Cheap family cars 2023

Shopping for a family car on a budget? Here are some practical, reliable and desirable options for less than you might think…

By James Wilson

A small budget for a family car needn't mean you have to put up with a badly equipped box that is uncomfortable, cramped and has a questionable reliability record. This is because all the best family cars - regardless of price - are built to withstand abuse from parents, young kids and teenagers - and there are few things more demanding than that.

We’d be prepared to bet that Ferrari does not design its door bin pockets to be able to resist the kind of chemical erosion that a two-month-old banana skin brings - in the way that we sure many family car manufacturers do. So, if you're looking for a cheap car that can withstand all of the sticky things that children might throw at them, read on. 

Fortunately, there is a huge choice of budget cars for families and they vary greatly in size and shape. As a result, there are models for small families, medium families and families where children vastly outnumber parents.

To help you when shopping for a family car, there are a couple of tips to keep in your mind. Number one is how many seats you require. There are plenty of seven-seater models out there but these can often be available as five-seaters as well, and it is easy enough to order a car that you expect to have seven-seats, only to find it does not… More seats might sound like a good thing, but if you'll never need them, you may get a bigger boot by choosing a five-seater model.

A second tip is to understand that there are different kinds of ‘budget’ family cars. Some are available at rock-bottom prices while others promise exceptionally low running costs. Often a long manufacturer warranty or a reputation for class-leading reliability is a good sign that a car will cost little to run, although it is not a guarantee. Engines also play a huge part in how much a car will cost to use, as being efficient with fuel will help reduce visits to the petrol station - and your overall fuel costs.

When it comes to price, all the models below can be found online second-hand from less than £30,000, although the overwhelming majority can be scooped up for much less than this. Meanwhile, low monthly payments should be available by opting for PCP finance.

1. Skoda Octavia

Our pick Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI SE L DSG
Used deals from £11,500

The Skoda Octavia is a safe pair of hands as a great all-round family car. It is spacious, practical and, provided you opt for a model with one of the more frugal engines, its fuel bills should be very low for a car that offers so much interior and boot space.

When it comes to low fuel costs, we’d suggest finding a 1.5-litre petrol model or a 1.6-litre diesel. If you are unsure on whether to go for a diesel or a petrol car, take a read of our petrol vs diesel comparison. In short, those who don't cover many miles and do lots of town driving are likely to be better served by a petrol, while those who do lots of miles or spend most of their time on the motorway would be wise to go for a diesel version.

Here we are focusing on the previous-generation Octavia which was sold between 2013 and 2020. There is a wide selection of second-hand models to choose from, but for most motorists, mid-range trims such as SE Drive or SE L provide a great mix of price and equipment. There is also a trim called Sportline, which includes subtly sporty features such as large alloy wheels, if you're willing to pay a bit of a premium for style.


2. Ford Focus

Our pick Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium
Used deals from £7,600

If you are the kind of family driver who wants a sensible budget car but also gets a thrill from driving, then a Ford Focus could be a great option. This is because Ford’s engineers have done a very good job with the suspension. What we mean by this is that on faster roads - such as those with a 60mph or 70mph speed limit - the Focus is great at zipping around corners, providing a good sense of control.

On a more practical note, the Focus hatchback can fit up to 375 litres of luggage in its boot, which is less than a Skoda Octavia can manage but a decent size for families with one or two children. Crash test experts Euro NCAP have awarded the Ford a full five stars out of five for accident safety. All models come with Isofix points on the outer rear seats, so if you have three kids who need child seats, you will be better looking at a larger car such as the Peugeot Rifter, covered below.


3. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports

Our pick Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 1.8 Hybrid Design
Used deals from £12,650

There is a lot to be said for the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports - the estate version of the Toyota Corolla. The Touring Sports offers a usefully large boot and petrol-electric hybrid power - meaning it should be particularly economical around town. Furthermore, while the Corolla isn’t as affordable to purchase as some alternatives, it should prove to be very inexpensive to run if Toyota’s excellent reputation for reliability is anything to go by.

Then again, you don’t need to take our word for it, as Toyota offers an industry-leading warranty that runs for up to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). The only thing you must do to keep the warranty valid once three years or 60,000 miles have passed, is to get the car's annual service done at an official Toyota garage.

This will most likely be slightly more expensive than an independent garage, such as Kwik Fit, but considering you will have Toyota trained engineers working on the car - and each service adding a year's warranty to the car - it looks to be remarkable value.


