Most economical SUVs to buy in 2021

Want an SUV, but don't want the high running costs? Check out these wallet-friendly petrol, diesel and hybrid options

BuyaCar team
Aug 19, 2021

Large SUVs used to be the symbol of extravagance, with climate campaigners taking aim at these tall, lardy, so-called "gas-guzzlers." They had a point, these cars weren't exactly eco-friendly.

However, many SUVs have been reincarnated in smaller sizes with fuel-sipping petrol and diesel engines, with a number of larger models gaining plug-in hybrid power to allow zero-emission driving around town.

When fully charged, plug-in hybrids can run largely on electrical power for between 20 and 40 miles when driven gently, making them extremely efficient on shorter journeys - especially low-speed trips. Their advantage disappears on longer trips, however, when the cars run mainly using their petrol or diesel engines, with the extra weight of the hybrid kit potentially even reducing economy once the batteries have been depleted.

It's worth bearing in mind if you're considering a plug-in hybrid, as their impressive official fuel economy figures are rarely seen in the real world - unless you only do short journeys and religiously charge the batteries once they go flat. Business users may be more interested in the low carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which result in low levels of company car tax.

Most economical SUVs

While the most economical medium and large SUVs are hybrid vehicles, the extra cost of the technology means that this tech is less common on smaller, cheaper SUVs, and so the most efficient of these models tend to be diesel-powered.

We've only selected cars based on the latest, tougher fuel economy test, known as WLTP, which also ensures that cars comply with the latest Euro 6 emissions regulations. This means that any new diesel car (and virtually every new vehicle since September 2015) will avoid new inner-city emissions charges.

Most economical small SUVs

1. Citroen C3 Aircross

Used deals from £10,895
Monthly finance from £186*
Our pick
Citroen C3 Aircross BlueHDi 100
Fuel Economy 63.1mpg
CO2 103g/km

The Citroen C3 Aircross does not have much in the way of performance or quality to speak of, however it does stand out from the crowd, and it does offer very impressive fuel economy and emissions figures.

Go for one with the 100h diesel engine and you will be pleased with the limited impact on your wallet - a 1.5-litre unit replaced a 1.6-litre unit with the same power output. That, along with the quirky looks, is the main selling point here.

CITROEN C3 AIRCROSS BUYERS' GUIDE

2. DS 3 Crossback

Used deals from £18,996
Monthly finance from £278*
Our pick
DS 3 Crossback BlueHDi 100
Fuel economy 62.7mpg
CO2 97g/km

Within this small SUV segment, the DS 3 Crossback is about as compact as they come. There is very little in the way of space inside, so larger families may need to look elsewhere.

In terms of economy, this car does not quite match the C3 Aircross, even though they share the same engine, but there is still plenty to be cheerful about as tax and fuel costs should remain low.

There is an electric version of the DS 3 Crossback, so keep that in mind if economy and emissions are your priority, but it can be a lot more expensive to buy in the first place with used prices on BuyaCar starting at £24,500.

DS 3 CROSSBACK BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Vauxhall Crossland X

Used deals from £11,990
Monthly finance from £198*
Our pick
 Vauxhall Crossland X 1.5 Turbo D
Fuel conomy 60.1mpg
CO2 105g/km

Another entrant on this list that lacks overall quality in terms of build and comfort, but the Vauxhall Crossland X does offer much more in the way of space and practicality.

With a 1.5-litre diesel engine, the Crossland X offers excellent fuel economy alongside very impressive emissions figures. So not only will you save on fuel, but also on road tax as well.

VAUXHALL CROSSLAND X BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Peugeot 2008

Used deals from £11,995
Monthly finance from £211*
Our pick
 Peugeot 2008 1.5 BlueHDi 120 
Fuel economy 58.2mpg
CO2 102g/km

Making use of a similar 100hp BlueHDi engine to the one found in the C3 Aircross and DS 3 Crossback, the Peugeot 2008 delivers fuel economy on a par with those two, but its larger size will eat into that slightly.

With a more restrained style to that of its cousins, the 2008 is an entirely different offering that is generally cheaper to purchase.

PEUGEOT 2008 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Seat Arona

Used deals from £12,822
Monthly finance from £212*
Our pick
Seat Arona 1.6 TDI 115PS FR
Fuel economy 57.6mpg
CO2 114g/km

The Seat Arona is the fastest pick within this small SUV segment. Its 1.6-litre, 115hp diesel engine packs some decent punch but remains impressively frugal with its fuel consumption.

The extra exuberance does place it behind the likes of the Crossland X for all-round economy, but it does return the best emissions figures by far.

If you’re after something with a little more zing, the Arona is not a bad way to go.

SEAT ARONA BUYERS' GUIDE

Family SUVs

1. Kia Niro

Used deals from £20,934
Monthly finance from £334*
Our pick
 Kia Niro PHEV
Fuel economy 201.8mpg
CO2 31g/km

As a plug-in hybrid, you would think the Kia Niro would be a sensible choice for reducing fuel economy, and you’d be right.

It’s powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor, a mix that delivers over 200mpg in the right circumstances. It can travel for up to 36 miles using electric power exclusively, so if your daily journeys add up to less than that you’ll be burning very little fuel at all. It’s still extremely difficult to get anywhere near that actual figure though.

This kind of technology is pricey though, so the Niro itself will be more expensive up-front than other diesel alternatives.

