Most economical cars on sale now
Do you value fuel economy above everything else? Here’s a definitive list of the most economical cars on sale in the UK now
Fuel economy will probably play a large part in deciding what your next new car will be. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis – the more frugal the vehicle, the more money you’re going to save each time you make a journey.
Below we explore the fuel economy issue in detail looking at the most economical petrol, diesel, hybrid and plug-in cars on the market right now.
How to choose an economical car
Until recently, diesel cars were viewed as the automotive silver bullet for their combination of good fuel economy and low CO2 emissions. However, their popularity is now on the decline after details of the Volkswagen emissions scandal surfaced back in 2015 and questions were raised about emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter from diesel cars.
Despite this, new diesel cars are very clean and the fuel still makes a good choice for those who regularly cover long distances, as most modern diesel engines will easily return upwards of 50mpg on the motorway. Diesel buyers just need to ensure that they cover enough miles in a year to offset the extra upfront cost of a diesel engine with fuel savings.
CO2 and NOx emissions are another important factor to consider when buying a new car, due to their direct influence over the vehicle’s annual road tax. However, all the diesel cars listed here comply with the latest Euro 6 emissions standards – so they’re amongst the cleanest cars on sale today.
Our list of the most economical cars focuses on internal combustion-engined vehicles, providing you with the top ten most economical cars on sale in the UK now. But, as petrol and hybrid cars will often be a more cost-effective solution for low-mileage drivers, we have included separate pages which detail the most economical offerings for these fuel choices.
If you don’t fancy a diesel, bear in mind that the impressive official combined cycle economy figures for plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are often difficult to replicate in the real world, especially on longer journeys where they’re forced to use their internal combustion engines. However, if PHEVs are charged regularly and used for shorter trips, (where they can take advantage of their electric-only ranges), they can be extremely fuel efficient. We’ve ignored electric cars for the purposes of this page but that’s not to say you should. Our ‘best electric cars’ list will give you all the guidance you need to pick the right one.
All of the vehicles listed here have been subject to the latest WLTP test programme, which was introduced at the end of 2019 as a more accurate (and more stringent) method of measuring fuel economy. It replaced the dated NEDC system, with the hope of providing consumers with information more representative of real world driving.
Top 10 most economical cars on sale now
The most fuel efficient internal combustion-engined car currently on sale in the UK is the Peugeot 208, whose 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine returns a claimed economy figure of 68.9mpg. The best-performing petrol is the Peugeot 108, which musters a claimed 58.9mpg from its 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.
Finally, the award for the most frugal plug-in hybrid goes to the Hyundai Ioniq, which returns 256.8mpg according to the current test programme. Scroll down for our full list of the most economical combustion-engined cars on sale in the UK today...
1. Peugeot 208 1.5 BlueHDi (100PS) Active manual – 68.9mpg
The second-generation Peugeot 208 has followed in the footsteps of its forebearer, retaining its crown as the most economical car on sale in the UK. It’s available with PSA’s latest range of frugal combustion engines – but the 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel is the least thirsty option, with a claimed WLTP fuel economy figure of 68.9mpg.
Such frugality doesn’t come at the expense of performance, either. There’s a hefty 250Nm of torque on tap, which provides a respectable 0–62mph time of 9.6 seconds, a top speed of 117mph and decent in-gear acceleration – meaning the diesel unit rarely feels like a hindrance on the open road.
2= Renault Clio 1.5 dCi (85PS) Play manual – 67.3mpg
The fifth-generation Renault Clio comes a respectable second in our economy countdown, losing out to the Peugeot by only 1.6mpg. Like its main rival, the Clio is powered by an efficient 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine – although it’s considerably less powerful than PSA’s unit, with a maximum output of 84bhp and 220Nm of torque.
However, we think the Clio is better to drive than the Peugeot 208, sitting right at the top of its class with the Ford Fiesta. And, even though it’s a bit less desirable than the Peugeot, it’s as well built, better equipped and more practical, boasting a maximum capacity of 1,069 litres with the rear bench seat stowed.
2= Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI (115PS) Life manual – 67.3mpg
Volkswagen’s eighth-generation Golf hatchback ranks a joint second, despite being powered by a larger-capacity, more powerful diesel engine. The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit is a detuned version of the brand’s ubiquitous 148bhp diesel engine, which is also found in the Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Passat.
Like the more powerful variant, the engine features a dual AdBlue injection system and an additional catalytic converter, which limit the engine’s emissions to just 108g/km of CO2. Thankfully, these efficiency tweaks haven’t impacted performance much – power and torque stands at 113bhp and 300Nm respectively, which should be plenty for motorway cruising.
4. Ford Fiesta 1.5 TDCi (85PS) Trend manual – 65.7mpg
Now, we’ll admit, a diesel engine isn’t our first choice for the Fiesta. We’d much rather have Ford’s excitable 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine and stomach the increased fuel economy. It’s also worth keeping in mind that you’ll need to cover around 80,000 miles before the fuel economy gains of the diesel offset the car’s extra purchase price.
If you must have a diesel, though, here’s the raw figures. Ford’s latest 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine returns a claimed 65.7mpg in the Fiesta– and while 84bhp doesn’t sound like a lot next to the 123bhp of the comparably priced 1.0-litre EcoBoost, bear in mind that the diesel packs an extra 45Nm of torque, for a maximum output of 215Nm.
5= Dacia Logan 1.5 Blue dCi (95PS) Essential manual – 64.2mpg
If you need value, practicality and good fuel economy, the Dacia Logan MCV has got you covered. Prices start from around £8,500, which means it’s the cheapest estate car on sale in the UK today. It also boasts a maximum boot capacity of 1,518 litres and, when specced with Renault’s hand-me-down 1.5-litre diesel engine, economy figures of 64.2mpg.
As you would expect, the Logan isn’t that exciting to drive. The engineers at Dacia set up their cars for developing markets, so its mechanicals are quite basic and utilitarian. Despite this, the soft suspension system offers a smooth ride and road noise is reasonably well suppressed in the cabin.
5= Mercedes A 180 d (116PS) auto – 64.2mpg
If you’re overcome with feelings of aspiration, the entry-level Mercedes A-Class diesel can muster the same economy figures as the Logan – which is no coincidence, as it’s powered by a heavily updated version of the Dacia’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine. Revisions include a new ECU, upgraded ancillaries and a new flywheel.
Power increases by 20bhp over the Logan’s engine, to a maximum of 114bhp. There’s also a healthy 260Nm of torque, allowing the A 180 d to cover the 0–62mph sprint in 8.8 seconds. However, unlike the petrol A-Class, the diesel has a less sophisticated torsion beam rear suspension setup, which lacks the control and comfort of Mercedes’s multi-link system.
5= Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue (95PS) Zetec manual – 64.2mpg
The Ford Focus is one of the stalwarts of the British car market – and it’s easy to see why. It has a well-judged chassis, which offers a comfortable ride and an enjoyable drive. The latest version also has more cabin space than its predecessor, plus a build quality that’s a match for the best in its class.
However, the entry-level diesel can be a little breathless – despite the impressive 300Nm of torque, there’s only 94bhp on tap which means the engine struggles in its upper rev-range. At a cruise, though, it’s relatively unintrusive. On balance, we’d sacrifice a bit of economy for the 118bhp version of the same engine.
6. Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDi (100) Active manual – 63.8mpg
The latest Peugeot 308 is far cry from the mediocre mid-size models the brand was building a decade ago. For its second-generation, the 308 morphed into a classy and capable family hatch, with handsome styling and a well-equipped interior. What’s more, it’s moved onto PSA’s versatile EMP2 underpinnings, which means it’s far sharper to drive.
The platform upgrade also granted the 308 access to PSA’s range of efficient diesel engines – the most economical of which being the 99bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit found in our hypermiling favourite, the Peugeot 208. It’s also a little more refined that the company’s old 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesel and, thanks to a new catalytic converter, it’s cleaner too.
