Best used family car 2024
Although SUVs are a popular choice for families, a good family hatchback is still a solid option for parents after a blend of practicality, affordability and style. And there are plenty of good family hatchbacks to choose from.
Many of them are household names, such as the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra, and it speaks volumes that a lot of small SUVs are based on family hatchback underpinnings. Sure, you don't get the raised driving position or increased headroom, but these family cars are cheaper to buy and easier to park.
They're also a bargain on the secondhand market, so you could save yourself a packet by choosing one of these excellent used family cars. Fancy something racy? Many of the cars we've selected are available as a hot hatch, so maybe it's time to let your hair down.
Here are our favourite used family cars.
Best used family cars
The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most famous family cars in the world and is available in a huge array of derivatives, from fuel-sipping diesels to high-performance GTI and R versions, but all have common strengths of practicality, usability and dependability. The most popular Golf is the five-door hatchback, although it’s also available as a three-door hatch and an estate. Our pick of the used Golf marketplace is the Mk7 variant, which was launched in 2013 – or better still, the facelifted Mk7.5 Golf, introduced in 2017. Either will prove an exceptionally versatile car that, even today, remains a better all-rounder than many brand-new alternatives.
The Ford Focus is a well-liked family hatchback from the UK’s favourite car brand. One of the best-selling used cars of all, there are many thousands of Focus models on the road, meaning endless choice on the used market. The efficient EcoBoost versions are deservedly the most popular. This 1.0-litre petrol engine looks small on paper, but it’s actually a bit of a powerhouse, and super-refined in use. The Focus is famously well-proven, which means reliability is strong, and it’s also one of the most enjoyable family cars to drive, particularly in hot ST and RS guises. Go on, treat yourself, safe in the knowledge that a Ford dealership is never far away.
If you’re seeking Japanese reliability, you could do a lot worse than choosing a Toyota. The global giant’s used family car offering is called Auris, a model built in Britain and renamed Corolla in its latest guise. A staple of the Toyota range, the Auris was offered with petrol and diesel engines from new, but the Auris Hybrid quickly became the most popular model. It uses the same petrol-electric 'self-charging’ drivetrain as the famous Toyota Prius, delivering great fuel economy and low emissions. The Auris is also a roomy car for five, with decent equipment levels. Fantastic build quality makes it feel like a car that’s ready for the long run.
The Kia Ceed was a pivotal car for the Korean brand, showing it could rival Europe’s family favourites head-on. This second-generation model, launched in 2012, is a further evolution of that practical and good-value recipe. The Ceed looks smart, with distinctive LED running lights, and its interior is well made and well equipped. There’s a good amount of space in the rear, with both the hatchback and Sportswagon estate providing ample room for luggage. There aren’t any surprises in terms of engines, but the diesels are likely to prove efficient, while the turbocharged petrols offer good performance.
Audi A3 Sportback
The third generation of Audi’s A3 raised eyebrows when it was new, because while it was very good, it was also rather pricey. Used examples, though, make a lot more sense. Although the fourth-generation model is now sold new, the previous version is still a great car and makes lots of sense as a used buy. There’s a wide choice of petrol and diesel models that can be efficient, powerful or a mixture of the two (the 1.4 TFSI petrol is a particular sweet spot), and the interior quality is still hard to rival, even among new cars. We’d go for the five-door A3 Sportback model for extra boot and passenger space over the three-door model.
The enormous Skoda Octavia is a great choice for families who want the most spacious car on offer. The Octavia sold between 2013 and 2020 has a gigantic 590-litre boot, which expands even further if you choose the estate version rather than the five-door hatch. It doesn't come at the expense of rear-seat space either, with leg-crossing capacity even for adults. The Octavia offered great value for money when new, which has carried through to the used car sector. Revamped models, available from 2017, are particularly impressive here (and we like their distinctive LED headlights). Our favourite Octavia, if you can afford it, is the high-performance vRS, available with both turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, for fast and fun family motoring.
The Vauxhall Astra is another long-running family car. Offered in hatchback and estate formats, it’s long been recognised for offering great value as a used car, too. A favourite with company car drivers when new, there are good numbers of well-equipped models on the secondhand market. Most will have diesel power but, later in the lifetime of this 2015-2022 Astra, some excellent turbo petrol engines arrived as well. The Astra is roomy in the rear seats and has a decent boot, plus it’s surprisingly enjoyable to drive. Handling is neat and the car feels really stable and settled at speed on the motorway.
The SEAT Leon is closely related to the Volkswagen Golf. Its focus is on feeling youthful and engaging, so the Leon has slightly firmer suspension for a more dynamic feel behind the wheel. This is further enhanced by sporty FR models, and reaches its peak in the high-powered Cupra hot hatches. Using the same efficient petrol and diesel engines as the Golf, the Leon is cheap to run and reliable, while good levels of standard equipment when new add further family-car appeal. This was one of the first cars with modern LED headlights, and they’re an option worth looking out for when you buy used. They (almost literally) turn night into day.
The Honda Civic vies with the Volkswagen Golf for the title of longest-running family car. This 10th generation model – that’s two more generations than even the latest Golf – was introduced in 2017. It has a lower-slung and sportier look than previous Civics, which reached its zenith in the ultra-powerful Civic Type R. However, even regular models look racy, and we like the dual exhausts you get with the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine – perhaps the best all-rounder. Like all Civics, this generation is practical and well-designed, with a quality interior that feels built to last. If you’re looking for a very reliable family car with some added verve, the Civic is ideal.
BMW 1 Series
Most family hatchbacks are front-wheel-drive, but the rear-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series, sold new between 2011 and 2019, makes it stand out among driving enthusiasts. The layout, combined with some beautifully made engines and wonderfully engineered handling, make it one of the best family cars to drive. The practicality isn’t as good as some of the rivals on this list, but it’s got a brilliant infotainment system and a wide range of trim and power choices make it a top option for the driving enthusiast.
Which is the most reliable used family car?
Top-selling used family cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus generally prove reliable, because they sell in large enough numbers to have any faults ironed-out early on. Garages also have a huge amount of experience in servicing them. If they don’t appeal, then Japanese cars are world-renowned for their reliability, so you won’t go far wrong with a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. If you’re worried, consider a used car with a long warranty, such as the Kia Ceed, which has factory cover for seven years from new.
Which is the best value used family car?
The Skoda Octavia is a great value used family car, thanks to new car prices that are ultra-competitive. You’ll pay less for an Octavia than you will for the closely-related Volkswagen Golf, for example. And if you want something a bit sportier, the same is true for the SEAT Leon. Popular but unfashionable cars, such as the outgoing Vauxhall Astra, tend to suffer above-average depreciation. That makes them good value when used because you get so much for your money.
Are used family cars roomy and practical?
Family cars are designed to be some of the most versatile and space-efficient vehicles on the road. Just because you’re buying a used example, don’t think you’ll have to compromise in terms of boot capacity and passenger space. Indeed, choose cars such as the Skoda Octavia and you’ll get far greater practicality than many brand new family cars. Quite a few of the cars featured here also come in even-more-useful estate guise, too.