What Car? reveals best used cars of 2012

VW Passat

What Car? has unveiled the winners of its 2012 Used Car of the Year Awards. 

 
The awards are an invaluable tool for buyers wanting to save money by buying used, because it can be difficult to know which models make the best buys once they've been around the block. The awards reveal the best used models in every class, from city runabouts to load-lugging SUVs. 
 
As well as drawing on the combined knowledge of the What Car? team, the judging panel includes trade insiders and used car experts, so you can be confident that any of the cars recommended here will be a sound buy. 
 
The cars' ages are shown below with the year of manufacturer first, then the plate information that shows the registration date.
 
By category, the winners and runners-up in each category of this year's awards are:
 
 
 
 
Toyota Aygo
 
Winner
Toyota Aygo
1.0 VVT-I+ 3dr
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £4,805
Private price £4,390
 
The Aygo won mainly with its blend of funky styling and rock-bottom running costs – it can manage over 60mpg and emits just 106g/km of CO2, which means £20 in annual road tax. The car is at its best in an urban environment, where its compact dimensions, punchy engine and light controls make it ideal for nipping through busy streets. Space is short in any city car but the Aygo has room for a couple of small bags in the boot; that means it's best suited to those with children who no longer need a buggy. Head- and legroom are great for those up front, but a limited in the rear. 
 
The Aygo drives and handles well for its size, too, as long you don't race round corners. The ride is firmer than in some rivals but generally it's decent. 
 
The '+' model gets Isofix child seat fittings, electric front windows, four airbags, remote central locking and a CD player and stereo that's a step up from the basic model's. 
 
Throw in Toyota's good reliability record and it's easy see why the Aygo is one of the best-value used city cars you can buy. 
 
Runners-up
Fiat 500
1.2 Sport
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £5,890
 
Hyundai i10
1.2 Comfort
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £5,040
 
 
 
Ford Fiesta
 
Winner (and overall winner of Used Car of the Year 2012)
Ford Fiesta
1.25 Zetec 5dr
 
The Fiesta is great fun to drive and it's also very refined for its class; it almost feels as though you're driving its bigger brother, the Focus. There's plenty of headroom inside, front and back.
 
The 81bhp version of Ford's 1.25-litre petrol engine has decent punch for its size and certainly enough for urban motoring. Zetec trim gives you electric front windows, remote locking and air-con plus alloy wheels and traction control. The suspension is a touch firmer than the entry-level model's, which adds to the car's slightly sporty feel. 
 
The Fiesta is safe, too, with a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rest rating, and it's reliable – most complaints cover minor faults with the stereo and dashboard trim; find a car less than three years old and these will be covered under warranty. 
 
This model manages a respectable average of 49.6mpg, which means it won't break the bank to run, either. 
 
The Fiesta has all the ingredients for a fantastic used buy, and with prices starting at less than £6,000 it's not wonder it's also the overall winner of this year's Used Car of the Year awards. 
 
Runners-up
Mini Cooper
1.6 (Pepper Pack)
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £8,045
 
Volkswagen Polo
1.4 SE 5dr
Age 2009/59
Dealer price £7,919
 
 
 
VW Golf
 
Winner
Volkswagen Golf
1.6 TDI Match 5dr
Age 2010/60
Dealer price £12,870
Private price £12,495
 
No other small family car matches the Golf for fun and comfort. It copes effortlessly with the rigours of town driving, staying smooth and quiet even on poorer surfaces, and it makes driving on fast, twisty roads really easy, thanks to lots of grip, great body control and well-weighted steering. 
 
VW's 103bhp 1.6-litre engine is powerful enough for the motorway yet manages more than 60mpg while emitting just 119g/km of CO2; running costs are kept low with a £30 annual road tax bill. 
 
The cabin is classy and practical, with enough room for four adults to sit comfortably over long distances, and the boot is impressive for a car of this size, too. 
 
