The best eco-friendly car deals

After a low-emission car, but not sure what type of power to go for? We've rounded up the best petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric options

Chris Rosamond
Jul 28, 2020

One of the major targets for car manufacturers in 2020 is a reduction in their environmental impact. As a result, we are seeing a general trend of improved fuel efficiency in petrol and diesel cars, and the gradual move towards hybrid and electric power.

Driving an eco-friendly car is always a compromise, and like all good compromises you can do it by degrees. Even if you’re sticking with petrol or diesel power there are options that are more efficient than others - and burning less fuel means emitting less CO2. So, we've rounded up some great value eco-friendly choices powered by a range of sources: petrol, diesel, hybrid petrol-eletric models, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and electric cars.

The best eco-friendly cars

Options here include simple downsizing - in the form of small engines - and clever tech solutions that improve the efficiency of larger cars. We’ve highlighted Mazda’s high compression 'SkyActiv' tech below, but there is a whole range of clever developments being added to more and more petrol and diesel cars to help reduce environmental impact - including start-stop technology (which cuts the engine when you're stopped at traffic lights) and cylinder deactivation (where half of the car's cylinders shut down when cruising along gently to reduce fuel consumption).

Next up are the hybrid options, which use a combination of batteries and petrol or diesel power to significantly increase miles per gallon and reduce CO2 emissions. There are three types of hybrid car: self-charging hybrids, mild hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Mild hybrids offer a small electric boost to increase economy slightly at a low cost, while self-charging hybrids offer greater electric assistance and may be able to power the car around town on electricity alone, with the batteries topped up when you brake.

Meanwhile, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have larger battery packs that may be capable of powering the car for up to 30 miles or so, but also need to be charged regularly, otherwise the car is predominantly powered by petrol or diesel and has the economy penalty or having to lug around the weight of batteries and an electric motor. As a result, PHEVs only really make sense if you typically do short journeys of up to around 50 miles or so and charge the car when you get back home.

We’ve also included a couple of electric cars, for those who want to go all the way in their quest to drive an eco-friendly car. Read on to check out the options, and see for yourself just how cheap it can be to go electric. Since there are now dozens of types of used electric cars available, going for a plug-in car could cost much less than you think.

Eco-friendly petrol cars

1. Dacia Sandero

Our pick Dacia Sandero 0.9 TCe
Used deals from £4,895
Monthly finance from £98

A Dacia Sandero will not be the most exotic car in your street, but it'll definitely be one of the most frugal. If you really want to eke the most out of every gallon of petrol, the 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged TCe model is the one to go for.

In most respects, the Sandero is a pretty basic supermini that’s built down to a price, but the 0.9 TCe version benefits from a thoroughly modern engine that’s pretty nippy and even fun to drive, with fuel consumption of just over 53mpg according to official WLTP combined figures. CO2 figures aren’t terrible either, at 123 g/km of CO2, so you don’t need to worry about your contribution to rising sea levels.

Part of the reason the Sandero is so cost-effective is that it uses old engineering from a previous generation Renault Clio thanks to Dacia's affiliation with the French brand, so the low price doesn't mean you're getting a low quality car.

DACIA SANDERO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Mazda 3

Our pick Mazda 3 2.0 SkyActiv-X
Used deals from £19,990
Monthly finance from £275

Mazda is renowned for cars that feel sporty, and not just the iconic MX-5 either – many of the models in the Mazda line-up are more fun on the road than rivals, and that includes the Mazda 3.

Perhaps surprisingly, being fun to drive doesn’t necessarily mean your eco credentials have to fly out of the window. Witness the sporty 180hp Mazda 3 SkyActiv-X which uses very clever tech to raise engine compression to new heights in order to most efficiently burn fuel. That’s great news for CO2, which is a low as 96g/km, while a combined WLTP fuel consumption of up to 52.3mpg is frugal too.

Considering you also get the potential to do 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds, the eco-numbers are impressive. Other Mazda 3 characteristics include great handling with little body roll and responsive steering that feels really connected to the road. It's well built, too, and while the SkyActiv-X is not the cheapest amongst its rivals, it's efficiency and quality goes a long way to justifying the price.

