The best used family cars

  • We pick our Top 10 used family cars for 2021
  • All are practical, roomy and economical – and don't cost the earth
  • Our choices encompass saloons, estates, MPVs and SUVs

Do you have a growing family? Are you looking for a new and roomy vehicle for a fraction of the cost of a new one? Our Top 10 favourite secondhand family cars will give you some useful suggestions.

The most interesting aspect of buying a used family car is that they come in all shapes and sizes. For our budget, you can choose from estate cars, SUVs and MPV people carriers. You're certainly not short of choice, and whatever shape your large family car comes in, you can be sure that any of this Top 10 will take the hustle and bustle of family life.

W've chosen a selection of used, cheap-to-run and reliable family cars, which start at less than £3,000.

Best used family cars

1. Skoda Octavia (2013-20)
2. Ford S-Max (2006-14)
3. Honda CR-V (2007-12)
4. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate (2010-16)
5. Skoda Yeti (2009-17)
6. Honda Accord Tourer (2008-15)
7. Volkswagen Touran (2010-15)
8. BMW 3 Series Touring (2005-12)
9. Ford Mondeo Estate (2007-14)
10. Lexus RX (2003-09)

1. Skoda Octavia

Skoda Octavia

✅ Brilliant all-rounder for the money
✅ Interior space very impressive

Doesn't feel particularly special
Difficult finding a low-mileage one

Coming up with a used car article like this can easily become the greatest hits of Skoda list, but the Octavia hatch and estate really do hit the bullseye. They both have loads of room, as well as being tough for the family, have low running costs, great reliability and very competitive pricing. 

There is a choice two petrol and two diesel engines, plus ultra-frugal GreenLine versions of the diesels, which can return a claimed Combined fuel consumption figure of 83mpg – although in reality, its 60mpg plus is nothing to be sneezed at. It's green, too, with a CO2 emissions figure that dips to 87g/km, meaning certain models are free to tax.

 Used price: £3,075-£19,705   
Fuel economy: 40-80mpg
Road tax cost: £0-£155
Insurance group: 12-29

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2. Ford S-Max

Ford S-Max

✅ Huge inside, not massive on the outside
✅ Way better to drive than you'd expect

Build quality not as good as it might be
Diesel engines get smoky with age

The Ford S-Max is one of those used car bargains that far too few people appreciate. It might well be a solid people carrier, but it's also great to drive – and despite getting on in years, it's still a sharp-looking car. There's more to the S-Max than those good looks though - it's also very practical thanks to seven seats and a fold-flat load area.

There's a wide range of engines, although obviously due to its age, the vast majority of cars on sale now are the TDCi diesel model – that's not a bad choice for running costs, but reliability slips with age, a sure sign of which is excessive smoke from the exhaust. Find a good – especially the 2.5-litre petrol – and you'll be rewarded with an interesting and useful family car.

Used price: £955-£10,305
Fuel economy: 28-50mpg
Road tax cost: £150-£565
Insurance group: 14-27

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3. Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

✅ Good to drive, above-average body control
✅ Excellent petrol and diesel engines

Less comfortable than some rivals
Don't expect to take it off-road

Honda's CR-V was a big seller for Honda in the mid- to late-2000s, and it shows with a wide variety of used models to choose from. The good news is that both the i-CDTi diesel and i-VTEC petrols are blessed with above-average performance and reliability, even if they're not the most economical choices in their class. Styling has aged well, too, making these a family SUV that makes lots of sense.

Another positive is that the CR-V drives very well indeed – it corners superbly for a high-riding 4x4, and feels composed and reassuring. Off-road ability is limited, though. However the stiffer suspension means the ride isn't as smooth as some rivals. Overall, though, a roomy, thoroughly reliable family car that should give years of service if bought well.

 Used price: £1,735-£9,305
Fuel economy: 32-44mpg
Road tax cost: £240-£305
Insurance group: 27-29

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4. Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2010)

✅ Quiet at speed and very comfortable
✅ Enormous boot and cabin

Four-cylinder diesels are rough
Lower-powered models lacklustre to drive

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class easily slips into our sub-£5,000 budget if you go back a couple of generations to an older 2010-2016 model. Don't think that just because you're looking at something a decade old you're going to be missing out on technology or safety features, as this model was packed with features that still stand up today.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate is enormous and has a family-friendly interior, while CO2 emissions and fuel economy are fairly competitive. The basic Mercedes E 220 diesel returns a Combined fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 114g/km for road tax of £30 a year. The more powerful E350 BlueTEC diesel still gives you 54.3mpg.

 Used price: £3,500-£20,190
Fuel economy: 25-65mpg
Road tax cost: £20-£580
Insurance group: 32-44

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5. Skoda Yeti

Skoda Yeti

✅ Chunky styling is utterly timeless

Two- and four-wheel drive options

❌ They get shabby with high miles

Petrol models are quite rare

The Skoda Yeti was the perfect family SUV long before they became as popular as they are today. It may have been off-sale for some time now, but the continued popularity of these excellent family-friendly motor cars proves that they were really on to something with this one.

