Shopping for family cars may not be the most exciting of prospects but, hidden beneath the masses of slightly tedious machines, there are some real gems to be had. So, we’ve given ourselves a budget of £10,000 and scanned the Auto Trader classifieds to find some of the best family-friendly machines available out there. Some of them are a touch left-field but we think they’ll still make outstanding used buys.

Ford S-Max
The Ford S-Max is a rare beast indeed – a practical family car which is both a genuine pleasure to drive and to look at. It’s shorter, lower and sleeker than its sister car, the Galaxy yet still manages to squeeze in seven seats and has a plethora of cupholders and cubby holes to keep all your odds and ends in. True, the sixth and seventh seats are only really suitable for children but, even with them up, there’s enough bootspace for a reasonable amount of stuff. With all the seats folded, however, the S-Max is also capable of doing a passable impression of a van – it can of holding a vast amount of kit. The S-Max is also safe (with a five-star Euro NCAP rating) and Ford’s reliability is generally strong. When it comes to engines, the best option (if you do enough miles) is the 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel, but if you spend most of your time miles in town, then the cheaper (but less economical) 2.0-litre petrol might make more sense.

Nissan Qashqai
This car invented a whole new niche in the family hatch market. The Qashqai may look like an SUV but really, it’s a traditional family hatchback on stilts and while four-wheel drive is available, most versions come with just front-wheel drive. It has been a major success for Nissan – and for good reason. There’s a certain rugged charm about the looks, it’s surprisingly refined and, despite being a tall car, it can handle the bends with a certain degree of competence as well. Engine-wise, by far the best choice is the 1.5-litre diesel engine, which balances the necessities of economy with acceptable performance. There are some downsides, however. The interior feels a little low rent when you compare it to the best from Ford and Volkswagen and the ride can feel a touch firm.

Volvo V70
Whenever anyone thinks of a Volvo, in all likelihood the first image that comes into their head is one of a large, utilitarian estate in the mould of the 240 and the 850. The V70 represents that concept brought into the 21st century and is good-looking in a rugged, square-jawed kind of way. The large boot and spacious interior make it an extremely attractive family car. It’s not the cheapest car to run but if you’ve got kids accompanied by vast swathes of the accompanying clutter, then it makes an awful lot of sense. The 2.4-litre D5 is the engine to go for – it’s reasonably economical, safe (it’s got a five-star Euro NCAP rating) and has large reserves of torque to waft you along with the minimum of fuss. Volvo’s also got a pretty good reliability rating, which is a bonus.

Skoda Superb
When people talk about something being “a lot of car for the money” then they’re probably referring to this car. It’s huge. Whether you’re sitting in the back or the front, you’ll think you’re in a £50,000+ luxury saloon, such is the vast amount of legroom available. Not only is there loads of room in the cabin, but the boot will take 595 litres (1,700 with the rear seats down). As well as being incredibly spacious, the Superb is very, very comfortable and with a diesel engine under the bonnet, it’s pretty economical for such a big car. Skoda has a pretty good reliability record, as well, so we wouldn’t worry too much about such things. You also get plenty of kit as standard (especially in Elegance trim which is within our price range). It really does make a compelling case for itself.

Land Rover Discovery
OK, so it’s not subtle and nor is it particularly economical but, if you want the security of four-wheel drive and the ability to carry seven people in a reasonable amount of comfort (although the third row of seats is only really suitable for children), then this is the car for you. The Discovery has almost unrivalled presence on the road and the commanding driving position certainly adds to its appeal. It’s not the most involving driving tool but it’s competent in the bends and should you need to venture off the beaten track then it’ll get further than just about anything else. The 2.7-litre V6 diesel is smooth and willing but, this is a heavy car so don’t expect it to be particularly quick or, indeed, economical. One thing to think about is, however, Land Rover’s poor reliability record – they’re complicated machines and lots can go wrong.

Volkswagen Golf
Probably just about the best car in the (real) world. It’s spacious, comfortable, nice to drive and quick enough to keep up on the motorway. It’s also got that sense of unerring quality that everyone associates with the Volkswagen badge, which means that it can stand up to the rough and tumble of family life. The Golf is pretty reliable, too which should mean that it’ll be an easy car to live with. For this money, we’d advise that you either go for a 1.4-litre TSI petrol or, if you do more motorway miles, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel.

Ford Mondeo hatchback
Mondeos are an absolute steal at this price. They’ve taken most of their depreciation hit already so you shouldn’t worry too much about that and, for less than £10K, they are available with plenty of kit on them. They are also quite handsome, drive beautifully, are reliable and won’t ruin you financially with the fuel consumption or tax requirements. Despite the pleasing handling and decent turn of pace, however, they also ride surprisingly well, being comfortable but still well-controlled. Engine-wise, we’d recommend you go for the 2.0-litre TDCi diesel – you can get a two-year old model for this sort of money and, while it may have done plenty of miles, they’re likely to be motorway miles, which are far easier on the car than the constant stop/start of urban driving.

Mercedes S-Class
The S-Class is not a traditional family car, we realise, but sometimes, you want to treat yourself to that little bit of luxury and it’s amazing what you can find for such a small amount of money. Remember – these cars were £60,000+ new so they’ve already taken most of the depreciation pain, so don’t worry about that. An S-Class will glide over bumps, waft serenely up motorways and deal with the daily commute with equal aplomb. There’s also an awful lot of space in the back seats so the kids won’t be arguing over legroom. The boot’s pretty spacious, too and, although ones at these prices are likely to have done loads of miles, they have probably been looked after properly and any niggles will have been ironed out. With your sensible hat on, you’ve got to go for an S320 CDI diesel.

BMW 3 Series Touring
Some will argue (and not without reason) that the BMW 320D Touring is all the car you’ll ever need. It’s good-looking, economical, fast enough, handles like a dream, has loads of space both in the back seats and, it’s got the right badge on the bonnet. What’s not to love? Not a lot, really. The 2.0-litre diesel is a peach – economical and punchy at the same time, but still managing to be unobtrusive at speed. Some criticise the ride (which can be a bit knobbly) and the boot’s not the biggest in its class, either. Fixing it if it goes wrong can also get a bit pricey. Apart from that, there’s not a lot to complain about, especially at this sort of money.

Citroen C4 Grand Picasso
If you’re after an intriguing, spacious and practical MPV then you can’t go far wrong with the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. It’s got seven seats, is very safe for the little ‘uns (the standard C4 Picasso has a five-star Euro NCAP rating and there’s no reason to suspect that the Grand will have a lower score) and the large glass area means that the interior always feels light and airy. The majority of the interior feels well screwed together. It’s also not bad from behind the wheel – reasonably keen and it rides nicely but there is a noticeable lean if you attack bends with vigour. At this price, the 1.6 HDi VTR+ is the model to go for – the engine’s strong, economical and the extra kit, such as electric rear windows, trays on the rear of the front seats and roof bars that come with the VTR+ trim can be handy.

By James Richardson