What are the most economical cars on the UK market today? We round up the top cars for fuel efficiency
While making that decision about which car to buy, fuel economy will be a major contributing factor for a number of motorists; being able to pinpoint the most economical car on sale is undoubtedly very important. The obvious reason for this is that strong economy saves you money every time you make a journey.
Over recent times the popularity of diesel cars has been on the decline, but for many motorists who are racking up lots of miles each year, the excellent mpg figures still act as a massive draw. Diesel car buyers just need to make sure that they cover enough miles to justify the extra upfront cost of a diesel engine.
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Our list below focuses on tradition internal combustion cars, providing you with the top ten most economical cars on sale along with the five best runners up. But to reflect the current car buying climate, and the fact that petrol and hybrid cars will often be a more cost-effective answer for lower mileage drivers, we have also included separate pages for the most economical petrol cars and hybrid cars, which can be reached using the links at the top left of this page.
The hybrids are further broken down into two separate top 3 lists – one for hybrids and one for plug-in hybrids. Official combined cycle economy figures for plug-in hybrids are often incredibly hard to replicate in the real world, especially over longer journeys where these models are forced to use their internal combustion engines. If they are regularly charged and used for shorter trips, making full use of their electric-only range, however, they can be extremely fuel efficient.
Emissions of CO2 and NOX will be another factor in buyers’ minds but all of the diesel cars below have had to pass the latest Euro 6 emissions standards, so are among the cleanest diesels on sale.
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One of the biggest trends on the economical car scene over recent years has been advances in technology such as cylinder deactivation (as used by VW Group cars), and new compression developments from the likes of Mazda and Infiniti helping petrol cars close the economy gap on diesel.
Today the most efficient new petrol car you can buy is the Suzuki Celerio 1.0 Dualjet: this city car manages a fantastic 78.4mpg, but that’s over 15mpg behind the table-topping Peugeot 208 diesel.
It’s always important to note that there’s more to these fuel economy figures than meets the eye. Just like hybrids, pure diesel and petrol models won’t necessarily achieve their quoted figures as the existing fuel economy testing procedure doesn’t do a great job of replicating real world driving.
That being said, the NEDC test procedure has recently been updated and manufacturers will be quoting new WLTP figures achieved in these new tests from 2019. It’s hoped that this new set of official fuel efficiency results will provide more representative information for consumers.
In the meantime, the claimed manufacturer figures are best used as a rough guide to compare models like-for-like. Every new car on sale has been subject to the same test in controlled conditions, so it’s really a good marker for seeing which car is more efficient if you’re comparing similar models. And if you’re after one of the most economical cars on sale, we’ve got all the info below…
Most economical cars
Economical cars: best of the rest
While we’ve only listed 10 cars here, the nature of the official economy test means that a number of cars achieved the same 83.1mpg figure, meaning they all qualify in the same position. The other models included the following:
Most economical cars: things to consider
Always remember when hunting for an economical car that you must choose one that will suit your lifestyle as well as saving you cash at the pumps. For example, small city cars are great for commuting into town, but the tiny dimensions mean family trips can be uncomfortable – and there won’t be much space for the shopping.
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Diesel engines aren’t suitable for short trips, but work best for motorway travel – and small petrol engines are the opposite, working well in the city and getting noisy on faster roads. Also, diesel cars are usually more expensive than their petrol equivalents to buy and diesel prices are higher at the pumps, too, so they will be more costly to fill up. If you don’t cover long distances, a petrol car could make more financial sense. In the same way, if you go for a plug-in hybrid you’ll need to have somewhere to charge it regularly or those headline economy figures will be pie in the sky.
You need to think carefully about which car will suit your needs best before you make a decision, rather than thinking purely about the fuel economy.
Most economical cars – reviews1. Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDI
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The facelifted version of the Peugeot 208 went on sale in the UK in June 2015 with a more efficient engine range. So efficient, in fact, it’s clinched the crown of the UK’s most economical non-hybrid car – and even beats some hybrid models into a cocked hat.
The engine efficiency improvements now mean that the French firm makes the most efficient non-hybrid engine in European mass production, with the 1.6 BlueHDI achieving over 94mpg on the combined cycle.
