Fuel economy is important, obviously. Also obviously, the smaller the car, the more efficient it’s likely to be, generally. But of course you might not be in the market for a city car, so for this list we’re going to give you some of the most economical cars in a variety of shapes and sizes. We’re going to avoid fully electric cars too – if you’re interested in those, find out more here. For this we’re going to keep it to cars with petrol or diesel power, but including a few petrol-electric hybrids. Let’s go then.
There’s still a lot to be said for a good, honest, relatively basic runabout like the Peugeot 108. Its tiny proportions make it a brilliant town car, and yet its cabin is surprisingly spacious; there’s enough room to fit 4 adults and a few bags into a 108. Just the 1 engine choice, a 1.0-litre Puretech petrol with 72hp and with a 58.9mpg official average fuel rating. In reality, that means it’s good for a solid 50mpg around the doors, meaning it won’t cost much to run at all.
The latest Yaris was one of the surprises of 2020 because while its predecessors have been, to be frank, a little bland, this latest one drives as nicely as it looks. It’s one of the most fun small hatchbacks on the market, and at the same time its ‘self-charging’ petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain makes it good for a real world 80mpg. That’s partly because it’s capable of operating in electric-only mode for a surprising amount of time, using its 1.5-litre petrol engine only when necessary. On top of that it’s fundamentally quiet and comfortable. Highly recommended.
Vauxhall Mokka Diesel
You only need to look at the new Vauxhall Mokka to know it’s a very different thing to its predecessor, with a sharp look set off by its unusual ‘Vizor’ front grille and a standard-fit digital dashboard that’s appealingly futuristic. There’s an electric version that’s virtually indistinguishable from the internal combustion models, but if you choose a 100hp 1.5-litre diesel you’re looking at a 65.7mpg rating. Take it on the motorway and drive it carefully, and you’ll feasibly reach that figure too.
Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue
The Ford Focus is still the dynamic standard-bearer for its unmatched blend of day-to-day comfort and yet sharp handling fun. It’s something Ford has honed over many years. Choose a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol and you’ll have a slightly more pleasant, revvy sort of driving experience with your Focus, and a possible 50mpg, but the best fuel economy comes from the 120hp 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel. It rates at 81.1mpg officially, and its plentiful low end pulling power means it’s a flexible thing that feels quicker than you probably expect it to be.
Cupra Formentor eHybrid
Cupra is SEAT’s high-performance offshoot, but let’s be honest, the business case for offering 300hp-plus family crossovers alone is a weak one. So, while you can buy a Formentor with a 310hp 2.0-litre turbo engine, and it’ll give you a truly stonking (and very loud) experience, the 204hp eHybrid petrol-electric plug-in version is very nearly as exciting and still quick. Except in this case you get an official 235.4mpg economy rating, instead of the 33.2mpg of the mad one. Plus some lovely tax breaks if you’re a company car driver. Result.
Hyundai Ioniq PHEV
Immensely practical, well made, quiet and extremely economical, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV plug-in hybrid is a great choice for those looking for versatility and tax-busting fuel efficiency. It combines a 141hp 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 44.5kW (60hp) electric motor to provide a 256.8mpg economy rating. In reality you won’t achieve anywhere near that, especially if you don’t keep the battery topped up, but if you do, 3-figure economy is feasible.
Skoda Octavia 1.0 TSI e-Tec
The ‘e-Tec’ bit of this Skoda’s name denotes a mild-hybrid set-up, not to be confused with the sort of hybrid that allows an electric motor to drive the wheels. Instead, a mild hybrid gives some electrical assistance to the petrol engine to reduce its workload and improve efficiency. In the Octavia’s case it means that a 1.0-litre petrol engine, linked to a 7-speed automatic, returns a 54.3mpg efficiency rating. That’s fantastic economy in a large hatchback that is genuinely very flexible. Usual Skoda qualities apply too, of course: great quality, comfort and refinement.
Peugeot 308 SW 1.5 BlueHDI
Peugeot is making some of the most genuinely interesting, stylish and dynamic cars on the road today. So while the sound of a midsized family estate car might not seem that thrilling, the 308 SW really does break the mould. The 1.5-litre BlueHDI diesel is one of the best small diesel engines on the market – quiet and punchy – and its 65.6mpg rating means you’ll comfortably exceed 50mpg without actually trying. The cabin is sensational too. Modern and idiosyncratic while being basically comfortable.
Ah, the BMW 3 Series. An absolute staple on UK roads and for good reason. It’s always set the standard for quality feel, prestige and, most of all, superb handling. The latest 320d has mild-hybrid technology incorporated into its 2.0-litre diesel engine, which helps it achieve a 60.1mpg economy rating. You’d never think of it as an ‘eco’ car to drive though; the BMW four-cylinder diesel unit is one of the best pound-for-pound engines on the planet. Smooth, quiet and quick.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 350de
Yep, a massive Mercedes SUV has made it onto this list. Surprised? Well, while you might look at the GLE and assume it’s a highly profligate thing – we won’t say ‘gas guzzler’ …oh, damn – in fact, this GLE uses a rare diesel-electric plug-in hybrid system. It pairs a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder diesel engine with an electric motor, resulting in a 66-mile electric-only range (claimed, but one of the biggest on the market) and a frankly astonishing 313.9mpg economy rating. You’re getting nowhere near that day-to-day, but the fact remains that if you keep on top of your battery charge, otherworldly efficiency is possible.