Best cars

Most economical family cars

Choose one of our top ten most economical family cars and you'll save money while being able to carry passengers and their luggage.

Skoda Octavia hatchback

Considering how expensive fuel is nowadays, it’s perhaps more important than ever to pick the most economical family car you can. Thankfully, advances in engine efficiency and fuel-saving tech means new cars are generally more frugal than ever.

Not so long ago, diesel was the fuel of choice if you wanted the best possible economy from a family car. However, even petrol cars are capable of returning seriously good miles-per-gallon figures nowadays, with some even getting very close to what the latest diesels can manage.

To help you pick the ideal fuel-efficient family car, we’ve made a list of the most frugal diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid on sale right now. Regardless of the engine under their bonnet, all of the cars here are very economical, as even the least efficient ones can do 62mpg.

While there is a separate category for plug-in hybrid cars, we’ve decided to include conventional hybrids in the petrol and diesel section. This is because they have considerably smaller electric-only ranges than equivalent plug-in hybrid cars, so their claimed fuel economy figures are a lot lower as a result. If you’d prefer to go fully electric for your next family car, you can check out our full guide on the best electric cars on sale right now.

Most economical diesel family cars

Their popularity may have taken a nosedive in recent years but diesel cars are still worth considering if you’re after an economical family car. It’s not just at the pumps where you’ll see the savings; as diesel engines tend to have lower CO2 emissions than petrol engines of similar power, they can also be a bit more affordable to tax.

Skoda Octavia

Skoda Octavia hatchback

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The latest Skoda Octavia is available with many efficient engine options, and the one to go for if fuel consumption is your number one priority is the 2.0-litre diesel. More specifically, it’s the 113bhp version you should go for to get the best economy. Depending on the spec, Skoda says the Octavia hatch can return up to an impressive 68.9mpg.

There’s more to like about the Skoda Octavia than its fuel economy too. Features like the big touchscreen and digital dashboard display help make the interior feel a bit more high-tech than Octavia cabins of old, and there’s lots of room inside for passengers and their luggage. If you need even more space, the Skoda Octavia is also available as an estate – and, with the 113bhp diesel fitted, it’s capable of up to 67.3mpg.

Ford Focus

Ford Focus hatchback

Ford Focus hatchback

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While not as frugal on paper, the Ford Focus runs the Skoda Octavia pretty close in the fuel economy stakes. With the most efficient 1.5-litre diesel engine under the bonnet, the Ford family hatch can return a very impressive 67.3mpg – and the estate version is pretty economical as well, with a claimed economy figure of up to 65.7mpg.

A suite of other frugal engines is available on the Ford Focus as well, including a mild-hybrid 1.0-litre petrol that’s good for 56.5mpg. Regardless of what’s under the bonnet, the Ford Focus is a very well-rounded family car that’s fun to drive, comfortable, very practical and comes with a good amount of tech.

Vauxhall Astra Sport Tourer

Vauxhall Astra Sport Tourer

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Normally, estate cars tend to be a little less efficient than their hatchback or saloon counterparts. One of the rare exceptions to that rule, however, is the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer: according to the claimed figures, the car’s 105hp 1.5-litre diesel engine can return up to 65.7mpg, regardless of which Astra variant it’s fitted to.

The Vauxhall Astra is now one of the older cars in this class but a recent midlife facelift has helped freshen it up against its newer rivals. It remains an appealing family car in other areas as well, including decent practicality and a very well judged balance between a comfy ride and fun handling.

Most economical petrol family cars

While they aren’t quite as frugal as the most efficient diesels, today’s crop of petrol-powered family cars shows you don’t always need to go for a diesel to get great fuel economy. This is especially the case if you go for a petrol hybrid, as the extra assistance from their electric motors means they can go even further per gallon than a conventional petrol-only car.

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius hatchback

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All of the most efficient petrol cars on this list are hybrids, and the most efficient of them all is the latest Toyota Prius. With its compact 1.8-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo, the hybrid hatchback is capable of returning a mighty 67.2mpg, which is only just shy of what some of the most frugal diesel family cars can manage.