All diesels except base 75bhp trim get stop/start as standard, while that model and the 100bhp BlueHDI diesel offer a class-leading 94.2mpg and 79g/km of CO2. A 120bhp unit is also available with a six-speed manual gearbox and emissions of 94g/km.
The 208 isn’t just economical though – it’s a good-looking and practical family hatchback, and decent to drive as well – though it can’t compete with the fun factor that the Ford Fiesta offers. So if you’re looking to buy the UK’s most economical combustion-engined car, this is it!
=2. Ford Fiesta 1.5 TDCi
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Image 3 of 28
If you want low running costs but refuse to compromise on fun, the Ford Fiesta is the car for you. Plenty of models in the supermini range promise low fuel consumption, and with the launch of the latest Fiesta, now you don’t have to opt for a fuel-efficient ECOnetic version to get an 88.3mpg combined cycle figure. This model retains the brilliant driving dynamics that have helped make the Fiesta a consistent top seller over the years, with sharp steering, plenty of grip and a decent ride.
Ford also offers a lot of hi-tech kit on the Fiesta. There’s the option of the Active City Safety Stop system, which automatically brings the car to a halt around town if it senses a collision. Plus, buyers can add MyKey, which lets parents specify a maximum speed the car can do if a teenage child borrows it.
The Fiesta has seven airbags and scored five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, while interior space belies the car’s small dimensions, with interior space that’s closing in on the larger Focus.
=2. Nissan Micra 1.5 dCi
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The old Nissan Micra was ugly, frumpy, and poor to drive but the brand-new model is a big step forward. The new car is sharply styled inside and out and rides on an all-new platform delivering much improved ride and handling.
One new addition to the range is a diesel engine. The old car only offered three-cylinder petrol units, but the 1.5 dCi in the new Micra is a proven unit which delivers excellent economy. A claimed figure of 88.3mpg is amongst the best in the supermini class, and with similarly low CO2 figures, it should prove very inexpensive to run.
Performance from the 89bhp engine isn’t exactly on pace with a hot hatchback, but it should be happy to cruise on the motorway, as well as having enough pep to keep up with traffic around town.
Inside, the Micra benefits from a much improved design over the previous model. Gone are the swathes of scratchy plastic, replaced by a good-quality dash with a classy design. There’s also plenty of space in the new Micra – making it a practical and very efficient supermini indeed.
=2. Renault Clio 1.5 dCi
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All models in the Renault Clio range promise low fuel consumption. Buy the 900cc TCe version with the £250 ECO pack (which brings longer gear ratios and low-rolling-resistance tyres), and its three-cylinder petrol turbo engine should return 62.8mpg. But the 1.5-litre diesel grabs the headlines here. With the ECO pack, this Clio delivers an amazing 88.3mpg, making it one of the cheapest cars to run on the market.
Buyers won’t have to compromise on style inside or out to cut their fuel bills. The latest Clio is sold as a five-door only, but hidden rear door handles make it look like a three-door, plus there’s a wider range of colour schemes, decals and trim options for the body and interior than on many other superminis.
And the modern dash is dominated by a cool seven-inch touchscreen display. The boot size leaves a Ford Fiesta trailing, with 300 litres of space or 1,146 litres with the rear seats folded, while low insurance group ratings add to the appeal.
5. Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi ecoFLEX
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We like the Vauxhall Astra a lot, even if it wasn’t one of the UK’s fuel economy champions, as the latest model is highly competitive in the compact hatchback segment.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Astra is one of few five-star cars in our list of the top 10 most economical cars on sale. If nothing else that demonstrates it’s much more than a one trick pony. The seventh generation Astra manages to outpoint the Ford Focus by some margin and it’s a strong challenge to the Volkswagen Golf, too.
Astra highlights include sharp styling, improved interior space, and a chassis that is very well tuned to British roads for a great balance between ride comfort and agile handling. Depending on the version you choose, you can also enjoy some very up-to-date technology features like Apple CarPlay and Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge system.
We’re here to talk economy though, and while all Astra engines are efficient and clean it’s the 1.6-litre Whisper diesel engine family comes out on top. In 109bhp ecoFLEX trim, the unit musters an admirable 85.6mg in official combined economy tests, with CO2 emissions of just 82g/km.
