Best cars for fuel economy 2020

Spend less filling up and cut emissions too: these are the best petrol, diesel and hybrid cars for fuel economy

BuyaCar team
Jan 31, 2020

You don't need an electric car to cut your fuel costs. While electrification is the prime focus of virtually every manufacturer these days, there has also been substantial progress in the efficiency of petrol and diesel engines.

Tougher efficiency and emissions tests have forced carmakers to reduce the environmental impact of their cars, which generally means better fuel economy and lower emissions.

If you're looking to maximise your fuel economy, then the best type of car for you will depend on how you drive. If you can charge up at home, then a plug-in hybrid is worth considering - a fully charged battery will handle the majority of a 30-mile trip meaning fuel use is basically zero unless you need to undergo longer journeys.

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids are more expensive than your standard petrol or diesel car though (all-electric cars are even more so), so if you are intending to use your car for more than 30 miles at a time it's likely that the fuel savings will be wiped out by the initial cost of the car.

Best cars for fuel economy

We've listed the most efficient cars from each group below. We've only included vehicles with fuel economy figures generated from the latest official fuel economy test, known as WLTP, which provides a more realistic estimation of real-world conditions.

If you do opt for diesel, then it's worth ensuring that it complies with the latest emissions standards, known as Euro 6, to avoid additional charges such as ULEZ and CAZ. Since September 2015, virtually every new car has met this standard.

Best plug-in hybrid cars for fuel economy

1. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid
Fuel economy 247.8mpg
CO2 26g/km
Latest Hyundai Ioniq deals from £11,649
Monthly finance from £147

It's hard to look beyond the official fuel economy and CO2 figures for the Hyundai Ioniq, which hint at a single, annual trip to the petrol station and emissions that are cleaner than the air that you breathe.

But the outstanding aspect of the Hyundai is what happens once you've got beyond the range of the fully charged battery (around 25 to 30 miles). Because although the fuel economy isn't close to the headline figures (you'll be visiting the petrol station more frequently than one a year), you can still achieve around 70mpg by driving smoothly. That's better than any standard diesel or petrol car.

Prices are reasonable too, now that used versions are available from BuyaCar at prices starting from £14,793. CO2 emissions are also well within the lowest company car tax band, ensuring low rates for business users. Just don't confuse the plug-in car with the standard, less-efficient Ioniq hybrid.

Hyundai Ioniq buyers' guide

2. Toyota Prius

Our pick Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
Fuel economy 235mpg
CO2 28g/km
Latest Toyota Prius deals from £13,000
Monthly finance from £138

There's really very little to split the Toyota Prius Plug-in from the Hyundai Ioniq. Both cars can power themselves for around 30 miles with a fully-charged battery pack, and both qualify for low company car tax. They are also evenly matched when it comes to long-distance fuel economy, which can average around 70mpg as long as you're gentle on the accelerator.

However, the Prius falls behind when it comes to real-world practicality: the 191-litre boot is tiny, particularly compared to the 341 litres available in the Ioniq.

Toyota Prius buyers' guide

3. Kia Niro

Our pick Kia Niro
Fuel economy 201.8mpg
CO2 31g/km
Latest Kia Niro deals from £12,670
Monthly finance from £172

The large Kia Niro doesn't look particularly efficient, but that's part of its appeal: it's a popular crossover car, which uses the same mechanical parts as a conventional hatchback, but packages them in a taller shape for a higher driving position and a little more space.

When fully charged, its battery pack can power the car for around 25 miles, although the petrol engine does boost power when accelerating or going up hills. Despite lower official fuel economy figures than the Prius and Ioniq above, real-world efficiency is similar, so 65-70mpg on a motorway journey is achievable.

Kia Niro buyers' guide

Best hybrid cars for fuel economy

1. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2 84g/km
Latest Hyundai Ioniq deals from £11,649
Monthly finance from £147

The Hyundai Ioniq hybrid may be less efficient than the plug-in version, but fuel economy is impressive for a hybrid car. Used car prices are increasingly affordable and the car's five-year warranty matches the cover offered by Toyota.

The Ioniq is also a good car in general. It's comfortable, quiet and has enough space to carry a car-load of adults.

Hyundai Ioniq buyers' guide

2. Toyota Corolla

Our pick Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Fuel economy 62.7mpg
CO2 76g/km
Latest Toyota Corolla deals from £15,277
Monthly finance from £220

Toyota made hybrid cars mainstream with its Prius but the latest car doesn't make this list because the company hasn't yet published the vehicle's fuel economy figures from the latest official tests. The same technology features here in the new Toyota Corolla, though.

You may find the design of the car more appealing than the quirky Prius, and it's also nimbler to drive, with a sharper response when turning in to corners. Efficiency is similarly high, with the biggest gains to be made in slow town driving, where the hybrid system recovers energy usually lost during braking in stop-start traffic.

