When you think what the modern mainstream car offers in terms of comfort, refinement, equipment, safety and efficiency, they’re terrific value. However, if new cars offer a lot for the money, used and nearly new cars are even more of a steal. Even the premium brands can’t escape the ravages of depreciation, so if you buy a German car that’s a year or two old, you’ll be getting a car that’s still as good as new but you’ll be getting a hefty discount on it.
But if you’re a bargain seeker your best bet is to avoid buying German because of the premium you pay. Japanese and Korean cars tend to be more reliable and cheaper to buy while French and Italian brands are usually cheaper still, but often not as dependable. For less than £10,000 you’ve got your pick of great family cars, whether you want a crossover, an estate, a hatchback or an MPV. And if you don’t believe us, here’s the proof.
The small hatch: Mazda 3
Mazda hasn’t produced any duff models for years, yet it’s one of those brands that’s below the radar for most car buyers. It’s hard to see why when the Japanese company’s cars have it all; sharp looks, great dynamics, decent build quality, excellent practicality and the sort of reliability we’ve come to expect from a Swiss watch.
This low profile is great for you though, as you get so much more for your money. We’re now on the third-generation Mazda 3, which means that your 10 grand buys a really good Mk2 edition – or if your pockets aren’t so deep you can even go back to the Mk1, available from under £1,000. Now that’s a bargain.
Our pick: Mazda 3 1.6 Takuya
You get: 2010 (60-plate), 40,000 miles
Top five family used cars
The big hatch: Skoda Octavia
Everything underneath the Octavia is shared with an array of other models within the Volkswagen empire. From the platform to the engines, transmissions and suspension systems, the Octavia’s important bits are also to be found within a raft of Audis and Volkswagens – along with some SEATs too. So the Octavia is off to a pretty good start.
It gets better though, because Skoda has one of the best dealer networks going, the Octavia comes with a wide choice of efficient petrol end diesel engines and if you want something really sporty just take a closer look at the vRS edition. It’s the most popular unmarked police car in the UK, which tells you everything you need to know about reliability and performance levels.
Our pick: Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDi SE
You get: 2012 (62-plate), 50,000 miles
The crossover: Kia Sportage
Kia is nothing less than a phenomenon. A decade ago it didn’t have a desirable model in its range; now it has one of the best line-ups going. Kia has always built reliable, high-value cars, so it already had the building blocks for a great brand. Now, with the help of design chief Peter Schreyer, Kia’s cars are more than just worthy – they’re really rather sexy.
While Kias aren’t as cheap as they used to be, you still get more for your money than pretty much anywhere else. The generous equipment levels, stylish design and good build quality are easy to appreciate when you’re sitting inside, but what isn’t so obvious is the level of reliability, which makes the ownership experience that much more enjoyable, and cheaper too. In fact the Sportage is so dependable that (uniquely) it comes with a seven-year warranty – and Kia’s confidence in its products is anything but misplaced.
Our pick: Kia Sportage 1.7 CRDi
You get: 2011 (60-plate), 55,000 miles
The MPV: Ford S-Max
We could have filled this whole article with Fords because the company offers a great contender in every segment. All are good to drive, plentiful, decently reliable and come packed with kit. But with the S-Max Ford has gone even further; it’s created a unique product that’s a cross between a people carrier and a sportscar – it’s that good to drive.
The S-Max doesn’t sacrifice practicality though as it can still accommodate seven (there’s a 5+2 configuration) in three rows of seats. With people swapping their MPVs for crossovers, people-carriers aren’t as common as they used to be. But if you need the ultimate in practicality ahead of great dynamics just look at a Ford Galaxy instead, which comes with the same attributes, including low prices.
Our pick: Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi Titanium
You get: 2010 (60-plate), 70,000 miles
The estate: Honda Accord
Honda has become almost invisible in the UK thanks to an uninspiring range that’s not especially engaging to drive. Its cars generally don’t stand out in the crowd either, but there’s still plenty to entice with its biggest model. For starters the Accord’s low profile means it doesn’t hold onto its value as well as some other semi-premium cars – which makes it something of a used car bargain.
Honda also builds some of the most reliable cars on the road and in the case of the Accord we reckon it’s also very stylish in a low-key kinda way. A limited range doesn’t help its cause; you have to choose between a 2.2-litre diesel and 2.0 or 2.4-litre petrols, but sometimes you can have too much choice…
Our pick: Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC
You get: 2010 (10-plate), 50,000 miles
Buy with care
If you decide to take the plunge and buy any of these, the usual rules apply. That means get an HPI check before committing. as well as reading our guides on how to avoid getting caught out by fraudsters ,what to look for when buying a used car, and if you’re thinking of buying at auction, we’ve also done a guide on how to do just that, without getting caught out.