If you’re looking for a comfortable, practical and reliable family car you may be surprised by what you can afford.

From the best-selling Citroen Xsara Picasso to the supreme Mercedes C-Class, there’s a used family car to suit everyone’s taste and budget.

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Full gallery: the £2,000 family cars

Citroen Xsara Picasso

After selling more than 270,000 units in the UK alone, Citroen UK decided early this year to stop production of the Xsara Picasso, which first went on sale in 2000.

Thanks to a blend of comfort, space, clever packaging – with features like the wheeled ‘Modubox’ for carrying shopping – and an impressively low asking price, the mid-sized MPV became an instant hit. There is now plenty of choice on the used car market.

Avoid the under-powered 1.6-litre petrol and opt for the more efficient diesels – the 1.6-litre HDI is capable of an impressive 60mpg. Make sure you check door seals and the sunroof for signs of leaks and listen out for any rattles and squeaks.

Our pick: 2002 1.6 HDI diesel

Audi A4

The Audi A4 is a classic example of a car that’s built-to-last – it’s stylish, comfortable and many go on to do a huge mileage. Early models are great value, but the best deals are to be had on end-of-line X- and Y-reg models.

The A4 may not be quite as fun to drive as some of its competitors and the boot opening is a bit awkward but there’s plenty to recommend. There’s a wide choice of engines, ranging from 1.6- to 2.8-litre petrols and 1.9- to 2.5-litre diesels.

The punchy 115bhp 1.9-litre turbodiesel is the best bet – and with fuel consumption set at more than 50mpg, it won’t cost the earth to run either. Check for problems with the front suspension, especially on cars with a higher mileage.

Our pick:
2000 1.9 TDi 110bhp SE

Mercedes C-Class

The first generation C-Class was arguably the last ‘over-engineered’ Mercedes, so reliability and build quality are first rate.

It’s also handsomely understated and supremely comfortable – and should remain so for many years to come.

C180 and C200 offer decent performance but we’d go for the refined, powerful and economical 220 CDI diesel. Make sure you opt for an automatic gearbox – the manual gearbox is agricultural and hill starts with a foot operated handbrake and a clutch are a black art. Older C-Classes are also prone to rust.

Our pick: 1999 C220 CDI Elegance

Vauxhall Zafira

MPVs get almost four million searches each month on Auto Trader. If you’re looking for a comfortable, practical and great value used family car then you need look no further than the Vauxhall Zafira.

The Zafira’s clever and flexible seating for seven was revolutionary in its time – each pair of rear seats fold easily into the floor, while the middle bench reclines, slides and collapses. But the rear most seats are only really suitable for children and with the seats upright, the boot is very small.

With more than 4,600 used models currently for sale, there’s plenty of choice. Build quality is traditionally impressive, but remember to check the service history to make sure that the cambelt has been replaced when it should have been.

Our pick: 2001 1.8 Elegance

Fiat Multipla

The original Fiat Multipla broke most design rules when it launched in 1999. But with its eccentric looks, compact design and great equipment levels, it’s one of the cleverest people carriers around.

No bigger than a family hatchback, the Multipla seats six (thanks to its two front passenger seats), is comfortable, good to drive and it offers plenty of luggage space, too.

There’s not much choice – one petrol, one diesel and only a few trim levels. Take your time checking for damaged wing mirrors, corners and the interior trim, in particular. There have been problems with switches, especially the electric windows.

Our pick: 2002 1.9 JTD

Ford Galaxy

Developed alongside the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra, the Ford Galaxy feels more like a hatchback to drive a seven-seat people carrier, being one of the best handling MPVs.

There are plenty of Galaxys on the used car market, which helps to keep prices low and gives buyers stacks of choice. Check carefully how many seats any potential buy has: some models only seat five or six people. Equipment levels aren’t great and air conditioning wasn’t standard until 1999.

Inspect the electrics carefully, as water leaks are quite common – check the alarm system, central locking and make sure the electric windows open and close properly.

Our pick: 1998 1.9 TDCi

Volkswagen Passat

If you’re looking for a big family car with a comfy cabin and a more upmarket feel, then the Volkswagen Passat could be your answer. It was given a thorough facelift in 2001, for a more modern look, better equipment and a more comfortable drive.

There’s a wide choice of engines, from a 1.8-litre to a 2.8 V6 petrol, plus 1.9- and 2.5-litre diesels. All models are well equipped, with even the entry-level models getting a four star Euro NCAP crash test rating, alloy wheels and air conditioning as standard.

There are reports of some reliability issues – including leaks, suspension and electrical faults – which can be expensive to correct, so make sure you inspect any car thoroughly before buying.

Our pick: 2001 1.9 TDI

Renault Megane Scenic

The Renault Megane Scenic has been a huge sales success in the UK. Its clever packaging, drivability, and versatile interior, with neat storage ideas and a huge boot, has made it a continuing favourite.

A facelift in summer 1999 saw a more distinctive look, added safety features (including front and side airbags as standard) and more powerful engines. There’s a huge range of trim, transmission and engine options, with efficient dCI diesels particularly popular.

There’s a good choice of used ones at sensible prices. Reported problems include loose trim and cabin rattles, but engines have proved reliable. Check the removable rear seats are in good condition – they can become loose or damaged if they haven’t been reinstalled carefully.

Our pick: 2001 1.9 dCi

Toyota Avensis

If you’re looking for a roomy, well-built and economical family car, then the Toyota Avensis is a no-brainer. It may not be the most exciting looking model on the used market but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in reliability.

The Avensis is well-equipped, has masses of space and a large, well shaped boot, but the interior is really quite dull. New engines were introduced in 2000, ranging from 1.6 to 2-litre petrols and a 2-litre D-4D diesel engine.

There is a wealth of used ones around so you can afford to be picky. There have been reported problems with the gearbox and steering rack, so ensure you inspect any potential buy thoroughly.

Our pick: 2001 1.8 petrol

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus launched in the UK in 1998 and became an instant hit with buyers, never far from the top of the best-seller list. It’s still one of the best in its class, with great drivability, practicality and timeless looks.

The Focus is hard to fault – it will easily accommodate five, has a durable cabin, clever layout and drives well. There’s a huge range of trim levels and engines, including strong 1.8- and 2-litre petrols and frugal, refined and powerful TDCI diesel engines.

There’s a massive choice of used Focus at sensible prices, so it’s possible to hold out for the ideal specification. It’s got a great reliability record and low repair costs, but do be aware of suspension problems, especially on higher-mileage models.

Our pick: 2001 1.8 TDCi

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By Rhian Angharad Jones