07/11/2006 00:00 | By By Christopher Hubbard, contributor

Used Car Guide: medium-sized family cars

Ford Mondeo (© Image © Ford)

Welcome to the world of the rep-mobile. Don’t let that put you off too much – this size of car makes an excellent family vehicle and offers great value. Large quantities of ex-fleet saloons and hatchbacks flood the market every year, meaning there’s not only plenty to choose from but depreciation is heavy. So you get loads of car for your cash, and won’t have to compromise on condition.

Our round up of the current secondhand market for this segment features all the usual suspects – plus one or two more unusual suggestions. There’s a car here to suit every pocket and every driving preference, while we also point out what you should avoid.

Setting your budget
Learn Bangernomics


Ford Mondeo (© Image © Ford)

Click on images to enlarge: the Ford Mondeo is cheap to buy and run

Buyers looking at this end of the market would do well to concentrate on reliability. Especially if you’re purchasing a family car, you really don’t want your new pride and joy to be a regular on your breakdown service’s callout list. For this reason we’d strongly suggest models from Japanese manufacturers. These may not be the last word in style, but are realistically less likely to let you down, significant when many vehicles in this price range will have benefited from some extensive running in… cars with well over 100,000 miles on the clock are common.

The Nissan Primera is a very sound choice. Either generation of car available within the £2k budget lasts well; they have enormous boots and even handle nicely. In terms of availability, however, fleet favourite Ford Mondeos, Vauxhall Vectras, and Peugeot 406s dominate – and if you’re after one you’ll have a good selection to choose from. We’d suggest the Vectra as it offers the best value.

Used Ford Mondeos less than £2,000

Cars to avoid

Large Korean saloons – like the Daewoo Espero – are cheap for a reason: nasty interior plastics, they're horrible to drive, and extremely ugly. Even at this level you can do so much better. The first generation Renault Laguna hasn’t much going for it, check even the very last Vauxhall Cavaliers for MOT-failing rust round the rear arches, and don’t buy anything Italian at this price if you want dependability.

How to avoid a dud

Top 3 Smart Buys

Vauxhall Vectra (© Image © Vauxhall)

Vauxhall Vectra

  • We found a… 1999 Vauxhall Vectra 2.0 CDX 5dr hatchback, 70.000 miles, £1,895
  • Best bits – CDX the spec to go for, 2.0-litre petrol offers best blend of performance, refinement and economy, roomy inside
  • Worst bits – ride quality and handling not brilliant, but it’s the Vectra’s boring image that really lets it down

Used Vauxhall Vectras less than £2,000

Nissan Primera

Nissan Primera (© Image © Nissan)

  • We found a… 1996 Nissan Primera 2.0 16v GT 5dr hatchback, 67,000 miles, £1,375
  • Best bits – top spec includes leather and optional air-con (check this works), GT means great fun to drive, full service history, reliability
  • Worst bits – sporty model so could be thrashed, also has stiffer ride than standard, bland image

Used Nissan Primeras less than £2,000

Peugeot 406

  • We found a… 2000 Peugeot 406 2.0 LX 4dr saloon, 63,000 miles, £1,395
  • Best bits – reasonable spec includes air-con, Pininfarina styling, great ride quality, lots of room inside ((MSN Cars boss Tom Evans runs a diesel one of these and swears by it).
  • Worst bits – servicing costs relatively expensive, make sure all the electric bits work, this car lacks deal-sealing alloys

Used Peugeot 406s less than £2,000

£2,000 – £4,000

It’s impossible to ignore the Mondeo in this price bracket. In second-generation guise it effortlessly blends quality, driver satisfaction and handsome looks into an appealing, well-equipped package. The biggest problem is they’re so common you might find yourself wanting something else – just to be different. But it remains our pick; five years old with circa 60,000 miles for £4K is achievable. Or the same money buys a top class example of the older shape model.

If it’s speed you crave, you’ll get a Vauxhall Vectra SRi 2.5-litre V6 within this budget – not too sophisticated but quick in a straight line. Volkswagen’s Passat oozes prestige in comparison and is becoming increasingly affordable, while the Honda Accord is the best choice for those looking to make the most reliable purchase.