KIA NIRO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Mitsubishi Outlander

Used deals from £13,999
Monthly finance from £310*

Our pick Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Fuel economy 139.7mpg
CO2 40g/km

Another mid-sized SUV with plug-in hybrid tech. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was one of the pioneers within this sector, launching way back in 2013. Since then, Mitsubishi has tried to remain ahead of the competition with a major upgrade in 2018.

The overall fuel economy figures aren’t up there with the Kia Niro, but that mainly comes down the size of the engine, the 2.4-litre petrol unit has got a lot of work to do to shift the almost two-tonne Outlander.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Volvo XC60

Used deals from £33,550
Monthly finance from £501*
Our pick
 Volvo XC60 T8
Fuel economy 100.9mpg
CO2 51g/km

We’re getting towards the higher-quality end of the spectrum here with the hybrid Volvo XC60 T8 introduced in 2018 to boost this mid-sized SUV’s fuel economy dramatically.

With a claimed figure of over 100mpg, the ‘twin engine’ as it’s badged is capable of up to 33 miles of electric-only range but, much like with the Niro above, use of the petrol engine itself will bring that mpg down considerably.

Volvo later introduced a less powerful T6 plug-in hybrid model, and while it may be cheaper to buy new, the T8 will likely undercut the T6 if you're looking at used cars simply because it's available in older cars. 

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Mini Countryman 

Used deals from £22,989
Monthly finance from £356*

Our pick Mini Countryman PHEV
Fuel economy 97.4mpg
CO2 56g/km

The hybrid variant of the Mini Countryman –the S E All4 - is another that claims the potential to cover 26 all-electric miles but while this is good for short journeys, once those miles have run out fuel economy becomes much less impressive.

The diesel-powered Cooper D comes with an official fuel economy figure of 61.4mpg at a much lower initial cost, although its CO2 emissions will be much higher than the hybrid.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Renault Kadjar

Used deals from £11,000
Monthly finance from £199*
Our pick
 Renault Kadjar dCi 130
Fuel economy 65.7mpg
CO2 113g/km

If you’re looking for a Renault Kadjar that’s good on fuel there are two diesel options on offer. First, the 1.5-litre dCi 110, which is the least powerful and slowest engine in the entire Kadjar range, but does deliver the best fuel economy at 74.3mpg.

Or, alternatively, you could go for the punchier 1.6-litre dCi 130. It’s faster, which will make things like overtaking less of a strain, but it’s also available with four-wheel drive. Fuel economy is still strong too, with Renault claiming 65.7mpg.

Renault has since dropped its diesel engines, and the petrol engines aren't quite as efficient, so if you're looking for a diesel-powered Kadjar, search used.

RENAULT KADJAR BUYERS' GUIDE

Most economical large SUVs

1. Range Rover

Used deals from £71,950
Monthly finance from £1,032*
Our pick
 Range Rover P400e
Fuel economy 85.1mpg
CO2 72g/km

The Range Rover has never been cheap to run, its selection of huge capacity V6 and V8 engines has frequently seen to that. However, things changed when the much smaller 2.0-litre hybrid P400e was launched.

It’s still got plenty of power, 404hp in fact, yet its fuel economy can reach up to 101mpg if you make good use of its battery and electric driving range of up to 31 miles.

RANGE ROVER BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Range Rover Sport

Used deals from £59,950
Monthly finance from £816*
Our pick
 Range Rover Sport P400e
Fuel economy 84.1mpg
CO2 73g/km

That same 2.0-lite hybrid petrol was put into the Range Rover Sport too. It had a similar effect in this smaller car, offering the same power and efficiency.

Bear in mind that these P400e models are both considerably more expensive than their conventionally powered brethren, so any savings you make in fuel will need to be measured against that initial expense.

RANGE ROVER SPORT BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Volvo XC90

Used deals from £38,799
Monthly finance from £580*
Our pick
 Volvo XC90 T8
Fuel economy 83.1mpg
CO2 56g/km

Volvo’s T8 branded hybrid engines are both the fastest and most economical, so opting for an XC90 T8 will bring you the best of both worlds as well as that class-leading practicality.

In what is something of a recurring issue here though, the hybrid comes in at over £12,000 more expensive than an equivalent diesel model on BuyaCar, so you’ll be paying handsomely for that extra performance.

VOLVO XC90 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Peugeot 5008

Used deals from £22,000
Monthly finance from £346*
Our pick
 Peugeot 5008 1.5 BlueHDi 130
Fuel economy 72.4mpg
CO2 109g/km

The Peugeot 5008 is perhaps the only car within this large SUV segment that offers genuinely strong economy when the initial cost is also taken into account.

Although there is no hybrid model here, you do get a 1.5-litre diesel engine offering strong economy figures that won't be reliant on a full battery charge before every journey. So you’ll be getting a large dose of convenience along with that significant savings.

PEUGEOT 5008 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Seat Tarraco

Seat Tarraco front

Used deals from £27,835
Monthly finance from £403*
Our pick
 Seat Tarraco 2.0 TDI 150
Fuel economy 57.6mpg
CO2 129g/km

Another non-hybrid option, the Seat Tarraco is by no means the most economical car on this list, but its 2.0-litre diesel engine does at least offer decent economy at a somewhat reasonable price.

You’ll have to drive it very carefully indeed though if you want to achieve figures anything like the 5008.

SEAT TARRACO BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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