Most economical cars

Last updated: Aug 20, 2014

The rising cost of fuel means that manufacturers face a constant battle to make their cars cheaper to run. Today's new car buyers have even more economical models than ever to choose from.

The latest diesel cars – such as the Golf BlueMotion and Peugeot 308 BlueHDi – now far exceed the economy of tiny petrol-engined city cars, while the number of hybrids on sale has never been bigger. The result is that no car here delivers less than 85mpg. The impressive BMW i3 tops the list with an incredible 470mpg.

If you are looking for a car that produces low CO2 emissions – to beat London's congestion charge and get cheap road tax – we would also suggest reading our guide to the best hybrids. Or check out our guide to the top ten electric cars for the ultimate in low running costs.

But for now, keep reading our list of the top 10 most economical cars on sale in the UK today.

BMW i3 hatchback

In the future, the BMW i3 may well be seen as the turning point, when consumers started moving from conventional cars to electric and hybrid vehicles. BMW has developed the i3 from the ground up, rather than basing it on an existing model. The result is a lightweight four-door hatchback that looks unlike any other car on the road. The i3 is sold as an electric vehicle, but it’s the BMW i3 Range Extender model we’re more interested in here. It can be charged from an electrical socket but it can also use its small petrol engine to charge its battery, giving a range of more than 200 miles and fuel economy of 470mpg. There are few compromises to be made in the i3 – it’s surprisingly quick away from the lights, has a classy interior, and has a decent amount of space inside. Read more.

Key points

4.4 / 5
Price 
£30,680 - £33,830

Vauxhall Ampera hatchback

Vauxhall’s engineers may not have followed BMW’s ground-up approach when they designed the Vauxhall Ampera, but it’s still a very clever car. Just like the BMW, the Ampera range extended electric car has a petrol engine that is used to charge the batteries rather than directly turn the wheels – allowing it to return up to 235.4mpg. The powerful electric motor also lends the Vauxhall an impressive turn of speed. It might lack the outlandish looks of the i3, but the Ampera is still quite futuristic. As with the BMW, the Ampera can fit four people, but its interior isn’t a patch on the beautiful design of the BMW. The Ampera is mechanically identical to the Chevrolet Volt, but with Chevrolet’s planned departure from the European market at the end of 2015, it’s hard to recommend. Read more.

Key points

3.5 / 5
Price 
£33,750 - £35,495

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

You’ll struggle to spot a Volkswagen Golf GTE hybrid (its a standard Golf shown above) from a conventional Golf – flashes of blue exterior trim are the most obvious changes. Its conventional shape hides a sophisticated petrol engine boosted by an electric motor that can return fuel economy of up to 188mpg. The GTE almost matches the performance of the fast Golf GTi, but can travel up to 31 miles on battery power alone. It can be recharged in just three hours from a domestic three-pin plug. As with any other Golf, the GTE has smart looks inside and out, a spacious interior, and a good-sized boot. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£17,175 - £25,770

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV

The Mitsubishi Outlander is by some margin the most economical SUV on sale today – it can return up to 148mpg and travel 31 miles using only battery power. It can be charged from a mains electricity socket or the batteries can be charged by the engine. Turning the Outlander into a plug-in hybrid means there’s only space for five seats (not seven), the boot’s 14 litres smaller and the rides slightly firmer, but there are few other compromises. It gets the same raised driving position and grippy four-wheel drive. Mitsubishi has priced it competitively, so once you subtract the £5,000 Government grant (which applies to all plug-in hybrids and electric cars) it closely matches the diesel Outlander. Read more.

Key points

4 / 5
Price 
£33,304 - £40,054

Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback

The Toyota Prius brought the world the first mass-produced hybrid and the Toyota Prius Plug-In offers even more economy. It costs around £5,000 more than the standard car, but is capable of fuel economy of up to 134.5mpg and is free from paying London’s congestion charge. The Plug-In differs from the standard Prius in that is can be charged from an electrical socket to provide electric-only journeys. The standard car relies on the engine and clever brake technology to charge the battery. The Prius has a spacious interior with a 443-litre boot that easily trumps the Volkswagen Golf’s and a decent amount of room in the back, although the sloping roofline harms rear headroom. The electric motor means the Prius is very quiet, but the car’s heavy batteries mean it is not as smooth riding as the conventional car. Read more.

Key points

3.2 / 5
Price 
£21,995 - £33,395

Peugeot 308 hatchback

A fuel economy figure of 91.1mpg means the Peugeot 308 BlueHDi is the first conventionally powered (non-hybrid or electric) car to make it onto our list. The car’s powered by a 1.6-litre diesel engine that produces 118bhp and can get the Peugeot from 0-62mph in 10 seconds. Peugeot managed to shave 140kgs off the weight from the old 308 to get these impressive figures. A system that treats the car’s exhaust gases means CO2 emissions are so low that road tax is free. Peugeot has made huge gains in quality, but the 308 can’t match the superb build quality of the Volkswagen Golf. Read more.

Key points

3.8 / 5
Price 
£14,895 - £25,845

Porsche Panamera hatchback

The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is here to prove that hybrids need not be boring. Its supercharged V6 petrol engine can power the Porsche from 0-62mph in just 5.5 seconds, but is also capable of 91mpg fuel economy, qualifies for free road tax, and is also exempt from London’s congestion charge. The Porsche’s exterior looks are an acquired taste, but once inside you can enjoy the car’s beautifully built interior and a driving experience that makes it one of the most fun-to-drive saloons currently on sale. That said, although it’s faster, it isn’t as much fun as the Panamera Diesel. Read more.

Key points

3 / 5
Price 
£63,913 - £131,152

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

You’ll struggle to spot a Volkswagen Golf GTE hybrid (its a standard Golf shown above) from a conventional Golf – flashes of blue exterior trim are the most obvious changes. Its conventional shape hides a sophisticated petrol engine boosted by an electric motor that can return fuel economy of up to 188mpg. The GTE almost matches the performance of the fast Golf GTi, but can travel up to 31 miles on battery power alone. It can be recharged in just three hours from a domestic three-pin plug. As with any other Golf, the GTE has smart looks inside and out, a spacious interior, and a good-sized boot. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£17,175 - £25,770

Kia Rio hatchback

The Kia Rio signalled a new breed of Kia thanks to its European looks and up-to-date driving characteristics. Go for the 1.1-litre diesel engine and you also get a car that can return fuel economy of 88.3mpg and is exempt from paying road tax. But, while the Golf can deliver this economy with little compromise, the Kia’s noisy and slow. Nevertheless, go for the five-door Rio and you get a practical car that can comfortably sit four and is cheap to buy. It’s still an excellent budget option. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£10,095 - £16,695

Ford Fiesta hatchback

The Ford Fiesta is the most fun car of its type to drive, and that doesn’t look set to change anytime soon. The latest model gets a chrome grille to make it look more upmarket, while the interior gets close to Volkswagen’s quality and is arguably more stylish to look at. Go for the ECOnetic model and it will return 85.6mpg and is free from paying road tax, although the flipside is that it is both noisy and slow. Nonetheless, the attributes that made the Fiesta our small car of the year make it easy to forgive its downsides. Read more.

Key points

4.7 / 5
Price 
£9,995 - £17,995

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