7. Peugeot 508 Fastback 1.5 BlueHDi (130PS) Active manual – 63.6mpg
Peugeot clinches another place in our countdown, this time with the stylish 508 saloon. Like its stablemates, it’s powered by PSA’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, albeit in the more potent 129bhp guise. For the keener drivers, it’s also the only engine in the 508’s line-up that can be specced with a six-speed manual gearbox.
It’s not just a pretty face, either – it’s also very good to drive, managing to be both entertaining and cosseting. Sure, there’s a bit of low-speed fidgeting but, at motorway speeds, it settles down nicely. Coupled with the coupe-style interior and supportive seats, the 508 makes an excellent place to while away the miles.
8. Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC (120PS) SE manual – 62.8mpg
The tenth-generation Honda Civic is better than its predecessor in pretty much every respect, although it still loses out in some areas to its European rivals. Build quality isn’t as good as the Volkswagen Golf or Peugeot 308 – and it’s not as fun to drive as the Ford Focus – but it’s practical, desirable and loaded with technology.
It’s also available with a 118bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel that suits high-mileage drivers down to the ground. There’s very little vibration through the steering wheel and, thanks to a meaty 300Nm of torque, it pulls strongly and willingly from low revs in pretty much any gear.
Other economical options
If none of our top 10 combustion-engined econo-boxes are to your taste, fret not – for there’s a wealth of other frugal cars on the market which have claimed economy figures upwards of 60mpg.
For example, the DS 3 Crossback can be specced with the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel engine as the Peugeot 208 but, due to the SUV’s poorer aerodynamics, fuel economy falls by around nine percent to 62.7mpg. The trade-off for this reduced efficiency is a more comfortable interior and a significant shift upmarket to PSA’s most premium brand.
Moving further upmarket, there’s the BMW 116d SE. It’s fitted with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder diesel engine, which has a maximum claimed fuel economy of 60.1mpg. And, by sacrificing a little more efficiency, buyers gain access to a sweet handling chassis, a prestigious badge and a comfortable interior fitted with BMW’s excellent iDrive infotainment system.
Top three most economical petrol cars on sale now
Up until the turn of the century, diesel power was your only choice if you needed a car with good fuel economy. In recent years, though, advancements in engine management software, fuel delivery systems and turbocharger technology have made petrol engines almost as efficient as their coal-rolling counterparts.
Currently, the most efficient petrol cars on the market deliver around 10mpg less than their diesel-engined competitors. However, petrols have lower NOx and particulate emissions than diesels and they’re cheaper to buy from the outset – so we’d recommend that you seriously consider your options if the majority of your journeys are of a shorter distance.
1. Peugeot 108 1.0 (72PS) Active manual – 58.9mpg
The Peugeot 108 is a good contender in the city car class, offering plenty of big-car features for small car cash. If we’re honest, though, it’s not our favourite – the Volkswagen Up! is more refined and the Hyundai i10 provides much more space. However, neither can match the 108 (or its twin, the Citroen C1) for economy.
Its tiny Toyota-sourced 1.0-litre three-cylinder returns a claimed WLTP fuel economy figure of 58.9mpg, which is impressive for a petrol engine. The unit produces 71bhp and 95Nm of torque, so it rarely feels underpowered around town. On the motorway, though, it’s a bit breathless and transmits large vibrations into the cabin.
2. Hyundai i10 1.0 MPi (67PS) SE manual – 56.5mpg
The Hyundai i10 offers a strong argument against the notion that “bigger is always better.” Despite being around 600mm shorter than the Volkswagen Golf, there’s still space inside for four adults and most of their luggage. It also feels much larger than its dimensions would suggest, remaining composed on the motorway when dicing with HGVs and SUVs.
