Best used family cars
If you're looking for a second-hand car to ferry your loved ones around in, look no further than our guide to the best used family cars currently on sale.
What is a family car? Traditionally, a family hatchback like a Volkswagen Golf would have been the default choice but estate cars, SUVs and MPVs are all good options if you need to transport kids, pushchairs, sports kit, musical instruments and the like. In fact, even a supermini like a Ford Fiesta is a viable option for young families, as it’s reasonably spacious and inexpensive to buy and run.
Each type of car we’ve listed above has its own benefits and appeals. Hatchbacks are compact enough to make parking easy while offering enough boot space for most eventualities. Estate cars offer much more boot space without compromising the fuel economy and handling of their hatchback counterparts. SUVs offer a rugged style that suggests you might use the vehicle for outdoor pursuits (even though many are only two-wheel drive), plus they have a usefully high driving position and lots of space. MPVs, meanwhile, are immensely practical and family-friendly, even if many aren’t the last word in eye-catching design.
If you have young children, ISOFIX child-seat mounting points will be important. All these cars have two sets of mounting points on the outer rear seats, which hold the child seat in place. It’s worth noting that some cars offer three or more ISOFIX points, and a few are spacious enough to offer all three back seats with these fittings. If you’re regularly lifting kids in and out of the car in their child seats, you’ll appreciate that many of the cars listed below have wide-opening doors for easier access. An extra benefit of a high-riding SUV is that you don’t have to bend down as much when putting kids in the car.
Family cars need to be safe and, for some buyers, anything less than a five-star safety rating will put a particular car out of contention. While four-star cars are still safe, a full score offers the most reassurance, and all of the cars in this list scored the maximum five-star rating from Euro NCAP. All these cars get seatbelt pretensioners and an assortment of airbags, and many go further with innovations like lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
While safety equipment is important, it’s still nice to be entertained on the school run and on longer journeys. Technology like a DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Wi-Fi and sat nav are welcome additions to modern cars. Many family cars are fitted with features like cruise control, climate control and parking sensors as standard, helping to make them easier to drive, more comfortable on longer journeys and easier to park.
If you don’t mind buying a used car, you can often save thousands of pounds compared with paying for a new one. The majority of the cars on this list have three-year warranties so, if you buy a car that’s under three years old and under the manufacturer’s mileage limit, you’ll enjoy the remaining warranty cover. There are plenty of aftermarket warranties available too.
Check out our guides to the best used SUVs and best used 7-seaters you can buy. If you’d like performance and ISOFIX points, read our best used hot hatchbacks guide, or continue and see which are the best used family cars.
It’s a big claim, but the current BMW 5 Series Touring (produced from 2017) could be the best estate car ever built. Not only is it great to drive on the motorway and on a winding country road, it’s also very practical. There’s plenty of space across the back seats for three adults, which means two child seats won’t squash someone in the middle seat, and the rear windscreen can be opened separately to the main tailgate to allow quick access. The boot is a good size at 570 litres, even if some cars offer more outright space, and it scores extra points for having a much higher load limit than the previous car, thanks to standard-fit air suspension. Also standard is sat nav, leather upholstery, DAB radio, cruise control and heated front seats, among other features, so it feels upmarket and sumptuous inside. You might get admiring glances from your neighbours, and it’ll feel even better knowing you’ve bought a 5 Series Touring for the price of a new Skoda Octavia. However, you will have to bear in mind high running costs - BMW dealers aren’t known for their bargain servicing prices and, if the car cost more than £40,000 when it was new (most 5 Series Touring models do), you’ll be paying a hefty tax bill until the car is six years old.
Previously seen as a somewhat frumpy and unappealing MPV, the Peugeot 3008 was named as our pick for the Best Medium SUV for 2020 thanks to its excellent interior, huge practicality and broad range of engine options. It competes in a very competitive and oversaturated family SUV class, alongside strong rivals, but we think it’s currently the best of the bunch. It’s just as striking inside, with buttons styled like piano keys and a small steering wheel, which you look over, not through, to read the dials. Incidentally, these are digital even on the entry-level model, which is generously equipped with parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, smartphone mirroring and a raft of safety features. There’s plenty of space in the front and enough in the rear too, although the armrest between the front seats extends backwards and robs legroom for the person sat in the middle seat. A minor foible like that is made up for by the massive 520-litre boot, which is slightly bigger than the boot in the SEAT Ateca and much larger than the Nissan Qashqai’s. When you need extra space, there’s a huge 1,580 litres available, and the seats fold flat.
The 2019 winner of our ‘best family car’ award shows that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have it all - especially on the second-hand market. You might think of a Skoda Octavia as a sensible choice but it’s surprisingly good to drive, with accurate steering, minimal body roll and some punchy engines. The interior is well-built and familiar, if a little plain in design, but it’s handsomely equipped and all the parts are shared with several VW Group brands. In fact, all the engines and most of the underpinnings are used elsewhere, but Skoda tends to offer lower servicing costs than other brands. The Octavia should be on your shortlist if you’re after a practical five-seater, as there’s plenty of space in the rear seats and a boot that embarrasses other family cars. Its 590-litre boot size is only a smidge smaller than the Volkswagen Golf Estate’s boot, and most trim levels come with handy touches like an umbrella in the front door and an ice scraper in the fuel filler cap. There’s also an estate version, as well as fast, luxurious and off-road models.