Toyota Corolla buyers' guide

3. Lexus CT

Our pick Lexus CT 200h
Fuel economy 59.3mpg
CO2 101g/km
Latest Lexus CT deals from £11,499
Monthly finance from £175

The Lexus CT is efficient, which is fortunate because the ageing hatchback has fallen behind the competition in other areas. The quality that sees Lexus regularly topping reliability charts is in evidence, but the car is firm over bumps, making life uncomfortable for passengers over unmade roads. It's cramped in the back too.

The advantage of having been on sale for several years is that used cars are cheap.

Lexus CT buyers' guide

Best diesel cars for fuel economy

1. Peugeot 208

Our pick Peugeot 208 1.5 BlueHDi 100
Fuel economy 67.7mpg
CO2 95g/km
Latest Peugeot 208 deals from £5,000
Monthly finance from £101

In some ways, this Peugeot wins the category by default because there are decreasing numbers of small and light cars that are fitted with diesel engines. That's partly down to reduced demand for diesel, and partly because diesel engines aren't suited to the shorter journeys that these cars often do. If you're covering fewer miles then the extra efficiency of diesel over petrol is less likely to repay the higher purchase price, and the exhaust filters that clean up emissions can easily become clogged without regular high-speed trips.

But if you are looking for a small car to cover long distances, then the Peugeot 208 is a decent choice. It will soon be replaced, so new car discounts are plentiful and used cars are cheap. It's smooth during motorway driving (but can become unsettled over bumps at slower speeds) and fuel economy in the real world is around 56mpg.

Peugeot 208 buyers' guide

2. Ford Focus

Our pick Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue 95PS
Fuel economy 64.2mpg
CO2 91g/km
Latest Ford Focus deals from £5,500
Monthly finance from £100

Ford's new range of diesel engines are badged EcoBlue, promising extra efficiency and reduced emissions. it performs well in the official fuel economy measure but real-world testing, published by the Equa Index, shows that you'll see around 48mpg in normal driving.

Carbon dioxide emissions are below 100g/km, bringing low levels of company car tax and the car is quiet - once you've got it up to speed.

Ford Focus buyers' guide

3. Citroen C3 Aircross

Our pick Citroen C3 Aircross BlueHDi 100
Fuel economy 63.1mpg
CO2 103g/km
Latest Citroen C3 Aircross deals from £8,691
Monthly finance from £125

The C3 Aircross is unashamedly family-friendly, avoiding sleek styling and a sporty driving feel for comfort and practicality. The diesel version is a good choice, providing a shove of power without the need to rev the engine, which makes driving quieter and more relaxing.

Crucially, the car is efficient on public roads, without having to adopt a frugal driving style. Real-world testing , published in the Equa Index, estimates that 56mpg is a realistic expectation: a figure that's better than the Ford Focus, above, despite that car's higher official figure.

Citroen C3 Aircross buyers' guide

Best petrol cars for fuel economy

1. Suzuki Celerio

Our pick Suzuki Celerio 1.0
Fuel Economy 58.9mpg
CO2 89g/km
Latest Suzuki Celerio deals from £4,695
Monthly finance from £90

The key to making an efficient petrol vehicle is to start off with a car that's small and light and then to fit it with a small and light engine. The results are diesel-rivalling fuel economy figures, but performance isn't a priority.

And so, you'll need to wait 13 seconds for the Suzuki Celerio to accelerate from 0-62mph - longer if you're driving efficiently, with a light touch on the accelerator. Real-world fuel economy of around 55mpg is remarkably close to the official figure. This is a car that leans in corners, bounces over speed bumps and has a plasticky interior, but it's one of the cheapest cars on sale today, so you'll be spending very little money all round.

Suzuki Celerio buyers' guide

2. Citroen C1

Our pick Citroen C1 VTi 72
Fuel economy 57.3mpg
CO2 93g/km
Latest Citroen C1 deals from £4,000
Monthly finance from £78

If you've recently passed your driving test, then there's a good chance that the Citroen C1 is on your list of potential first cars. It's cheap, with low insurance costs and - from new - available with Citroen's SimplyDrive finance, a 'Fuel and Go' package that includes the cost of finance, insurance, servicing and tax in a single monthly payment.

The Citroen is efficient too. Real-world testing published in the Equa Index estimates that you can expect 52mpg, although acceleration is slow. It looks distinctive and newer versions come with modern gadgets, including a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with all but the entry-level Feel models.

Citroen C1 buyers' guide

3. Peugeot 108

Our Pick Peugeot 108 1.0
Fuel Economy 57.3mpg
CO2 93g/km
Latest Peugeot 108 deals from £4,465
Monthly finance from £84

Underneath the metal, the Peugeot 108 uses exactly the same components as the Citroen C1 (both brands are owned by the same company) so it's no surprise that fuel efficiency and emissions are identical. Like the C1, new Peugeot 108s are available with all-inclusive 'Just Add Fuel' finance, while used cars come at extremely reasonable prices.

Real-world fuel economy of 52mpg, should keep petrol station visits to a minimum, even though performance from the 72 horsepower engine is pedestrian - just as it is with the Citroen C1.

Peugeot 108 buyers' guide


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