Used Vauxhall Vectras between £2,000 and £4,000

Cars to avoid

The current Laguna may have been the first five-star EuroNCAP car when it was introduced in 2001, but it has suffered from extensive reliability issues. It is very safe, but don’t blame us if you end up on first-name terms with staff at your local service centre. Citroens in this class are best left to the brave: air-suspension and dodgy electrics a pain – jamming cruise control an eye-catching C5 complaint…

Top 3 Smart Buys

Ford Mondeo (© Image © Ford)

Ford Mondeo

  • We found a… 2001 Ford Mondeo 2.0 Zetec, 55,000 miles, £3,999
  • Best bits – 2.0-litre engine performs well without costing a fortune to run, plenty to choose from, great all-rounder
  • Worst bits – Zetec not the highest spec but Ford was generous with equipment, “Mondeo Man” rep-mobile image may put off some

Used Ford Mondeos between £2,000 and £4,000

Honda Accord (© Image © Honda)

Honda Accord

  • We found a… 1999 Honda Accord 2.0i ES 4dr saloon, 68,000 miles, £2,989
  • Best bits – top-spec ES, fully loaded car, choice engine, fantastic reliability, exceptional build, decent auto available, good to drive
  • Worst bits – not exactly a looker from the outside and even more bland on the inside, occupant space only average

Used Honda Accords between £2,000 and £4,000

Volkswagen Passat (© Image © Volkswagen)

Volkswagen Passat

  • We found a… 1999 Volkswagen Passat 1.9 S TDi 5dr hatchback, 74,000 miles, £3,495
  • Best bits – top specification includes alloy wheels, climate control. VW prestige, well-regarded diesel engine
  • Worst bits – perception of quality higher than actual quality so it pays to check car thoroughly, some leak issues so feel footwells for damp

Used Volkswagen Passats between £2,000 and £4,000

£4,000 – £6,000

At this price point it’s tempting to simply say more of the same, only newer and better equipped. However, while the Mondeo remains a sensible value for money choice, there are some intriguing alternatives you might consider investigating.

For example, how about a Rover 75? A 1.8 turbo can be found with as few as 20,000 miles for this price. Stuffy image, but a luxurious step up from a Ford or Vauxhall, and reliability is actually very good. A 406 diesel can be yours for the same money – just make sure it’s at least a 2.0-litre HDi, preferably the 110bhp version, as earlier 1.9s are a little slow. The dependable option we’d recommend here is the Toyota Avensis. You won’t get the latest shape but the old one is considered practically bombproof and is unlikely to let you down.

How to take a test drive

Cars to avoid

Because cars in this class are often aimed at reps and fleet managers, manufacturers usually try to pack in as much value as possible. This is good news for levels of standard equipment, but when it comes to purchasing used just make sure all the electronic gizmos actually work – they’re costly to repair and annoying to live with when broken. Press every button, prod every control.

Top 3 Smart Buys

Rover 75 (© Image © Rover)

Rover 75

  • We found a… 2003 Rover 75 1.8T Club SE automatic 4dr saloon, 20,000 miles, £5,995
  • Best bits – cosseting ride quality, value for money luxury, Club middle of the range but well kitted out, SE adds alloys, front fogs
  • Worst bits – OAP image, 1.8 prone to head gasket failure, turbo is more reliable offering performance of 2.0 with better economy

Used Rover 75s between £4,000 and £6,000

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Toyota Avensis

  • We found a… 2001 Toyota Avensis 1.8 VVTi Vermont 5dr hatchback, 68,000 miles, £4,490
  • Best bits – reliability, Vermont special edition means lots of value, good interior space, nearer to £6K buys much lower mileage
  • Worst bits – not the most comfortable to drive, stred-cred measured in negative values, people shouting “Taxi!”

Used Toyota Avensis’ between £4,000 and £6,000

Peugeot 406 (© Image © Peugeot)

Peugeot 406

  • We found a… 2004 Peugeot 406 HDi 90 S 4dr saloon, 72,149 miles, £5,689
  • Best bits – even prettier face-lifted version, spec includes all the usual refinements such as alloys, climate control
  • Worst bits – 90bhp engine not as desirable as 110, high mileage for 2004 car but they do last very well if looked after

Used Peugeot 406s between £4,000 and £6,000

£6,000 – £8000

It’s even easier to find some more “interesting” alternatives to the mainstream norm in this price bracket. The revised Passat offers image – but you’ll be looking at higher mileages if it’s a Volkswagen you fancy. The Avensis is also a very worthy car; with Toyota finally having cracked the “good looking” code it makes a fine executive express. Petrolheads should investigate the Accord Type-R – even if it’s mostly leggier examples in this budget - as Honda engineering insures the performance doesn’t come at the expense of reliability.

But, since the mainstream offers the widest selection it’s worth pointing out the Mondeo’s excellent TDCi diesel engines are now well within reach. Vauxhall’s latest Vectra is a credible alternative, if not quite as entertaining to drive, while last of the line 406s remain a style conscious choice. The succeeding 407 is just starting to become available for this money, too. You’ll either love the looks or hate them.