MAZDA 3 BUYERS' GUIDE

Eco-friendly diesel cars

1. Ford Focus

Our pick Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue 120
Used deals from £9,680
Monthly finance from £162

The Ford Focus has always been one of the most popular family hatchbacks here in the UK, but its latest diesel engine line-up makes it one of the most competitive from an economy perspective too. Pick one of the 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel variants and you can expect real world fuel consumption of between 64.2 and 62.8mpg for the 95hp and 120hp versions respectively. With super-low CO2 emissions of 91-93g/km, it makes the Focus a real winner in the eco-stakes.

The latest Focus excels in many other ways too, combining handsome looks, pleasing driving characteristics – it’s one of the nicest to drive hatchbacks around – and a spacious, family-friendly cabin. You can get five-door and estate versions, and the 1.5-litre diesel is available across a wide range of trims meaning there’s plenty of choice for everyone. There’s even an eight-speed automatic gearbox on offer too.

FORD FOCUS BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Peugeot 508 Estate

Our pick Peugeot 508 1.5 BlueHDI Estate
Used deals from £15,499
Monthly finance from £276

While SUVs may be flavour of the month, there’s no doubting the appeal of well sorted family estate car, and the Peugeot 508 is one of the most appealing – and efficient – around. It’s a great looking machine, and while not quite as roomy as the Skoda Superb, it is still supremely practical with loads of space for passengers and luggage.

It’s remarkably fuel-efficient too, especially when you pick the 1.5-litre BlueHDI diesel which returns 59.8mpg in six-speed manual guise, while emitting just 100g/km of CO2. That makes it a great choice for business users and families alike.

While the estate version’s styling isn’t quite as dramatic as the Peugeot 508 hatchback, it’s still a great looking car. It boasts comfortable suspension for relaxed cruising as well as feeling reasonably agile on a twisty road, and the interior is a real treat with fresh design and digital instruments as standard.

PEUGEOT 508 BUYERS' GUIDE

Eco-friendly hybrid cars

1. Toyota Corolla

Our pick Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-I Hybrid
Used deals from £19,552
Monthly finance from £262

The name Toyota is synonymous with hybrid cars, as the Japanese company has pretty much led the field with its range of hybrid models ever since the first Toyota Prius was introduced here in the early noughties.

All those years of testing and research have paid dividends, as now the Toyota Corolla hatchback is even more eco-friendly, with up to 65.9mpg being promised from the 1.8-litre hybrid petrol engine. It also promises CO2 emissions as low as 76g/km, which is a figure no diesel rival can hope to match.

As well as looking thoroughly contemporary, the latest Corolla offers Toyota’s legendary reliability and it’s practical, too, with a five-seat interior and reasonable boot space. As a self-charging hybrid, you won't need to plug it in overnight, which is a considerable advantage over electric or plug-in hybrid cars.

The icing on the cake is that the Corolla is one of the nicest hybrids around to drive, with a nimble chassis and plenty of grip.

TOYOTA COROLLA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Suzuki Ignis

Our pick Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SHVS
Used deals from £9,485
Monthly finance from £151

With its chunky off-roader style and city car dimensions, the funky Suzuki Ignis makes a pretty sound eco-choice whichever one you pick. Go for the mild hybrid SHVS version of the 1.2-litre engine and you’ll be driving a stylish SUV-themed machine capable of 54.1mpg – or 48.6mpg if you opt for the 4x4 drivetrain. CO2 emissions start at 98g/km for the two-wheel drive version.

In spite of its off-road style, the Ignis is at its best around town, where it’s perfectly proportioned as well as being easy and fun to drive. The high roofline and boxy body shape mean the Ignis is surprisingly roomy in spite of the small amount of tarmac space it takes up. The Ignis also has a reasonably-sized boot, which is bigger than a Skoda Citigo’s, but you lose quite a bit to mechanical hardware if you opt for the 4x4 version. The cabin has a stout and sturdy feel that matches the rugged exterior perfectly, which all helps add to the Ignis SUV’s character.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS' GUIDE

Eco-friendly plug-in hybrid cars

1. Volvo XC60

Our pick Volvo XC60 T8 PHEV
Used deals from £35,830
Monthly finance from £517

If you want a luxurious and high-performance SUV, but want to reign-in your environmental impact, then the 401hp Volvo XC60 T8 could be the way to go. Power comes from a combination of a 315hp supercharged and turbocharged 2.0 petrol engine, coupled to an 86hp electric motor. That’s enough to see 0-62mph delivered in 5.3 seconds.