As an added benefit, it’s more fun to drive than the Peugeot 108. The i10 might only have a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, but it weighs just 933kg, so the 65bhp and 95Nm of torque that it produces is plenty enough to get you up to speed. It handles neatly, too – and the ride quality is comfortable for such a small and light car.
3. Ford Fiesta 1.0T EcoBoost (95PS) Trend manual – 55.4mpg
We like the Fiesta Trend, especially now that it’s available with Ford’s excitable three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engine. It’s a little pricier than the 108 or the i10, at £16,995, but there’s a generous amount of standard equipment, including LED headlamps, privacy glass and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
It’s also leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in terms of driving dynamics. The Fiesta’s steering is light and direct, while its chassis is grippy and playful – you can throw it into corners even at high speed without fear of pushing wide. What’s really amazing, though, is that the car combines this agility with a comfortable ride and excellent fuel economy.
Top three most economical hybrid cars on sale now
Plug-in hybrids stake the biggest claims in fuel economy, with BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes, Peugeot and Toyota all insisting their vehicles are capable of returning more than 200mpg. In reality, their fuel consumption falls far short of the manufacturer claims – partly because most PHEVs are never charged and run on their internal combustion engines alone.
However, if you keep the batteries topped up and regularly use the vehicle for short trips (where you can take advantage of the car’s electric-only range), the benefits can be huge. Nowadays, there are plenty of PHEVs available with an electric-only range of around 30 miles – so, theoretically, you’d never use any fuel if you’re only travelling locally.
1. Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi Hybrid (141PS) Premium PHEV – 256.8mpg
Hyundai’s first attempt at a full-on eco car is a strong one. The Ioniq is available with electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains – the latter of which is the focus of our fuel economy run down. The system comprises a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor, for a combined output of 139bhp.
It’s not the most refined setup, though. The transition from EV to hybrid mode is a little rough and the Ioniq’s chassis isn’t quite as sweet as its main rival, the Toyota Prius PHEV – but the economy figures don’t lie. The Ioniq also has a useful electric-only range of 39 miles, which is more than enough for most daily commutes.
2. BMW X5 xDrive45e xLine (394PS) auto – 235.4mpg
Until recently, a premium SUV would have never made our “most economical cars” hit-list – but BMW has bucked the trend. Somehow, the brand’s engineers have managed to squeeze more than 200mpg from a two-and-a-half-tonne off-roader. BMW also says the X5 xDrive45e can cover more than 50 miles on electric power alone, which is amongst the best in its class.
It’s powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine and a 111bhp electric motor, which offers a combined output of 389bhp and 600Nm of torque. Performance is impressive, with the powertrain offering a hot-hatch troubling 0–62mph time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 146mph.
3. Mercedes E 300 de EQ SE (306PS) auto – 217.3mpg
German manufacturers are beginning to catch up with their Asian competitors in terms of plug-in hybrid technology. The Mercedes E 300 de is the latest challenger, offering a slightly more impressive fuel economy figure than the Toyota Prius Plug-in, but far more comfort, technology and refinement. It’ll cover 34 miles on electric power alone, too.
Naturally, the E 300 de is much more expensive than the Pruis at £47,000 – but Mercedes is trying to break the industry stereotype that luxury and fuel economy can’t co-exist. Indeed, the diesel E-Class PHEV offers much the same experience as its petrol powered siblings, with the only drawback being a slightly smaller boot, due to the 13.5kWh battery pack.
Things to consider before you buy
Always remember – when hunting for an economical car, you must choose something that will suit both your lifestyle and your wallet. It’s no good buying a city car, simply because it’s cheap to run, if you spend most of your time on the motorway.
To reiterate, diesel engines are not suitable for short trips, but perform admirably on longer journeys. Small petrol engines are the opposite, working well in town but labouring on faster roads. If you spend most of your time tooling around the back streets of a busy city, consider buying a PHEV and reaping the benefits of its electric-only range or, if your lifestyle allows it, make the switch to a pure-electric vehicle.
Which of our top 10 most economical cars would suit you best? Let us know in the comments section below…