Match trim, which was introduced in 2010 in place of SE, is the best bet. It's packed with kit including cruise control, electric front and rear windows, an upgraded DAB stereo, Bluetooth and automatic headlights and wipers. 
 
The Golf had a strong challenge from the Ford Focus, which is brilliant to drive and has the space and practicality of the Golf, but the Golf's superior build quality and better residual values mean it's worth investing the extra when you come to sell on. 
 
Runners-up
Ford Focus
1.6 TDCi Zete 5dr
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £7,860
 
Vauxhall Astra
1.4T Exclusiv 5dr
Age 2010/10
Dealer price £7,665
 
 

Ford Mondeo
 
Winner
Ford Mondeo
2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £7,090
Private price £6,525
 
Other cars may rival the Mondeo for interior space, refinement and practicality, but nothing else does it all at such an incredibly low price.
 
This spacious family car is a comfortable cruiser for covering motorway miles but it's still great fun to drive. There ample head- and legroom for everyone and the hatchback boot will swallow everything a family has to throw at it; split-folding rear seats mean a huge amount of extra space is on handed if needed. 
 
The 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel engine is the best choice for this car. It has plenty of punch but it doesn't shout about it. An official average mpg of 47.9mpg is decent, and diesels also have far better residual values than petrols so you'll lose less when you come to sell on. 
 
Zetec trim is our choice as it brings alloy wheels, climate control and electric windows. The Mondeo also comes with a top safety accolade with a maximum five-star crash test rating from Euro NCAP. Reliability is impressive too, and only trim rattles and keyless-entry system have proved particularly troublesome for owners.
 
There are plenty of used Mondeos on the market and such a huge choice keeps prices down, so it's no surprise that the Mondeo is the winner of this category.
 
Runners-up
Mazda 6
2.2D TS1
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £10,010
 
Volkswagen passat
2.0 TDI SE
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £6,940
 
 

VW Passat
 
Winner 
Volkswagen Passat 
2.0 TDI SE
Age 2008/58
Dealer price £8,515
Private price £8,270
 
The Volkswagen Passat is not only cavernous and comfortable to ride in, it has the bonus of a classy image. The 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel engine feels more than capable than dealing with large loads, even at low revs, and the car stays quiet even on the motorway. Whatever the circumstances the Passat handles safely and securely. The dashboard is well laid out and visibility is excellent. 
 
SE cars get rear electric windows, air-con and a CD player as standard, and the Passat comes with the reassurance of a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. 
 
Reliability is another Passat strength and the interior materials should prove hard-wearing. However, try all the electrical systems on any model you see and have the suspension checked on any high-mileage cars, especially if you plan to carry a lot in the boot or do any towing. 
 
There are cheaper used estates from the likes of Citroen and Renault but the Passat's combination of 46.3mpg, competitive servicing costs and better build quality puts it in the lead. 
 
Runners-up
Toyota Avensis Tourer
2.0 D-4D TR
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £11,450
 
Volvo V70
2.0D SE
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £12,565
 
 

Ford S-Max
 
Winner 
Ford S-Max
2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £12,160
Private price £10,980
 
The S-Max offers extraordinary space, versatility and value for money, with looks and driving characteristics you'll be proud of – there's none of the 'bus' image with this MPV. The first two rows of seats have plenty of head- and legroom, and the third is perfect for kids, with easy access. Even with all seven seats in use there's still enough room for a couple of bags; drop the five rear seats into the floor and you have an upmarket van for large loads. 
 
A fully-laden MPV needs a strong engine, but families want one that's frugal to run. That's why the judges chose the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel you'll also find in our family car category winner, the Mondeo, and which is easily up to the job of shifting seven people and their luggage. 
 
On twisty roads the S-Max grips firmly and keeps body sway in check. The ride is comfortable while the steering is responsive and reassuring. 
 
The most popular and best-value trim is Zetec, which gets you air-con, alloy wheels and a CD player. 
 
Reliability isn't quite as good as the rest of the Ford rosta. However, provided you thoroughly check all the electrical systems are working and that the interior trim hasn't been abused, and you ensure there's a full service history, you'll be a happy customer.
 