As with any plug-in hybrid, you need to make sure your driving patterns fit the necessity to charge the onboard batteries via a cable overnight. Also if you regularly drive long distances, it pays to remember the XC60 T8’s efficiency will be severely blunted once the batteries are depleted on a run.

If you can take those factors onboard, then Volvo’s XC60 PHEV has plenty going for it. It will drive 28 miles (max) on electric power alone, and the official figures quote fuel economy of 134mpg and CO2 emissions of 49g/km. Real world fuel consumption figures will undoubtedly be much, much lower, but still significantly better than you have a right to expect from a fast SUV. If you don’t want to use all the performance, then driven more gently the XC60 is a refined and comfortable cruiser too, and it’s packed with the latest safety and tech – including semi-autonomous systems like adaptive cruise control and steer-assist.

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi PHEV
Used deals from £21,290
Monthly finance from £292

The Hyundai Ioniq plug-in-hybrid offers super-low running costs and emissions without the range anxiety of an electric vehicle. It’s so efficient that Hyundai claims up to 257mpg is achievable using the optimum blend of electric and petrol power, and the quoted CO2 emissions figure of just 26g/km is remarkable too.

To get anywhere near the quoted figures you’ll need to do most of your mileage on battery power, but the 39-mile range on battery alone make the Ioniq PHEV ideal for many drivers’ commutes. Drive beyond the range of battery life and fuel efficiency begins to plummet, as the engine has to take the strain.

The plug-in Ioniq’s performance is equivalent to a mainstream diesel model, with the combination of 60hp electric motor and 104hp 1.6 petrol engine working together to deliver 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds. The responsive electric motor means acceleration feels snappy around town too.

Throw in a very comfortable and lavishly equipped cabin, competent handling and good ride comfort, and the Ioniq just beats the rival Toyota Prius PHEV as our favourite hybrid in the class.

HYUNDAI IONIQ HYBRID BUYERS' GUIDE

Eco-friendly electric cars

1. Nissan Leaf

Used deals from £16,499
Monthly finance from £263

The first Nissan Leaf was a big seller by electric car standards, but the second generation that arrived in 2018 moved the bar considerably higher.

It’s not just the impressive range and performance of the 40kWh battery and 110kW motor that moved the game along. Instead Nissan offered us an entirely new car with sharp modern styling that’s actually good to drive. The standard Leaf has 150hp and knocks off 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds, but you can also get a Leaf e+ with a bigger 67kWh battery that will do it in under 7 seconds. The e+ spec also increases range to a mighty 239 miles in the official figures, which is impressive.

The Nissan Leaf is a technological powerhouse, especially in Tekna trim where it comes with Nissan’s ProPilot autonomous driving features like lane-keeping and self-parking – optional on other trim levels.

Charging at home with a wallbox takes 6.5 hours, or 10 hours for the 62kWh battery, but you can use rapid chargers too if you plan stops into longer journeys.

NISSAN LEAF BUYERS' GUIDE

2. VW e-Golf

Used deals from £21,999
Monthly finance from £323

The VW e-Golf feels like a proper grown-up electric car, not something quirky or space-age designed for trendy ‘early adopters’. In fact, from the outside you may not recognise it as an electric car at all, as to all intents and purposes it looks just like a regular Golf.

We’d recommend sticking to a post 2018 version, as the battery was upgraded to give a claimed range of 186 miles (we reckon you'll get about 130 miles in the real world) and the e-Golf got a more powerful 99kW motor – both significant benefits, which the Golf needed to remain competitive.

The ride is firmer than a standard Golf, and it leans a bit more in corners thanks to the weight of the batteries, but what you lose in driver appeal you gain in low running costs and zero tailpipe emissions.

The e-Golf loses 40 litres of boot space to the petrol model, but in all other respects it’s just as practical as a regular five-door. As long as you can live with the range, that is, and have somewhere to charge it – with the fastest domestic wallbox it will take hours from ‘empty’.

VOLKSWAGEN E-GOLF BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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