Used Honda Accords between £6,000 and £8,000
Used Peugeot 407 between £6,000 and £8,000
How to spot a clocked car

Cars to avoid…

Mitsubishi Lancer (© Image © Mitsubishi)

Mitsubishi Lancer is cheap but way behind class leaders

Mitsubishi’s Lancer looks good value – 2005 registered 1.6, 10,000 miles and fully kitted out. The trouble is, unless it’s turbocharged and badged “EVO”, the Lancer isn’t a great car. In fact, it’s a good example, in terms of fit and finish, styling, and refinement, of why buying for quality rather than age just makes more sense.

Top 3 Smart Buys

Ford Mondeo (© Image © Ford)

Ford Mondeo

  • We found a… 2003 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 130 Ghia X 5dr hatchback, 43,000 miles, £8,000
  • Best bits – private sale buys you this top spec diesel Mondeo with the more powerful 2.0-litre engine and all the toys you could wish for
  • Worst bits – dealer held cars will either have more miles or lesser trim levels for this money, but TDCi engines still well affordable

Used Ford Mondeos between £6,000 and £8,000

Volkswagen Passat (© Image © Volkswagen)

Volkswagen Passat

  • We found a… 2002 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 SE 4dr saloon, 43,000 miles, £6,495
  • Best bits – prestige level far higher than Mondeo average, build quality and spec, value seems very good at this price, too
  • Worst bits – frugal and fast TDi engines preferred to the petrol offered here but more expensive, looks a little bland

Used Volkswagen Passats between £6,000 and £8,000

Toyota Avensis (© Image © Toyota)

Toyota Avensis

  • We found a… 2003 Toyota Avensis 1.8 VVT-i T3-X 5dr hatchback, 44,000 miles, £7,750
  • Best bits – 1.8 is preferred petrol engine, motorway munching ride, reasonable interior space and quality, reliability very strong
  • Worst bits – ok package but fuzzy on the details, so handling isn’t the best, somewhat noisy at speed, not as much kit as you’d expect

Used Toyota Avensis’ between £6,000 and £8,000


As you’d expect, there are plenty of newer, lower mileage examples of the above at this price level. But we think you could look around a little further still. The latest Accord and the Mazda6, for example, offer more than just traditional Japanese dependability as strengths. The Honda has some brilliant engines and quality build, while the Mazda simply does everything well. Image is its biggest problem, but the all-round competence and great handling should help you put this to one side.

A-Z of buying used

There’s also the swoopy Nissan Primera, which lacks a bit of interior quality, but makes up for it with original design and some top-tech – it even has a reversing camera! That said, depreciation means it’s possible to buy a 2006-registered Vectra for sub-£10K, offering lots of kit and good reliability. The Mondeo remains a more desirable car than the Vauxhall, though; try a 2.2 TDCi or the performance ST220 model.

Used Mondeo STs from £8,000

Cars to avoid

When it comes to spending this kind of money, there really is no reason to settle for second best. There are lots of cars to choose from for any of the models above, so never consider buying anything that isn’t 100 per cent. Go for a sensible colour – silver remains foolproof – and aim for decent spec levels, lots of options, and spotless condition, rather than obsessing over age and mileage.

Top 3 Smart Buys

Mazda6 (© Image © Mazda)


  • We found a… 2006 Mazda6 2.0 MZR TS 5dr hatchback, 7,755 miles, £13,995
  • Best bits – latest version with enhanced interior quality, excellent reliability record, fun to drive, lots of safety features, holds value well
  • Worst bits – ride on the hard side but shouldn’t bother too many people, unexciting image, 1.8 is noisy

Used Mazda 6s from £8,000

Honda Accord (© Image © Honda)

Honda Accord

  • We found a… 2004 Honda Accord 2.2 i-CDTi Executive 4dr saloon, 28,500 miles, £12,999
  • Best bits – exceptionally good diesel engine, Honda build integrity and reliability, top non-sporting trim means loads of equipment
  • Worst bits – no hatchback option due to prestige pretensions means saloon buyers stuck with a small boot, visibility not the best, firm ride

Used Honda Accords from £8,000

Vauxhall Vectra (© Image © Vauxhall)

Vauxhall Vectra

  • We found a… 2006 Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 SRi 5dr hatchback, 12,000 miles, £10,000
  • Best bits – ok, so it’s done a few miles (probably mostly m-way), but the value and equipment levels are high, 1.8 is strong and efficient
  • Worst bits – no cool contest winner but reasonable running costs makes a good family purchase, buy an older car for even better value

Used Vauxhall Vectras from £8,000
Used Car Guide homepage
Setting your budget
Learn Bangernomics
How to avoid a dud
How to take a test drive
A-Z of buying a used car
How to spot a clocked car

05/03/2012 04:38
These prices are very high. A quick browse of Autotrader or ebay shows you can buy all of these for half or less of the quoted price.
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