2023 Used Car Buying Guide: Options to Consider for Each Generation
Buying your first car is a rite of passage you’re unlikely to forget: with parents and guardians likely to tell you to find something reliable and within budget, but with you likely still wanting something that’s ‘on brand’ and that will impress your friends. Buying an ‘old banger’ doesn’t have to be the case, whether you’re a gen Z, millennial, or even a baby boomer, there’s likely a used car that best suits you.
Buying a car is a personal experience, and there are numerous factors involved in making the big purchase. From the size of the car to the brand and the upfront cost, these things also matter at varying levels across different generations.
But what’s surprising is the commonalities shared that result in some cars being appropriate across generations on their usage and marketing. Some cars that we’d typically see as more appropriate for younger generations, could be suitable for older generations when it comes to the metrics that we ranked against.
Group 1 Automotive analysed the best used car for each generation, analysing consumer data by Mintel to discover the important factors to each age range. We then indexed some of the most popular used car purchases, weighting them according to the factors that were most important to each generation.
We indexed them against these factors to conclude which would make the most appropriate buy based on reliability, upfront cost, value for money while running, sustainability, brand and size. This allowed us to rank cars based on their suitability for each generation, as well as concluding which of these cars would be universally appropriate despite your generation.
When buying a used car, the most important factor for each generation was reliability. People want to be sure that whatever they purchase will get them from A to B without being concerned about potential breakdowns or having to replace parts frequently.
This will be especially important through the cost of living crisis as people seek to reduce the amount of money they’re spending on unexpected costs.
Coming out on top across all of the models we analysed were hybrid variants. Not only did they rank highly for the expected metrics such as value for money and sustainability, but also the universally important aspect of reliability.
Hybrids are reportedly more resistant to wear due to having fewer moving parts than their petrol and diesel counterparts, and despite seeming complex, research shows that they are mechanically simpler than conventional petrol or diesel cars.
All in all, the Toyota Yaris Hybrid came out on top as the most suitable car for each generation, scoring highest among baby boomers, gen X, and millennials, but also faring well amongst the swing generation and gen Z.
The vehicle ranked in the first position for gen Z, millennials, baby boomers, and the swing generation, and fourth for gen X. It ranked highly due to reliability, the size of the car, upfront cost, and sustainability, however, achieved lacklustre results across the brand category, except amongst baby boomers.
Surprisingly coming out within the top 3, was the Mercedes A-Class hybrid, despite typically being geared toward a younger crowd. Although not as reliable as other cars, the brand score made up for this in all instances, proving popular amongst each generation. This example also shows that buyers would be willing to compromise on factors such as upfront cost if other metrics balance the vehicle out.
The Volkswagen Golf also placed within the top 10, and despite perhaps being associated with younger drivers due to its sportier, performance variations, the vehicle suits generations across the board.
Surprisingly, the Golf was found to be most suited to the swing generation (70.60), decreasing in average score through the generations, reaching gen Z at the bottom with a score of 66.39. Where the model was redeemed through a low upfront cost and value for money, it also scored relatively averagely across key areas such as brand, size, reliability, and sustainability.
Research by CDK Global shows that younger generations, particularly gen Z, frequently struggle with the car purchasing process. As such, we’ve indexed the best used car options according to metrics that they value.
When it came to gen Z, value for money was the most important factor after reliability, followed by price paid upfront and sustainability. Brand and car size were weighted the same for each generation, however, ranked according to their preferences, for example, where gen Z prefers brands such as BMW over Toyota, the brand is given a numeric score and then ranked according to weighting.
For those looking for a car that is reliable and has a low upfront cost, the Toyota Yaris Hybrid and Toyota Auris Hybrid both fare well. Both cars are optimised for low running costs with their compact size and good fuel economy, therefore making for a great starter vehicle for those who are looking for a used car on a budget.
The Mercedes A-Class Hybrid also offers a compromise for those seeking a car from one of their preferred brands, balancing out the higher upfront cost with a better value for money due to the hybrid technology.
Despite being slightly larger than the average gen Z would like, this car offers luxury finishes that are suited to a younger buyer. In contrast, the petrol and diesel variants rank poorly in terms of suitability, scoring 53.32 for the diesel version, and 51.33 for the petrol variant in comparison to the score of 73.56 for the hybrid version.
Similarly, the BMW 3 series diesel (2012-2019) scored 67.89 and the BMW 3 series petrol (2012-2019) scored 66.53. Both placed within the top 10 when it came to the best cars for gen z. However, interestingly, the 2019-present versions scored extremely poorly, with the petrol version scoring 55.60 and the diesel version scoring just 43.53. The 2012-2019 versions scored highly for their brand, reliability and upfront cost score.
Millennials had a preference for similar cars to gen Z, with the inclusion of a couple of different models within the top 10.
One of the cars that didn’t feature in the best for gen Z was the Ford Focus Petrol (2011-2018), which scored 67.46 in terms of suitability for millennials. Our study showed that for those looking to buy this model, it’s perhaps worth searching for an older version, as the newer 2018-present Ford Focus Petrol scored 57.32, a whole 10pc less than the older one.
While the Kia Ceed Diesel (2012-2018) and Kia Ceed Petrol (2012-2018) scored similarly when it came to gen Z, there was more of a gap when ranked for a millennial driver. The diesel variant scored an impressive 70.38, whilst the petrol variant scored just 63.52 due to varying scores for reliability, value for money and sustainability.
The newest Toyota Prius (2016-2022) model is also a worthy contender when it comes to potential purchases for millennial drivers, scoring 67.00 on our index.
Whilst the vehicle can come in at a higher price point when buying new, buying used can offer drivers value for money as well as peace of mind when it comes to reliability. This model is a step up from the previous version, as it’s built on the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, using the same hybrid system that has been revised and reworked to offer a superior driving experience.
Buying a used car can vary in experience depending on how the car has been used and which aftermarket parts it has been fitted with during servicing and repairs. However, generally speaking these are the brands and models that best suit these generations based on what they consider when purchasing a vehicle, and also tend to hold up well when it comes to average reliability ratings.
We used data from the Mintel Car Review 2022 to discover which factors were the most important to each generation when purchasing a car, weighting these accordingly to show the differing factors for each generation. We then ranked each car in our seed list according to their unique data and the weighting for each generation to create an image of which used cars are suitable universally, and which are more suitable to the younger gen Z and millennial buyers.