Runners-up
Vauxhall Zafira
1.6i Exclusiv
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £4,950
 
Volkswagen Touran
2.0 TDI SE 140 7st
Age 2009/09  
Dealer price £11,060
 
 

Nissan Qashqai
 
Winner
Nissan Qashqai
1.5 dCi Acenta
Age 2008/58
Dealer price £9,555
Private price £8,845
 
The Qashqai is really a small family disguised as a 4x4; it's taller and has more ground clearance than rivals such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. The result is plenty of cabin space, a generous boot and a high-up view of the road. It still drives well, too: there's lots of grip and the steering is well-weighted. The suspension deals well with poor road surfaces and it's very quiet inside. The interior feels classy yet durable and all the seats are supportive. 
 
The 1.6 Visia was our choice last year but a surge of Qashqais from Motability has hit the used market, pushing down prices enough to make the higher-specced and diesel 1.5 dCi Acenta our pick now. This engine is strong enough to haul the car when fully laden, and standard equipment includes climate control, alloy wheels, electric windows, Bluetooth, a CD multichanger and parking sensors. 
 
The Qashqai is reliable, too, with trim rattles and a rear suspension fault that Nissan is aware of the only real issues raised by owners. Make sure the car you're viewing has been in for its minor fuel system recall before you buy. 
 
Runners-up
Hyundai Santa Fe
2.2 CRTD CDX 7st
Age 2008/58
Dealer price £10,695
 
Volkswagen Tiguan
2.0 TDI SE
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £12,375
 
 

Audi A6
 
Winner
Audi A6
2.0 TDI SE
Age 2009/09
Dealer price £14,205
Private price £13,810
 
The Audi A6 has all you need in a saloon, at a sensible price. It manages to blend refinement with a sporty driving experience, although the firm suspension can be slightly uncomfortable at times, particularly round town. Still, the cabin is hushed, even on the motorway.
 
Inside, there's generous head- and legroom for four adults while the rear seats' ability to fold (an optional extra you'll have to look for) means you can expand the already huge boot. The fit and finish are flawless. 
 
We prefer the A6's diesel engines to the petrols, partly because there are far more to choose from and because they give the best of both economy and power. The manual gearbox shifts smoothly while the optional automatic works well, even if it is a bit more thirsty.
 
SE trim gets you a good list of equipment, including climate control, four electric windows and cruise control. Make sure sat-nav is fitted, though, because without it the car will be worth a lot less when you sell it on. 
 
Runners-up
BMW 3 Series
320d SE
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £11,335
 
Jaguar XF
2.7D V6 Luxury
Age 2009/58
Dealer price £16,620
 
 

Audi TT
 
Winner
Audi TT 2.0 TFSI
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £13,335
Private price £12,965
 
The latest generation of this iconic two-seater looks great, handles well, is quick and reasonably cheap to run – which is why it's this year's winner in this category. 
 
This model is bigger than the old one and has slightly more room inside. Go for the 2.0-litre 197bhp TFSI version. It feels more alert than the heavier V6 and makes the TT feel light, nimble and grippy to drive, so it's fast both on the straight and round bends. It's also pretty cheap to run, returning an average of 36.7mpg and emitting 183kg/km of CO2. 
 
All models are well equipped, with climate control, alloy wheels, stability control, curtain airbags and half-leather sports seats as standard. Metallic paint will boost residual values. It also has Isofix on the passenger seat with passenger airbag deactivation. 
 
The only problems owners seem to have are with worn leather seats and the odd rattle from the dashboard, but these are few and far between.
 
Used prices are slightly higher than some rival coupés', but the TT's beautifully crafted interior and superior driving experience make it worth every extra penny.
 
Runners-up
Mazda MX-5
2.0
Age 2008/08
Dealer price £7,455
 
Volkswagen Golf
2.0T GTI 5dr
Age 2007/57
Dealer price £9,590