Left-field family cars for £3k

  • Check out these gems if you're on a tight budget
  • Alternative choices for a family of four
  • Saloons, MPVs, hatchbacks, 4x4s all included

If you have two kids and you're on a tight budget of £3k then you might think there's little to choose from if you are looking for dependable family car.

Don't despair. For this modest budget you can get a well-ordered, spacious, practical and economical used car that shouldn't give you too much trouble - just think outside the box and you could find something that really suit your needs.

Of course, on a budget this size you have to be careful when you buy: you don't want to be stuck on a motorway late at night saddled with nothing more than a smoking motor, a couple of disappointed kids and the prospect of a sizeable repair bill.

Therefore, the usual rules apply: go for a car with a service history, get a Parkers history check and if you can, get a mechanic to come with you to check over the car you are thinking of buying . If you don't know a suitable mechanic follow the simple rules in our How to avoid buying a lemon feature.

So, what's out there for £3k?  Well quite a bit.

In this feature we've tried not to go down the default 'Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra' route in a bid to help you look for 'something different'. It might be something you've never heard of (Mazda Premacy) or it might even be quite ridiculous (Mitsubishi Shogin Pinin) but they might also suit your needs perfectly.

So, here's ten family sized cars that you may not have considered:

1. Peugeot 807 2.0-litre HDI S 2004/54-plate

What is it?
This is a no-nonsense seven-seat people carrier that, at the time of its introduction, was pretty well received because of its practical and spacious interior (2,948 litre of loadspace is available with rear seats removed). We think you should go for the 2.0-litre because it's the best engine and it should be the most reliable. The interior build quality might be a bit dodgy, but don't hold that against it because the rest should be quite robust.

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,316 (Franchised Dealer) £3,020 (Independent Dealer) £2,720 Private - in good condition

Power: 110bhp

Number of seats: 7

Insurance group: 20

Yearly road tax cost: £245 (VED band J)

Boot space (rear seats up): 324 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 40mpg/186g/km

*Based on 70,000-mile example

2. SEAT Toledo 1.6 8V Reference 5d 2005/04-plate

What is it?
This five-seat MPV does offer plenty of space and, because it's a later example you do get reasonably stylish looks-ish. It's cheap because it wasn't that popular on its introduction and the 1.6-litre petrol is a decent unit. You should be able to get a fairly clean, not-messed-about-with example with a decent service history if you are prepared to be patient.

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,030 (Franchised Dealer) £2,815 (Independent Dealer) £2,440 Private - in good condition

Power: 100bhp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 10

Yearly road tax cost: £210 (VED band I)

Boot space (rear seats up): 500 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 36mpg/185g/km

*Based on 60,000-mile example

3. Peugeot Partner Combi 1.9D 5d 2004/54-plate

What is it?
The Partner was a van and then Peugeot decided it was a good idea to plonk some rear seats in, fit some windows and create a people carrier. It's spacious: it has 624 litres of luggage space with decent head and legroom. With those sliding doors and low sill it really is a practical alternative to a bog-standard five-door hatch. It's pretty crude inside and although the 1.4 petrol engine is refined we think it's best to opt for the 1.9D now because the petrol might be a little overworked. The neighbours won't know what it is, but who cares, let them reel in wonder at your 'alternative' family car. 

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,195 (Franchised Dealer) £2,810 (Independent Dealer) £2,330 Private - in good condition

Power: 71bhp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 11

Yearly road tax cost: £210 (VED band I)

Boot space (rear seats up): 624 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 40mpg/181g/km

*Based on 70,000-mile example

4. Kia Carens 2.0-litre CRDi LX 5d Auto 2006/55-plate

What is it?
It's a bit dull, but it's reliable and spacious and you get quite a lot of car for your money. The Carens went into its second generation in 2006 but we think the first-generation in LX spec is a pretty good buy. It's okay on fuel but it is, admittedly, expensive to tax. There's plenty of kit, you get a sizeable loadspace and a solid engine. There is a six-seat version but you'll have to back as far as 2002 and you have to have a petrol version to get it. That's a no-no, so don't be tempted.