It’s not just in economy where the Toyota Prius fares well. Despite the car’s sleek and rakish looks, there’s actually a decent amount of space inside, and equipment levels are fairly good across the board too. Plus, the Prius really comes to its own in town with its comfy ride and quiet powertrain, even if the skinny low-resistance tyres mean it isn’t that much fun to drive.

Suzuki Swace Estate

Suzuki Swace estate

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Under the skin, the Suzuki Swace is virtually identical to the Toyota Prius, as both cars use the exact same petrol-electric hybrid tech. As a result, the new Swace estate promises to be a very efficient family car, with Suzuki saying it’ll do 64.2mpg.

In addition to the good fuel economy, the Swace impresses with its sturdy and spacious interior and decent kit list – for a majority of buyers, the entry-level trim will come with pretty much all the tech they’ll need. Because the Swace is an estate-only car, it means there’s also a really spacious boot, so there’s plenty of room for the paraphernalia of parents with young children.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

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If the Toyota Prius appeals to you but the car’s distinctive design is a bit too much for you, then a worthy alternative is the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid. As well as being a less controversial car to look at, the Ioniq Hybrid is pretty frugal, as Hyundai claims it can do up to 62.8mpg.

The Ioniq Hybrid and its Prius rival are similar in other areas too. Both cars are in their element when driving around down, and they’re also fairly closely matched when it comes to interior space (though the Hyundai has the edge when it comes to boot space). There’s also a bit more peace of mind if you plan on keeping your Ioniq Hybrid for a few years, as it comes with a five-years, unlimited mileage warranty.

Most economical plug-in hybrid cars

For the ultimate in family car fuel economy, a plug-in hybrid is the one to go for on paper. Plug-in hybrids are capable of covering decent distances under electric power alone, which in turn means less fuel is used by the engine in comparison with a conventional petrol or diesel car. You’ll need to make the most of the electric-only range and keep the batteries charged as frequently as possible to match the official claimed economy figures.

Mercedes GLE SUV

Mercedes GLE SUV

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Despite being by far the largest car on this list, the diesel-electric plug-in hybrid Mercedes GLE is said to be the most efficient by quite some margin – claimed economy is a staggering 403.6mpg. Truth be told, you likely won’t come close to that in day-to-day driving (especially if you tend to do lots of motorway miles), though the big battery pack and the 66 miles of electric range means you should be able to drive to and from town using just the electric motor.

Because it’s such a big car, the Mercedes GLE has a very roomy interior, so children of all ages and sizes won’t be left wanting for space. Do bear in mind, however, that this plug-in hybrid model is exclusively a five-seat car, as the way the battery is packaged under the boot floor means it can’t come with the extra rear seats that are optional on other Mercedes GLEs.

Mercedes A 250 e hatchback 

Mercedes A 250 e hatchback

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The Mercedes A-Class is already a very appealing choice if you’re after an upmarket family hatchback. Its well-appointed interior is one of the most luxurious you’ll find in a car of this size and the comfy ride means the Mercedes is very relaxing to drive.

If your budget stretches far enough for the plug-in hybrid A250e version, you’ll have a posh family car with up to 44 miles of electric range and impressive on-paper fuel economy of 282.5mpg. According to Mercedes, there’s no fuel economy penalty if you’d prefer the four-door version, as it claims the A-Class saloon is just as frugal as the five-door hatch.

Audi A3 Sportback hatchback 

Audi A3 Sportback

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The Audi A3 Sportback is available with a lot of efficient engines, and the most efficient of them all on paper is the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid option. Depending on the spec you go for, the Audi A3 TFSI e is good for 41 miles of electric range and fuel economy of 282.5mpg – the latter being identical to its arch rival, the Mercedes A-Class plug-in hybrid.

Just like the standard Audi A3, the plug-in hybrid model has a very well-made and well-equipped interior. Overall space is pretty good, too, though do bear in mind the boot has shrunk quite a bit due to the way the battery has been packaged under the boot floor.

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