Used car buying guide: Best small SUV

They’re called all sorts of names – SUVs, 4x4s, crossovers, urban activity vehicles – but the reality is they are family cars. The SUV has caught on like the common cold. Drivers have warmed to the latest generation of smaller vehicles which are affordable to buy and run but come with the lofty seating position and rough n’ tumble styling of large, expensive SUVs.

The best-selling of all is the Nissan Qashqai, a car that has, like a Pink Floyd album, become a permanent fixture in the best-sellers’ chart. But for used car buyers, there is a great deal of choice. Here are our three favourite SUVs for three different budgets. 

Skoda Yeti: Best used SUV for under £10,000

Skoda Yeti: Looks like a Tonka Toy but tough and reliable (Picture © Skoda)

Skoda Yeti: Looks like a Tonka Toy but tough and reliable (Picture © Skoda)

You’ll pay around £7000 for the cheapest used 2010 Yeti. A Skoda dealer will offer a wide range of models from about £9000, including the popular 2.0 TDI. For £10,000 you can pick up 2011 11-reg models.

Skoda Yeti: Best for the school of hard knocks

The Yeti looks as odd as its name suggests, but because its design places function over form, it’s the ideal car for a family that will put it through the school of hard knocks. The boxy body hides a spacious cabin that is hard wearing, offers seating for five (with a back seat which slides on rails) and a big boot (416-litres with the seats up, 1,760 with them folded down) that will carry a buggy and the family dog without bother.

Skoda Yeti: Two or four-wheel drive
Drivers who know they’re rarely affected by winter weather can pick the two-wheel drive version of the Yeti. It’s typically slightly more affordable to buy and will be more fuel efficient compared with an equivalent four-wheel drive model. Anyone driving over 12,000 miles a year should seek out the 1.6 TDI, which pulls effortlessly from just 1,500rpm and can return as much as 61.4mpg. Drivers who travel fewer miles may be better off picking the 1.2 TSI petrol model, which is spritely enough and returns 46.3mpg. If you need or prefer four-wheel drive, look out for models badged 4×4, but you’ll only be able to pick diesel power with this.

VW Tiguan: Best used SUV for under £15,000

VW Tiguan: Consistently good in all areas (Picture © Volkswagen)

VW Tiguan: Consistently good in all areas (Picture © Volkswagen)

You can pick up a used 2008 08-reg Tiguan from around £7000. For our budget of £15,000 you could get a manufacturer approved used 2010 60-reg model from a VW dealer or a 2012 61-reg model from an independent.

VW Tiguan: Premium SUV at an affordable price
Like John Lewis or Waitrose, Volkswagen is a mass market, household name which does a nice line in products that, on the surface at least, appear to be a cut above the competition.

The Tiguan may not excel in any one area but it’s consistently good across the board. It looks smart, has a badge that’s a cut above Skoda or Mazda (if you care about such things) and the interior has a robust, good quality feel which ought to prove durable in the face of families who have better things to do with their time than clean their car.

VW Tiguan: Which is the best engine to choose?
The best-selling engine in the Tiguan range is the 2.0-litre TDI diesel. Once you take it for a test drive, you’ll understand why. It pulls enthusiastically from low in the rev range, hauls a fully laden Tiguan along with conviction yet can return as much as 53.3mpg. Most of those on the used market will be two-wheel drive; if you want four-wheel drive then look out for models called 4Motion. Another popular feature of the Tiguan range is the automatic gearbox, which VW calls DSG. It’s a clever but complicated transmission, which is very smooth to use but has been prone to problems and official recalls. Check the history of any automatic model carefully.

Mazda CX-5: Best used SUV for under £20,000

Mazda CX-5: Brilliant to drive but still spacious enough for four (Picture © Mazda)

Mazda CX-5: Brilliant to drive but still spacious enough for four (Picture © Mazda)

You’ll pay from £17,500 for the oldest used CX-5, a 2012 62-reg. We found a 2014, 14-reg manufacturer approved model from a Mazda dealer for £18,995. Our £20,000 budget should buy you a 2012 62-reg or a 2013 63-reg, depending on equipment levels, from a Mazda dealer.

Mazda CX-5: Best small SUV to drive
The Mazda CX-5 has many competitors, but it’s got the lot licked in one significant area: the way it drives. Of all the affordable SUVs, this is the most fun to thread along a winding road. Better still, you don’t have to drive it quickly to appreciate the feeling of precision engineering that the CX-5 gives off. Even pottering around town or slogging up and down the motorway, its suspension feels comfortable and composed, and there’s a precise feel to the gearchange and steering.

Pick of the engine range is the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel. There is a more powerful 171bhp version of this that’s only available with four-wheel drive, but it offers no tangible advantages in everyday driving conditions. If you prefer petrol power, there’s a 163bhp 2.0-litre, which is fine but lacks some of the diesel’s pulling power low in the rev range.

Mazda CX-5: An interior with practical touches
The CX-5 is by no means the most practical SUV in its class, but it’s spacious enough for a family of four. What holds it back are the little things, such as slender door pockets which are next to useless at accommodating the countless things mums and dads will inevitably accumulate in their car over time.

However, the driving environment looks stylish, it’s easy to get comfortable in and the CX-5 redeems itself to some degree by having handy remote-release levers next to the boot opening for dropping the back seats without clambering in.

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