Buying a used family hatchback makes good sense when one considers just how versatile these three- and five-door cars are. Often compact and city friendly, the wide opening tailgate and folding seats that you get gives estate car practicality without the bulk. This list will point you in the direction of the best used cars to choose from for less than £5,000.
There are the usual options of class-leading cars such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and the Volkswagen Golf – proven, predictable and safe purchases, and far more numerous than the line-up of best hatchbacks to buy new. Almost every manufacturer offers a car for this market, meaning you can choose something that reflects your personality, lifestyle and needs as well as your budget, and that’s reflected in our choice.
We’ve rounded up some of the options to help you make your decision, but if you want more excitement, you might want to look at our list of best used hot hatchbacks for £10,000. Scroll down to discover our pick of the best used cars in the UK – and what to look for when buying.
Editor's choice: Volkswagen Golf Mk7 (2013-2020)
Solid build, strong residuals
Parkers Used Car of The Year 2023
You can get a decent Mk7 from £4,500, although mainly high mileage examples. You could get a cherished Mk6, but we think the later car is a big leap and worth seeking out. There are Estate and Golf Plus MPV versions as well, and engines from 1.0 to 2.0 litres, but our pick if you’re on a budget is the super-economical Bluemotion diesel.
Read our full Volkswagen Golf Mk7 review
Search for used Volkswagen Golfs for sale
- Superb interior is ageing well
- Lots of engines to choose from
- Good to drive and comfortable
- Can be very expensive to repair
- Some early DSG reliability issues
Ford Focus Mk3 (2011-2013)
Decent technology, keen pricing
We’re typically finding 2012-2015 models with less than 100,000 miles in this budget. Fords are also relatively inexpensive to service and maintain, so it shouldn’t break the bank. Low mileage, well maintained 1.0T EcoBoost models will avoid potential restrictions on diesel car use in cities, without sacrificing economy.
Read our full Ford Focus Mk3 review
Search for used Ford Focus Mk3s for sale
- Cheap to run, easy to find
- Excellent 1.6-litre diesel engine
- Great steering and handling
- Beware of scruffy examples
- Early EcoBoost engine issues
Vauxhall Astra (2015-2022)
An all-new generation, this one was known as the Astra J in the trade. Vauxhall also invested heavily in interior quality and design for this generation of Astra, making it a significant leap forward for every benchmark over the car that went before it. Our budget is enough to secure a smart 2016 1.6 CDTi with 45,000 miles on the clock.
Read our full Vauxhall Astra J review
Search for used Vauxhall Astra J cars for sale
- Good to drive
- Tough, reliable, cheap to run
- Less expensive than its rivals
- Dire image
- Fast depreciation
Honda Civic (2012-2017)
Impeccable build quality and excellent engineering means these are still a good buy, with the already impressive boot space (particularly given the aerodynamic, swooping style) further bolstered by multi-position ‘Magic Seats’. Most examples available are powered by a 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine.
Read our full Honda Civic Mk9 review
Search for used Honda Civics for sale
- Roomy and practical
- Excellent ride comfort
- Supremely economical diesel
- Not inspiring to drive
- More expensive than rivals
BMW 1 Series (2011-2018)
Rear-wheel drive fun, but still practical
Practicality is compromised, with a smaller boot and rear passenger space, but it’s still usable for four adults. Popularity is reflected in the strong values; you’re looking at comparatively older cars in this budget, particularly if you want a diesel. Post-2012 second-generation models have improved economy; at this price range a good selection of 2012-2014 cars are available with little although mileage and history makes a big difference.
Read our full BMW 1 Series (F20) review
Search for used BMW 1 Series cars for sale
- Balanced handling
- Brilliant fast versions
- Economical diesels
- Not as roomy as rivals
- More expensive to service, too...
Hyundai i30 (2012-2017)
Sensible hatchback for long-term ownership
Our price guides suggest that buyers agree, with the i30 holding strong residuals as they enter middle age and even relatively high mileages. Around £4,000 will get you a eight-year old car with average mileage or a six-year old car with higher mileage, and usually in lower-specification Classic trim. It’s a safe purchase, and one which gives nothing away in terms of quality or dynamics.
Read our full Hyundai i30 review
Search for used Hyundai i30s for sale
- Reliable and cheap to run
- Tidy handling
- Lots of tidy out there
- Lack of image or desirability
- Parts prices higher than rivals
Renault Megane (2008-2016)
Renault has consistently set the safety benchmarks other manufacturers try to match, too – which means strong, safe and well-made cars. Facelifts in 2012 and 2014 improved equipment and styling respectively; £2,000 gets the original, £4,000 will get the the best models out there. The current model just falls in this category, too.
Read our full Renault Megane review
Search for used Renault Meganes for sale
- Better quality than older Renaults
- Economical diesel version
- Flashy-looking coupe version
- Not so easy to sell
- Some parts hard to source
SEAT Leon (2013-2020)
Fun and excitable for enthusiastic drivers
It has aged really well, with only the Golf being more timeless, while the interior may not have been of the highest quality, it’s still good enough to be considered a very sound choice. Servicing prices and maintenance costs are generally inexpensive and the fuel consumption of the 1.6 TDI model is exceptional.
Read our full SEAT Leon review
Search for used SEAT Leons for sale
- It's a VW Golf under the skin
- Mostly reliable and good to own
- Efficient, punchy engines
- Some DSG problems
- Quality behind equivalent Golf
Used hatchbacks Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most reliable used hatchback car?
Far and away the most reliable hatchbacks to buy are Japanese. The Koreans are a strong second, with the Europeans a distant third. That means if you’re placing dependability above all else you can do much worse than plump for a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla or Auris – ironic, really, as the examples you’ll find for less than £5,000 were all made in Britain.
That is not to say that the class-leading Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus aren’t dependable, it’s just that both have known issues which you should take into account when looking to buy. Later cars to consider – and which are currently out of budget – are the Peugeot 308 and DS4, which are proving dependable in use, unlike their older cousins.
What is the best hatchback to drive?
Depends on what metric we’re looking, but if it comes down to steering feel and delicacy of control, then you’re looking at a Ford Focus. Whatever generation you go for, you’re on safe ground here, with even the earliest 1998 example feeling wonderfully communicative on the road.
However, it it’s refinement and good motorway crusing you’re after, you can’t go far wrong with a Golf, thanks to its low levels of wind noise and creak-free interior. Generally, Renault and Peugeots are safe bets with a more comfort-focused set-up, but fluid handling on poor roads. Having said that, if you’re after a purely sporty drive, a BMW 1 Series beats them all.
Why are hatchbacks so popular in UK?
It’s a historical thing, ever since the early 1980s, when the first Vauxhall Astra and Ford Escort Mk3 arrived on the scene, British families have loved the compact size and practicality of a hatchback. These days, this type of car is being overtaken by the SUV, but most smaller examples of this breed are just traditional hatchbacks on stilts anyway.
What should I look for in a used hatchback car?
Young families favour hatchbacks, so it’s fair to say you need to look carefully for interior damage and other signs of wear and tear when looking for at used hatchbacks for sale. The luggage area will probably have had hammering, too, so check everything is as it should be. Other than that, it’s a case of being sensible, checking the service history, making sure the paintwork is in good shape, and being mindful of any horrors lurking underneath. That should get you a very long way.
Keith Adams is the editor of Parkers and has been an automotive journalist since 2004. He’s also edited Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics, Honest John Classics as well as contributed to CAR, Evo, Octane, Autocar and Pistonheads as well as many other titles in a varied career.