notice that the CO2 emissions are startlingly low for an engine of this type – and that’s the first clue to what else is going on. You see, the 3 incorporates mild hybrid technology and the energy that would normally be lost during deceleration is captured then redeployed to assist the engine, reducing the load on it and boosting performance.

As a result, if you find yourself in need of maximum acceleration, whether you’re starting from a standstill or already on the move, the 3 delivers the most zip, with the Scala following closely behind. The Ceed brings up the rear, although you wouldn’t call it slow.

Kia Ceed front white - 19 plate

Keep the cars in one gear (rather than racing through them) and the Ceed again trails both rivals. However, it’s the Scala that performs best in situations like this, so it’s the one that requires you to change gear least often.

The fact that the Scala has the most comfortable ride of the three adds to its relaxing character. On standard suspension, it’s one of the better-riding cars in the class and the best here at isolating you from bumps and potholes. You just have to accept some floatiness over higher-speed undulations. We’ve tried the optional adaptive suspension in Scalas we've driven before and found that, while it's not that good at absorbing bumps, it keeps the body more tied down if you select its stiffer Sport mode.

You don’t have to put up with any floatiness in the 3. However, its ride is lumpier on broken city streets and the most fidgety on the motorway. Meanwhile, the Ceed manages to be as jarring as the 3 over sharper abrasions, without feeling as well tied down.

Mazda 3 front corner

The Scala doesn’t deliver class-leading handling – a Ford Focus will please keen drivers far more – but it’s the best of this bunch. Both it and the Ceed offer strong grip that’s well balanced front to rear, come rain or shine. However, the Scala is less reliant on electronic interference from its stability control and benefits from precise steering that’s well weighted regardless of speed. The Ceed’s steering just isn’t as communicative, making the car marginally less easy to place.

Meanwhile, the 3 is a tidy handling car in the dry, with its limited body lean translating to crisp responses and the steering feeling meaty and accurate enough once you’ve got past some vagueness at the start of turns. But the 3 is quickest to run out of front-end grip, with the gap to its rivals becoming even more marked in the wet.

All three cars suffer from some road roar and wind noise from around their door mirrors at motorway speeds. It's most intrusive in the Ceed, although it counters that by having the least suspension noise.

Skoda Scala front corner

Overall, the 3 is the most refined because its four-cylinder engine is smoother and quieter than the three-cylinder units in the others. At town speeds, the Ceed’s engine is particularly thrummy.

The 3 also benefits from the slickest engine stop-start system, plus a short, precise gearshift action and pedals that are easy to modulate. The Scala’s controls are pretty well-weighted too, and you won’t find yourself kangarooing in traffic in the Ceed either, although the latter’s long-winded gearshift is the least satisfying of the three.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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