Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2022
Our rundown details the best and most fuel-efficient cars on sale today
When buying a new car, it's wise to consider how economical it’s likely to be as one of your top priorities. But should you really use your head instead of following your heart when it comes to the exciting world of new car purchases? It can be difficult but being realistic, fuel prices rarely tend to drop significantly. With that in mind, be aware of a car's official economy figures – a yardstick for how far a car can travel on a gallon of petrol or diesel known as mpg (miles per gallon).
We call it a yardstick because these figures are achieved in laboratory conditions, and can vary a little from those you'll see in daily driving. But, since all manufacturers are obliged to use the same methods in their tests, it does at least mean cars can be fairly compared against each other so you can find the cars with the best mpg.
Since 2018, the outdated NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) fuel economy and emissions testing was superseded by the WLTP (World harmonised Light vehicle Test Procedure) system. This new testing regime includes actual testing on the road, meaning new cars will have their efficiency measured using real-world conditions. However, there’s little doubt that cars have become far more fuel-efficient in recent years – irrespective of how it’s measured.
Not so long ago, a car that achieved 30mpg was seen as relatively frugal, but an average family car can now be expected to travel much farther on a gallon. With modern, turbocharged engines, a small hatchback might return upwards of double that figure, and some can go even further.
We’ve gathered 10 of the most economical cars, but since there’s more to car ownership than cold fuel-efficiency figures, we’ve taken other factors into account in our rankings. All the cars we’ve featured will be enjoyable to live with, and should fit neatly into family life. Of course, some cars are more geared towards family life than others, so we’ve also compiled a list of the most economical family cars.
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. The latest Prius is 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 undeniably strong on the economy front, though – with Toyota claiming the Prius is comfortably capable of over 60mpg, with CO2 emissions of up to 107g/km. This means an attractively low Benefit-in-Kind rate, which is bound to please company-car users. Drivers faced with short daily commutes are likely to find the Prius more cost-effective to run than a regular petrol hatchback, but driving it can take some getting used to thanks to the occasional hesitance when you press the accelerator. All in all, the Prius is a car less suited to enthusiastic driving and more to frugal, relaxing motoring.
The latest Dacia Sandero is still nearly unbeatable when it comes to value and low running costs despite the lack of a hybrid option. All the petrol engines are 1.0-litre units; our pick is the TCe 90 which returns more than 53mpg with a good level of performance. There’s no diesel engine available, but the 1.0-litre petrol/LPG powered TCe 100 Bi-Fuel is an option for higher-mileage drivers. It’s the most expensive model to buy but when running on petrol, the engine is capable of around 49mpg, while switching to cheaper LPG works out similarly economical, with up to 39mpg possible. Insurance and maintenance won't cost the earth either.
The Sandero’s budget reputation is evident on the interior when compared to more expensive rivals, but comfort and equipment levels are better than in the previous-generation Dacia Sandero. Given its price, the Dacia Sandero is a practical five-door with a decent boot and lots of equipment making it great value for money.
There’s a lot to like about the new Skoda Octavia: it has a massive boot and features a host of new technology and plenty of standard equipment. While it's a little more expensive than the old model, it's still great value for money. Its overall size places it closer to models in the class above like the Ford Mondeo, rather than direct rivals like the Focus.
Despite its size, the Octavia is cheap to run with an excellent range of standard engines to pick from. The most frugal is the entry-level diesel engine; a 2.0-litre with 114bhp. It’ll return over 65mpg, while the more powerful 148bhp version of the same engine is capable of returning 50-60mpg. Even the two petrol engines, a 109bhp 1.0-litre and a 148bhp 1.5-litre, can manage over 50mpg, with DSG equipped models getting mild-hybrid assistance.
The flagship Octavia iV is the most economical model managing 182-283mpg with CO2 emissions of 22-33g/km. It combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor producing 201bhp but this technology comes at a price, with even the entry-level Octavia PHEV costing over a third more than a conventional petrol-powered model.
Though the Kia Niro is a hybrid, it's not quite as fuel-efficient as the Toyota Prius, and the latter will have more appeal if fuel costs are your primary concern. However, the Kia Niro is attractively priced when you consider its high level of standard equipment, and is also extremely easy to live with. The Niro's squared-off design has SUV styling traits, including a high roofline for plenty of headroom for all occupants. The interior is not only spacious but even includes plenty of handy storage cubby holes. Despite its bulky shape, the Niro is easy for passengers to get into, with a far lower floor than most conventional SUVs.
Though not matching the Prius, the Niro’s claimed fuel economy of over 58mpg is still very impressive, particularly for a car fuelled by petrol, while low-speed all-electric capability helps to reduce emissions in urban environments. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra, try the Niro plug-in hybrid or the fully electric e-Niro, as these are even cheaper to run than the standard hybrid model.
There’s a version of the latest Ford Fiesta to appeal to just about everyone, including anyone looking to keep an eye on bills. Now that the 1.5-litre diesel has been discontinued, the 123bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine is the pick of the range in economy terms. It’s the same engine used in the Ford Puma SUV and features mild-hybrid assistance, which helps it return more than 56mpg. It also has a CO2 emissions figure starting at 114g/km, placing it in a mid-level BiK band for company-car drivers.