Available from as little as £2,450, you can buy the Yeti in petrol or diesel form and with four-wheel drive, too. Based on tried and tested Volkswagen technology, Skoda Yetis are proving cheap and reliable to run and finding their way into lots of families these days – which is why we're big fans of Skoda's first – and some would say best – SUV.

Used price: £2,450-£15,035
Fuel economy: 30-60mpg
Road tax cost: £30-£305
Insurance group: 9-24

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6. Honda Accord Tourer 

Honda Accord Tourer

✅ Premium looks, inside and out
✅ Good to drive, punchy performance

Not many engines to choose from
Interior not as roomy as Ford Mondeo

It's no accident that this is the second Honda to appear in our list. The Accord Tourer may not be with us anymore as a new car, but that doesn't stop it being an excellent used car buy. If you're after a premium-feeling family estate car with excellent reliability at a modest price (compared with premium rivals), then step this way.

If you're after a diesel model, the 2.2-litre i-DTEC is one of the best diesel engines around, not only in the Honda range, but also compared to its rivals. It's powerful, economical and proving to be very reliable in service. The only real downside we can see are limited supplies of petrol models, and a lack of rear legroom compared with the best of the opposition.

 Used price: £2,055-£14,055
Fuel economy: 34-58mpg
Road tax cost: £165-£330
Insurance group: 23-29

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7. Volkswagen Touran

Volkswagen Touran

✅ Masses of room for the family
✅ Great choice of petrol and diesel engines

Forgettable to look at
...and to drive

If you're after an honest to goodness family MPV that will take masses of paraphernalia, as well as being cheap to run and service, the Touran is a safe bet. It might not be the most reliable Volkswagen you'll lay your hands on, but the Touran is known and understood by countless specialists, and parts prices are low – as a rule.

It might not be the most exciting car to look at, and on the whole the driving experience is unremarkable, the Touran doesn't really put a foot wrong. It's economical and quiet at speed, and the ride quality isn't bad. The main advantage is that the interior is sturdy and the luggage space is very impressive. A lot cheaper than an equivalent Tiguan, and other than not having the cachet of being an SUV, the Touran is probably the better family car.

 Used price: £3,175-£10,865
Fuel economy: 39-74mpg
Road tax cost: £30-£205
Insurance group: 10-24

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8. BMW 3-Series Touring

BMW 3 Series Touring

✅ Great to drive, brilliant engines
✅ Petrol and diesel engines are all excellent

Boot isn't massive
Servicing and maintenance are costly

Is this the best of all secondhand estate cars – even at this price point? It's hard to argue against the BMW 3 Series Touring, even if it's less roomy and is beginning to suffer from some reliability issues as it enters middle age as a secondhand car. If you enjoy driving, this is still the cream of the crop, and for anyone with any reliability questions, we have a comprehensive buying guide on these models.

For those looking to eke out the most mpg, the 318d and 320d models deliver fantastic fuel consumption if not the most excitement. The most economical is the 187hp 320d, which averages 61.4mpg (Combined) and puts out 122g/km, meaning low road tax. The cheapest 3 Series to tax is the 318d, which costs just £30 per year at 2021 rates.

 Used price: £1,190-£10,345
Fuel economy: 29-51mpg
Road tax cost: £30-£565
Insurance group: 21-38

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9. Ford Mondeo Estate

Ford Mondeo

✅ Massive boot and cabin
✅ Good to drive, good to look at

Diesel TDCi models don't like high miles
Avoid the lower-powered models

The days of the Ford Mondeo Estate's being the UK's favourite family car might be firmly behind it now, but that doesn't mean it's not still a consummate all-rounder. If anything, this 2007 model is one of the used car trade's best-kept secrets. Elegant styling disguises great carrying capacity and a truly enormous interior for passengers.

It's just as good to drive as the hatchback version and is blessed with a high-quality interior that's well-styled and with controls that are easy to find your way around. The car’s ride and refinement deserve special mention since the Mondeo Estate is arguably more comfortable than German rivals from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Reliability is good, although we'd prefer a petrol model over the TDCi, which can become a liability at high miles.

 Used price: £850-£8,760
Fuel economy: 25-54mpg
Road tax cost: £20-£330
Insurance group: 32-44

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10. Lexus RX

Lexus RX

✅ Superbly well made
✅ Excellent reliability

Non hybrids not as economical than you might expect
Not as roomy as a BMW X5

With its sharp styling, hybrid drivetrain, upmarket image and lack of a diesel engine, the Lexus RX is more modern in concept than its more traditional rivals. In 2005 when the RX400h was launched, diesels were all the rage, especially in large SUVs – this was quite a leftfield choice. But it seems that the world has come to Lexus.

As you'd expect from Lexus build quality and reliability are second to none while superb ride comfort makes it great for covering long distances. We'd recommend this model as an alternative to a conventional diesel, and in general driving you should easily average 35mpg, which is impressive for a full-sized SUV.

 Used price: £1,155-£8,250
Fuel economy: 28-36mpg
Road tax cost: £295-£580
Insurance group: 31-38

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What to read next: 

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The best cheap electric cars
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*Prices correct at the time of publication and are all subject to change.