If you need more than five seats, we’d recommend heading to the top of the Skoda SUV range. The Kodiaq also benefits from its VW Group underpinnings, and has an interior that will stand up to the rigours of family life. Just like the Octavia, the inside is restrained but generously specced; all models feature cruise control, parking sensors and an eight-inch infotainment system. The boot is enormous with five seats in place, and positively van-like with just the two front seats in use. It’s a wide boot opening - in fact, at its widest point it’s the same width as the original Mini - and doesn’t have a lip to haul things over, which makes loading easy. Adults will be fine in the two back seats on short journeys, and even with all seats in place there’s almost as much boot space as in a Ford Fiesta. Bear in mind, though, that buyers had to pay extra for seven seats on some trim levels, so make sure you check out how many seats it has if you’re after a seven-seater.
In a class that contains the BMW 3 Series Touring and Volkswagen Passat estate, the Mazda6 Tourer can be overlooked. But Mazda’s estate is worth a look - there are plenty available on the used market and they tend to be well priced. The Tourer adds useful extra boot space and versatility over the four-door saloon, with 502 litres and 1,648 litres of space available with the seats up and down respectively. Four adults will be supremely comfortable, and five will be happy on most journeys. While it can’t quite compete with the more expensive BMW 3 Series for driving thrills, most enthusiastic drivers will enjoy the 6’s cornering ability and powerful engines. It’s a similar story inside - the BMW has it beaten for material quality, but the bits you’ll touch still feel good in the Mazda. All cars come with parking sensors, DAB radio, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and a range of safety kit, while higher-spec cars give more upmarket cars a run for their money.
A practical family car needn’t require you to give up on style. The Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer makes it onto our list of the best-looking cars, as well as this one, thanks to touches such as its split-level headlights and eye-catching flashes of chrome. Inside is just as appealing, with a huge digital instrument cluster and touchscreen, and a minimalist look that makes you look to the road ahead. There are plenty of handy cubbies to stash away all your family flotsam, and all occupants will enjoy the spacious cabin, which feels even lighter with the panoramic glass roof on higher trim levels. The three middle seats are all separate and each have their own ISOFIX points, while a flat floor means plenty of space for feet, and sliding doors give easy access. You’ll be sacrificing boot space when all seven seats are in use, but there’s up to 793 litres of space if you flop the rearmost seats down.
Kia models are regularly found on our used car lists because all new models come with an excellent warranty. Compared to the three-year/60,000-mile warranty that comes with many new cars, Kia provides seven years of cover or 100,000 miles. That’s good for peace of mind, as is its 13th place finish in our 2020 Driver Power owner survey. The Kia Sportage makes a good family car, thanks to its spacious interior and well-equipped trims, and offers a decent balance between handling and comfort. On the spec list, even ‘2’ trim - the one above entry-level - gets privacy glass, DAB radio, sat nav, a reversing camera and two-zone air con. This current model is more spacious for passengers than its predecessor, offers a lot of storage spaces and has a large boot (up to 491 litres depending on the engine). There’s not much of a boot lip, and the parcel shelf can be stored out of sight under the boot floor when you’re not using it.
Depreciation (how quickly a car loses value) is something to be wary of when you’re buying a new car, but it can be a used car buyer’s best friend. Vauxhalls don’t tend to hold their value well, but that means you can get a second-hand Astra for considerably less than many of its family hatchback rivals. And you’re not getting less of a car either; it’s spacious, economical, punchy, well-equipped and quiet. There are lots of trim levels but all Astras feature essential kit like air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and DAB radio. Vauxhall facelifted the Astra in late 2019 and gave it tweaked styling and new engines borrowed from Peugeot, but even the previous engines offered a decent blend of performance and economy. While the low prices are a boon for buyers, you’ll need to bear in mind that you might not get as much for it when you go to sell it on again, compared to a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf.
Think of a family hatchback and the Ford Focus is one of the first to come to mind. It’s always one of the most registered cars in any given month, and this latest generation (sold from mid-2018) is better than ever before. For a start, it’s much more practical than the previous car, which made do with a small boot and a cramped interior. The Focus is now on a par with the Golf in this respect, and it comes pretty close on interior quality too. An eight-inch touchscreen takes pride of place on the dashboard on all but the entry-level model, and all versions come with a good spread of equipment including a heated windscreen and DAB radio. Even on models without sports suspension, the Focus is among the best-driving hatchbacks on sale, so it’s a top choice for keen drivers. Because the Focus sells so well, it’s always good value on the used market, and Ford’s servicing costs generally aren’t too expensive.
The Volkswagen Sharan is now a decade old but despite this, and thanks in part to a 2015 refresh, it’s still one of the best MPVs on sale today. Part of its appeal is the sliding rear doors that offer full access to the two back rows of seats, one of which features three individual seats with three ISOFIX points. These seats also slide individually, helping with access to the row of seats behind when pushed forward. Adults will be fine in the back seats on short journeys (many seven-seaters only have rear seats suitable for kids) and the boot is big enough for a pushchair or a couple of suitcases when all seats are in place. Considering its size and weight, the Sharan is an easy car to drive, and the diesel engines offer enough power to haul a fully loaded car with ease. The interior is starting to show its age when compared to newer rivals, but it still boasts a respectable number of family-friendly features, including sun blinds, folding tray tables, charging sockets, as well as sat nav, DAB radio and three-zone climate control.
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