Low running costs aren't all the Fiesta has in its favour, though – Ford's supermini has long been regarded among the most entertaining small cars to drive, and the latest version builds on the talents of its predecessor. The previous model had nothing like the upmarket feel of today's car, whose well-designed dashboard is classy to look at and easy to use, while the rear seats are noticeably more generous on space, too.
The latest Vauxhall Mokka is a significant improvement over the model that came before it. While the newest iteration doesn’t come available as a hybrid, its variety of 1.2 turbocharged petrol engines are pretty efficient, standing up well against rivals such as the Honda Jazz Crosstar and Renault Captur, which are available with an electric and petrol motor working in unison. The Mokka’s 1.2 engine will return around 51mpg regardless of the power output you go for, and it sits in the middle of the BiK banding table for company cars.
The good news for diesel fans is that the Mokka is still available with a diesel option where other rivals have discontinued theirs. The 1.5-litre diesel engines will be better suited to those who frequently do lots of mileage on the motorway, although it’s around £2,000 more expensive for this option, although it sits in the lowest BiK band for company cars. The Mokka is even available as a full electric car known as the Mokka-e. The electric version will be the cheapest to run but more suitable for those doing shorter trips around town. It has a range of up to 201 miles, and while charging will take you around 7.5 hours with a home wall box, you can charge from 0-80% on a public rapid charger in around 30 minutes.
Volkswagen’s T-Roc is a crossover SUV that sits between the smaller T-Cross and larger Tiguan. Fuel economy is good on the smaller-engined entry-level models with the 1.0 TSI engine returning up to around 47mpg, and lower emissions make it a good choice as a company car. If you want a little more power, though, the 1.5 ‘TSI EVO’ engine isn’t much more costly to run, returning up to around 45mpg, though you’ll want to avoid the 2.0 petrol version because it’ll be expensive to run. Volkswagen also offers the T-Roc with two diesel engines; a 1.6 TDI version returning up to 60mpg, and 2.0 litre with an official figure around 53mpg.
While the T-Roc is cheap to run, it costs more to buy than equivalent rivals which means it’s not the best value for money. Despite this, though, the T-Roc is a good-looking car with some distinctive features in a market of crossovers that are often criticised for looking too similar to each other. The T-Roc can be specced with a variety of paint options so you can customise it to your tastes. You might also choose the T-Roc over rivals for the way it handles; considering its crossover-SUV status, it feels tight through corners without a trace of body lean while still getting the balance right in terms of comfort.
It’s been out for a few years now, but the Peugeot 208 is still one of the best cheap-to-run cars you can buy. The cheaper 1.2 Puretech 75 engine returns around 55.6mpg, but for a little added performance and improved economy, the turbocharged 1.2 Puretech 100 is the sweet spot for most buyers with a figure of 56mpg. There’s a single diesel option that returns up to 73mpg – good for high-mileage motorway drivers. It’s also good for company-car drivers, with a low-band BiK thanks to the diesel’s low CO2 emissions.
Unlike its rivals the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, the Peugeot 208 even comes in full-electric guise, dubbed the e-208. This option will save you the most in running costs, and provides up to 217 miles between charges, although it will cost you more to buy initially. However, it’s not just its low running costs that appeals; the 208 is still striking to look at despite it selling in high numbers, and the interior is finished to a high standard, too.
Crossovers and SUVs may be all the rage, but in the past the go-to practical choice was often the estate car. The 3 Series Touring comes in the traditional petrol and diesel options, but a plug-in hybrid is also available to maximise efficiency. The most efficient diesel 318d and 320d engines will get you up to 59mpg, and the petrol options in the 318i and 320i will get you around 42mpg.
Your best cheaper-to-run option, though, is the 330e plug-in hybrid, which allows you to do a range of around 35 miles on electric alone, with a petrol fuel economy figure between 150 and 200mpg. With the lowest BiK rate of the range, the 330e is the better choice as a company car. Its fuel economy combined with its estate-practicality means it’s an obvious choice for those looking for something more spacious. Buyers looking for a manual option might be disappointed, though, as the 3 Series Touring is only available as an auto.
Some say that Hyundai was more than just inspired by the Toyota Prius when it developed its own rival to that pioneering Japanese model, but the truth is that Toyota's proven template for hybrid car success would have been foolish to ignore. The Ioniq's silhouette is aerodynamically efficient and helps to reduce the effort required to push this family hatchback through the air, so its petrol engine and electric motor rarely feel overworked.
In fact, the Ioniq is a markedly faster car than the Prius, and its responsiveness is helped by the use of a conventional dual-clutch automatic gearbox instead of the Prius' variable-ratio CVT system. As a result, drivers moving over to a hybrid from a conventional petrol or diesel car will find the Ioniq feels a little more familiar than the Prius, although the latter feels a little more settled on bumpy roads. However, the Ioniq's firm setup isn't uncomfortable and it costs less than the Prius. Claimed economy of over 60mpg puts it close to the Prius hybrid in fuel-economy terms.
Besides optimising your fuel economy, there are other ways to save money on motoring. Check out our favourite cars that are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and we’ve also ranked the best hybrid and electric cars.
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