Most economical cars

Last updated: Mar 7, 2016

It's slightly cheaper than it once was, but fuel remains one of the biggest costs facing UK motorists. Where your average hatchback might only have managed 35mpg 10 years ago, it's not uncommon to find cars that’ll manage twice that these days.

That's even better news when you consider that there are more fuel-efficient models available than ever before.

When you think of fuel-efficient cars, you might think of electric cars or hybrids – and with very good reason. But continual advances in petrol and diesel engine technology means they’re improving all the time.

You won’t be surprised to see a few hybrids (like the Toyota Prius) on this list, along with plug-in hybrid models, which can be charged from a household socket overnight and driven like an electric car. But when their battery is drained, a conventional engine cuts in to increase the car's range.

Plug-in hybrid models like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV can provide exceptional real-world fuel economy if you make frequent but relatively short journeys.

Diesel provides the best fuel economy of all conventionally powered cars, even if they are currently under scrutiny due to the emissions they produce. The Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi 75 S&S (Stop & Start) is capable of an incredible 94.2mpg, if you drive carefully.

If you’re looking for a car that produces very low CO2 emissions – to beat the London Congestion Charge or to benefit from free road tax – we’d also suggest reading our guide to the best hybrids. Or check out our guide to the best electric cars for the ultimate in low running costs.

Because it's impossible to compare fuel economy against the cost or usability of an electric car, we’ve excluded them from our list. But you can find out which are the best in our top 10 electric cars feature. And the cars below aren’t in order of possible miles per gallon – they’re all frugal, but are listed in order of our overall preference.

Citroen C4 Cactus SUV

There’s no mistaking the Citroen C4 Cactus for anything else. With that bold styling and those huge ‘Airbumps’ – rubbery panels designed to protect against car-park dents – it looks like a concept car for the road. Yet behind the extrovert looks lies a spacious and practical interior. It’s cheap to buy, too. Citroen has worked hard to make the Cactus as light as possible and that in turn improves fuel consumption. You can choose from a 1.2-litre petrol, which is surprisingly smooth on a long motorway jaunt. But here we’re more interested in the 1.6-litre BlueHDi model, which is capable of a very impressive 83.1mpg and CO2 emissions of less than 90 grams per kilometre. Some cars might be more economical, but none offers such a great blend of looks, space and an affordable price tag. Read more.

Key points

5 / 5
Price 
£12,990 - £19,960

BMW i3 hatchback

The BMW i3 may well be considered a landmark car in time. That’s not just because it uses F1-style lightweight carbon-fibre materials throughout. Or because it looks radical. Or even that it’s a really useable electric car. It’s mainly because, along with the BMW i8 and Tesla Model S, it’s finally made electric cars cool. There are two versions of the BMW i3 – a fully electric model and a ‘Range Extender’ version. The latter is the one we’re most interested in here, because it’s as useable as a conventional car. You can charge it at home, like any other electric car, but once the battery is depleted, a small petrol engine steps in to recharge it and keep you moving. That means it has a range of more than 200 miles (on a full charge and a full tank) and claims 470mpg fuel economy. Although we should point out that figure will vary enormously depending on whether you do mainly short or long journeys. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£30,980 - £43,500

Peugeot 208 hatchback

In a world of electric cars and hybrids, you still can’t discount diesels when it comes to brilliant fuel economy. The Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi 75 S&S uses start-stop technology to ‘pause’ the engine when you’re waiting in traffic and returns a remarkable 94.2mpg. It’s also fitted with an aerodynamic spoiler to help the 208 slip through the air as efficiently as possible, along with special tyres that require less effort from the engine to turn them. But elsewhere, this ‘eco’ version of the 208 is exactly the same as any other model in the range. That means buyers enjoy a handsome and well equipped small hatchback that offers plenty of practicality. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5
Price 
£12,065 - £18,615

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV

Think SUVs are expensive to run? Think again. Despite the four-wheel-drive capability offered by the big Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, it can still travel 31 miles on battery power alone and record an official fuel consumption figure of 157mpg. But like the i3 above, that number is a very rough estimate: drive everywhere on batteries and you might never use any petrol; drive longer journeys every day and you’ll see consumption plummet. The five-seat Outlander PHEV comes with few compromises – you get a boot that’s slightly smaller than the diesel’s, but enjoy the same raised driving position and grippy four-wheel drive. It also makes a superb and affordable choice for company-car drivers. Plus, once you take the government’s £5,000 plug-in car grant off, it’s no more expensive than the standard Outlander. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£34,304 - £45,554

Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback (2009-2015)

Think of a hybrid and it’s more than likely the Toyota Prius will be the first car to pop into your head. That’s because it was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid and has become the poster boy for the hybrid movement. Today, there are two main versions available – the standard Prius hybrid and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid. The latter is about £6,400 more expensive even after the government’s £5,000 plug-in car grant has been deducted, but its fuel economy is excellent. Toyota claims 134.5mpg is possible and it can travel up to 15.5 miles on a full charge from a household socket. But like the other plug-in hybrids here, your mileage will vary. Even so, for drivers with short daily commutes, the Prius Plug-In will be an exceptionally cheap car to run. It’s an easy car to live with, too, thanks to a pleasantly large boot and the quiet motoring you’d expect from such a car. Just a firm ride and limited rear passenger space count against it. It’s worth noting that a new Toyota Prius will go on sale shortly. Read more.

Key points

3.2 / 5

Peugeot 308 hatchback

It can’t quite match the most efficient versions of the Peugeot 208 when it comes to making a gallon of diesel go as far as possible. But the larger Peugeot 308 BlueHDi is still capable of an incredible 88.3mpg, which is certainly no disgrace. Like the 208, the most frugal version of the 308 is powered by a 1.6-litre diesel engine that produces 118bhp. It’ll do 0-62mph in 10 seconds, which is surprisingly rapid given the stunning fuel consumption. That’s aided by lightweight construction – the current 308 is some 140kg lighter than the old model. It uses a system that treats exhaust gases meaning its CO2 emissions are just 82g/km and you’ll pay no road tax. There’s no doubting the economy, but the car can’t quite match the quality feel of the Volkswagen Golf. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£15,495 - £28,455

Porsche Panamera hatchback

The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is proof, if any were needed, that economical cars can be fast and fun. It uses a supercharged V6 petrol engine and electric motors to deliver an enticing blend of speed and low running costs. The 91mpg it’s capable of is barely believable when you consider it’s also able to accelerate from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds. Those two figures are mutually exclusive, though; use that incredible performance and you can expect to fill up with unleaded far more often. The Panamera’s looks aren’t for everyone, but the interior is great. It’s hugely fast, but the slightly slower Panamera Diesel is more entertaining. Read more.

Key points

3 / 5
Price 
£63,913 - £131,152

Kia Rio hatchback

Forget the Kia Rio of old. The latest model is a handsome and well-built Fiesta rival and a comparative bargain of a car. You can choose from the sportier-looking three-door or the more practical five-door. But whichever you go for, you’ll benefit from Kia’s industry-leading seven-year warranty. For the best fuel economy, you’ll need to pick the 1.1-litre diesel – one of the smallest diesels on sale. It can return more than 88mpg and has CO2 emissions so low that you won’t pay any road tax. It’s not perfect, though, mainly due to the 1.1-litre engine’s performance (or rather lack of it) and the fact that it’s quite noisy at speed. Even so, the Kia is still an excellent budget option. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£10,345 - £17,445

Ford Fiesta hatchback

The Ford Fiesta is Britain’s biggest-selling car – and for good reason. It looks great, has plenty of equipment and is more fun to drive than any little hatchback has the right to be. The interior quality isn’t far off that of a Volkswagen Polo, and with a wide range of trim levels and options, there’s something for everyone. Choose the Fiesta 1.5-litre Duratorq TDCi ECOnetic with Auto-Start Stop (to give it its full name) and 88.3mpg is possible. But that model is both noisy and slow, so we’d recommend the non-ECOnetic version of the 94bhp 1.5-litre engine, as it’s noticeably faster to accelerate, but only marginally less efficient. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£10,245 - £18,495

Hyundai i20

Under the metal, the Hyundai i20 is very similar to the Kia Rio and majors on space and practicality. The i20 has a huge boot and some of the best interior space of any small hatchback. Although there’s a sporty-looking i20 Coupe available, the most efficient version is the 1.4-litre diesel. If you’re after the five-door, then you can enjoy the excellent economy offered by the same 1.1-litre diesel engine you can get in the Rio. That means the promise of more than 88mpg and no road tax. But like the Rio 1.1, the i20 is slow and noisy at speed. But if around-town motoring on a budget is paramount, the Hyundai i20 is a good choice. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£10,995 - £17,700