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,020 (Franchised Dealer) £2,810 (Independent Dealer) £2,440 Private - in good condition

Power: 111bhp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 15

Yearly road tax cost: £260 (VED band K)

Boot space (rear seats up): 781 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 37mpg/205g/km

*Based on 50,000-mile example

5. Nissan Almera Hatchback 1.4 SE 5d 2006/55-plate

What is it?
Ok, so this isn't that 'left-field' and it's probably about as normal as you can get but, interestingly, it wasn't hugely popular in the UK when it was on sale and that's probably why Nissan went for the crossover market and starting building the Qashqai and Juke. We think the Almera is a best-kept secret. It's hugely reliable, practical and purposeful, it's also quite nice to drive. It'll be cheap to run and the 1.5-litre engine will go around the world before you'll even get a trace of a hiccup. A head-over-heart buy we think.

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,005 (Franchised Dealer) £2,800 (Independent Dealer) £2,390 Private - in good condition

Power: 96bhp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 14

Yearly road tax cost: £165 (VED band G)

Boot space (rear seats up): 355 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 42mpg/160g/km

*Based on 50,000-mile example

6. Mitsubishi Shogun Pinin 2.0-litre Equippe 5d Auto 2004/04-plate

What is it?
If there wasn't a four-wheel drive in this selection then we wouldn't be doing this 'left-field' feature justice. For those who want the high driving position, the outright road presence and some element of practicality then the Shogun Pinin represents some sort of sense. Yep, it's not that economical, but it should be pretty bulletproof. Of course, we accept that it will be expensive to run but its muscular looks and huge road presence will make up for that.

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,460 (Franchised Dealer) £3,150, (Independent Dealer) £2,780 Private - in good condition

Power: 127hp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 23

Yearly road tax cost: £260 (VED band K)

Boot space (rear seats up): 358 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 28mpg/260g/km

*Based on 70,000-mile example

7. Mazda Premacy 2.0-litre Sport 5d 2004/54-plate

What is it?
Currently the Mazda5 is (arguably) the most stylish MPV on the market and that model followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Premacy. Bad title, yes, but bad car? No, absolutely not. This, like many others in this list is an undiscovered, under-rated gem and it's dirt cheap to buy. It's spacious, it wouldn't look out of place in Kensington or Chelsea and it's okay to drive too. Go mad, go for the Sport version to get the full benefits of this car. Yep, it's the petrol engine, so don't expect great economy, but if you want a bit of zip in your people carrier this is the car to go for. There is also a seven-seat version.

Vital statistics
*Price: £1,925 (Franchised Dealer) £1,825, (Independent Dealer) £1,645 Private - in good condition

Power: 127hp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 17

Yearly road tax cost: £260 (VED band K)

Boot space (rear seats up): 370 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions: 32mpg/209g/km

*Based on 70,000-mile example

8. Skoda Superb 1.8T Classic 4d 2004/54-plate

What is it?
Ok, not left-field. In fact, positively centre-field, but as a bog-standard four-door family saloon this pretty much trumps the Mondeos and the like. It's also better than the VW Passat. Smart, reliable, with a great 1.8T engine, this is so refined your kids will start dozing within five minutes of a two-hour journey to the coast. This is the ultimate child-silencer - a phrase which sounds slightly unnerving, we accept. It's quick too - it'll go from 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds.  

Vital statistics
*Price: £3,275 (Franchised Dealer) £2,885, (Independent Dealer) £2,345 Private - in good condition

Power - 150hp

Number of seats: 5

Insurance group: 23

Yearly road tax cost: £260 (VED band J)

Boot space (rear seats up): 462 litres 

Fuel economy/CO2 emissions - 34mpg/199g/km

*Based on 60,000-mile example

Parker's Top Tip

Don't forget you can use our valuation tool to get an idea of how much you should be paying for a car. You can also check our reviews section for more information about the cars you are interested in.