4. Kia Ceed Sportswagon

Our pick Kia Ceed Sportswagon 1.4 T-GDi '3'
Used deals Limited stock

If you like the sound of the Toyota above but it is slightly out of budget then there is a more affordable alternative. It comes from Kia and is called the Ceed Sportwagen - and is basically an estate version of the Ceed hatchback. There are a couple of differences between the Kia and Toyota which are worth mentioning, with one of the biggest being the warranty which is seven years or 100,000 miles as opposed to up to 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Meanwhile, the Ceed Sportswagon is sleek and less controversial in its styling than the Corolla, with a pleasant interior that is packed with standard equipment. The touchscreen media system in the Kia is excellent and the boot is massive for this size of car.

Luggage space is 625 litres to be exact, which is more than the Corolla by the equivalent of a carry on suitcase and means that you should be able to fit all sorts of buggies, suitcases, dogs, flat-pack furniture and other loads into the back without much trouble.


5. Citroen C3 Aircross

Our pick Citroen C3 Aircross 1.2 PureTech Flair
Used deals from £8,995

Citroen is great at making funky-looking sensible cars and one of the best options for families on a budget is the C3 Aircross. Standout features include the narrow headlights, squircle (eg. a blend of a square and a circle) air vents and soft, wide front seats. In fact, all of the seats in the C3 Aircross are comfortable, with comfort being a large part of the Citroen's appeal.

The French car maker also ensured that the C3 Aircross was designed with suspension that is good at smoothing out road imperfections so they don’t cause the driver and passengers to get jiggled about as they travel along. Unlike many cars, the C3 hasn't been compromised in comfort terms to make it feel sporty, with firm suspension and massive alloy wheels, with very little rubber separating you from the road. So, if you want a small, comfy family car, this is an excellent option.

Yet more good news is that Citroen makes some of the most frugal engines available, so whether you opt for a 1.2-litre petrol or a 1.5-litre diesel, fuel bills will be very low for a family car. That said, cars like the Ford Focus and Peugeot 308 are closer to the ground and more aerodynamic, so should prove to be more economical still.


6. Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

Our pick Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 2.0 CDTi SRi
Used deals from £6,710

The Vauxhall Zafira Tourer is classed as a people carrier - or MPV. A classification like this gives a clue to the biggest strength of the Zafira Tourer and that is how practical and versatile it is. Thanks to its large cabin and seating for seven, it doesn't matter whether you need to transport lots of people or lots of cargo, the Vauxhall should have you covered.

When looking around for Zafira Tourer models there is one year to have in your mind, and that is 2016. This is because Vauxhall updated its people carrier during that year, ushering in a revamped exterior design (the most obvious change being the headlights), new media system and even a new steering wheel design.

We’d recommend hunting for a newer model if your budget allows, though the older versions promise to be the most affordable and, generally speaking, offer many of the same benefits - such as the large cabin - as their newer equivalents.


7. Peugeot Rifter

Our pick Peugeot Rifter 1.6 BlueHDi Allure
Used deals from £13,750

A van-based people carrier like the Peugeot Rifter might not sound as appealing as an upmarket SUV when it comes to family cars, but this type of car is typically far better value and often more practical considering vehicles' size.

Part of van-based models' appeal is their many useful features, with some models - like the Rifter - coming with sliding rear doors which are perfect for preventing kids from opening doors onto bollards, lampposts or other parked cars. Plus, you’d be surprised at how many kids find using a sliding door exciting.

Being quite boxy in shape, the cabin of the Rifter is cavernous. To put things into perspective, there is more storage space in the various cubby holes dotted about the cabin than there is in the entire boot of many small cars like the Volkswagen Up and Kia Picanto.

Along with the choice of five- and seven-seat models there is also the option of short and long wheelbase models. Long wheelbase cars have a greater distance between front and rear wheels, freeing up more passenger space inside. For longer models, we recommend hunting for Rifters with rear parking sensors (try Allure or GT Line trims) or the optional reversing camera as these will make tight manoeuvres much easier.


8. Skoda Kodiaq

Our pick Skoda Kodiaq 1.5 TSI SE L DSG
Used deals from £15,660

That’s right folks, another Skoda. This time it is the Kodiaq, which is a large SUV and is a great alternative to models such as the Nissan X-Trail, Peugeot 5008 and Hyundai Santa Fe. These are just three alternatives, with the 5008 being a particularly appealing family car. The question is then, what does the Skoda do so well to deserve a mention here? The answer is pretty much everything that a family driver could value; the Kodiaq is a fantastic all-round family car, offering plenty of SUV style and substance.

For starters there is the price; although Skodas are by no means the cheapest models on the road, they are often great value. Then there is the practical cabin, which has space for seven seats - with even the two in the very back being more than usable for adults - especially if you slide the middle row forward a little.

Some Kodiaq models only come with five seats but these often make up for the reduced passenger practicality by being more affordable and offering greater boot volume - since there's no need for the rear two seats to fold into the floor.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.