=6. Fiat Tipo 1.6 Multijet
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Image 7 of 28
If you are looking for a well-rounded budget hatch, then the Tipo could be for you. The combined cycle economy figures of 83.1mpg for the 1.6 Multijet Elite are sure to help make its case for buyers to purchase. That being said, there are key rivals which outperform the Tipo in important areas, such as the Skoda Rapid in boot space, but it is more than practical for most situations.
The styling takes inspiration from the 124 Spider, with a sporty wide grille and narrow headlight units. Moving to the back you will find an upright tailgate, maximising the available space in the rear of the super frugal hatch.
When on the move the Tipo feels relaxed with soft suspension and a comfy driving position, but if you do take a break from teasing the throttle, you will likely be disappointed by the driving experience as the Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus put it to shame in the twisties.
=6. Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTI ecoTEC 95 Easytronic
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Vauxhall has enjoyed years of success with the popular Corsa regularly ranking in the top five best selling cars in the UK. However, drivers looking to spend as little time at the pumps as possible should pay particular attention to the 1.3 CDTI ecoTEC version with the Easytronic automatic gearbox as it offers a combined cycle economy figure of 83.1mpg.
Sadly, the Ford Fiesta beats the Corsa for driver engagement (although the Fiesta is class leading, so that should not be a surprise). Underneath the body, the basic platform has been carried over from the last generation, but a new suspension setup has brought improved ride quality and reduced body roll.
Despite the Corsa generally being cheaper than a similarly spec’d Fiesta, you don’t have to put up with substandard or even missing technology for the price. You get LED running lights, cruise control, USB connectivity and multi-function steering wheels are fitted across the range.
=6. DS 3 1.6 BlueHDi
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The DS 3 was the first car to be offered by DS as a standalone brand. Originally it was sold as a Citroen, but strong demand helped push PSA to launch the DS brand as a separate entity. Traditionally DS favoured comfort over outright performance, but the DS 3 changed that slightly with good handling and also a composed ride. Once more, the DS is not just a pretty face, as the 1.6 BlueHDi Connected Chic 3dr will return a fantastic 83.1mpg.
Inside, the DS 3 raised the standard significantly over the rest of the PSA supermini line up back when it was launched. However, that was quite some time ago now and the rest of the supermini pack has caught, if not overtaken, the DS. Also, the ergonomics of the DS is strange. The driving position is awkward for those with long legs and the steering column and audio controls are rather fiddly.
=6. Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.3 JTDM-2
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Image 10 of 28
Back when it was launched the MiTo was pegged as an alternative upmarket hatchback. Providing an alternative to the likes of the Audi A1 and MINI. It still looks the part and the 1.3 JTDM-2 diesel engine will return an outstanding 83.1mpg on the combined cycle but objectively it falls short of its rivals in many other areas.
The MiTo design took inspiration from the 8C Competizione supercar, and its wide wheel arches and squat profile make sure the car will turn more heads than the likes of the Volkswagen Polo. The MiTo has been updated a few times during its life, but fundamentally it has changed very little during its time in showrooms.
A mark against the MiTo is its interior, which is a mixed bag of cheap plastics and poorly fitted panels, which sadly make it feel a little shoddy. Also, getting comfortable is made difficult by the huge steering wheel and dearth of scope for seating adjustment.
=6. Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi
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Image 11 of 28
The Ford Focus has been around in one form or another since 1999, and the latest MkIV model is better than ever in terms of style, practicality and driver appeal. Every Focus has been available with a diesel engine, and the latest model is no different. Though a powerful 2.0-litre diesel is available, the economy champ is the 1.5 TDCi – which returns an impressive 83.1mpg on the combined cycle.
The Focus scores strongly in other areas, too. The handling is still the best in its class, with bags of grip, sharp steering and a perfectly judged ride striking the balance between firm and comfortable.
Where the Focus is let down is in the interior, which is cramped compared to those of its hatchback stablemates, especially in the boot. Quality too isn’t quite up to scratch, and Ford’s latest infotainment system can’t compete with the best in the business. But if you want a family hatchback that’s good to drive, you can’t beat the Focus.
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