Best diesel small cars

The best diesel small cars are extremely economical to run without compromising on performance or enjoyment behind the wheel

Joe Holding
May 27, 2021

Diesel models are great cars if low running costs are on your list of priorities. They’ll typically go further on a tank of fuel than equivalent petrols, saving you money in the long run.

This is especially true if you cover a lot of miles over the course of a year; the further you drive, the more time you have for a diesel to save you money with its lower fuel costs.

Small diesel cars are a force to be reckoned with too. These will give you the lowest running costs of just about any type of affordable car, but they’ll still deliver in several other departments.

If you want a vehicle that’s fun to drive, or quiet on the move, or that’s powerful enough to tow a trailer, there’s bound to be a small diesel car out there for you.

This is in spite of the fact that diesels have become less popular in the last few years, mainly because it’s been shown that they emit particulate matter that can have a detrimental effect on people's health.

That said, diesels still tend to emit less CO2 than petrols, and thousands of drivers still place their trust in the fuel. If you’re one of them then any of the following small diesel cars should meet your driving needs, and you can order any of them and have them delivered to your door thanks to BuyaCar.

Best small diesel cars

1. Renault Clio

All used diesel deals from £5,750
Monthly finance from £126*
Used 2020 diesel deals from £14,691
Monthly finance from £222*

The Renault Clio is one of the sharpest-looking superminis you can get, with the latest model (introduced in 2019) bringing fresh styling that’ll make you stand out on the road. It’s very good to drive, the interior feels well-built and this fifth-generation model has all of the equipment you’d expect from a modern car.

Play is the entry-level trim on the Clio, and it comes with 16-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, cruise control with a speed limiter and various safety features like automatic emergency braking and traffic sign recognition. Also included is a 4.2-inch digital display behind the steering wheel, but you’ll need to step up to the mid-spec S Edition trim to add the 9.3-inch touchscreen media system in the centre of the dashboard.

The diesel engine is called Blue dCi, and produces 85hp. It’s reasonably slow as modern cars go, achieving 0-62mph in 14.7 seconds, but you won’t be complaining with fuel economy of 67.2mpg.

If you can't quite stretch to the latest version of the Clio, fear not: there are plenty of older Clios available for those on a tighter budget. The previous-generation Clio is available in diesel form and is a very strong contender, too.

RENAULT CLIO BUYERS’ GUIDE

2. Mini Hatchback

Used diesel deals from £5,499
Monthly finance from £129*

It’s often said that the Mini Hatchback handles like a go-kart, such is its reputation for being fun to drive. The steering feels quick and accurate, so the Mini will put a smile on your face on your average town road and has the added advantage of being easy to manoeuvre. Just be aware that the ride isn’t the most comfortable for this type of car.

The interior design is unlike anything you’ll find in any other car, with a circular unit in the centre of the dashboard playing host to the touchscreen media system. There are physical dials for the climate controls, and the overall design is both funky and finished to a high standard.

Diesel engines were part of the Mini lineup from the current car’s launch in 2014 until 2018, when the hatchback went petrol-only. The 1.5-litre diesel engine in the One D model could hit 80mpg officially (though you're likely to get less than this with real-world driving), but there’s also the slightly more powerful 1.5-litre diesel engine in the Cooper D should you need the extra turn of speed.

MINI HATCHBACK BUYERS’ GUIDE

3. Ford Fiesta

All used diesel deals from £6,300
Monthly finance from £127*

Used 2017 diesel deals from £7,465
Monthly finance from £135*

The Ford Fiesta supermini has been the best-selling car in the UK for many years now, which is thanks to its broad range of talents. It’s very engaging to drive, the engines are all very economical, the layout of the car is very practical and it’s keenly priced too, all of which amounts to a package that Ford’s rivals haven’t been able to beat for a long time.

The petrol engines are frugal, but none can match the 74.3mpg offered by the entry-level, 1.5-litre 'TDCi' diesel. This only produces 85hp, so the car isn't quick, but you’ll only find this to be lacking if you have a tendency to drive aggressively. Better still is that the most basic diesels are available in Zetec trim, which adds a heated windscreen, a touchscreen media system, smartphone connectivity in the form of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and adaptive cruise control on top of the most basic car’s standard features.

If there’s one criticism of the Fiesta it’s that the 292-litre boot (five-door models get 303 litres) is below average for this size of car, but passenger space is good throughout so it’s not heavily compromised.

The Fiesta is one of the most common cars on the road so you should easily find one in your price range. The latest Fiesta arrived in 2017, and early models cost less than £8,000 on BuyaCar. The sheer fact that there are hundreds to choose from, should enable you to find one that perfectly suits your budget and tastes.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS’ GUIDE

4. Peugeot 208

All used diesel deals from £5,190
Monthly finance from £108*

Used 2020 diesel deals from £14,495
Monthly finance from £221*

Another small diesel supermini with a strong reputation is the Peugeot 208. A new one came out towards the end of 2019, replacing the old model that first arrived in 2013. It’s more comfortable than its predecessor and it’s a little more agile too, making it niftier in urban environments.

The 1.5-litre diesel engine produces 100hp, which is enough for 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds. That makes it notably quicker than several other small diesel hatchbacks, but at 71.4mpg it’s a no brainer if you cover a lot of ground over the course of the year and want to save money on fuel. Diesel versions come with a six-speed manual gearbox, although the car isn’t quite as sporty to drive as the 208’s exterior looks suggest.

Standard equipment is excellent, with a seven-inch touchscreen media system (which admittedly can be a bit fiddly to use), a digital radio and air-conditioning among the features. Sat-nav is an optional extra on high-spec models, although many drivers will choose to navigate with their phones instead.

The high list price is off-putting when buying new, which is why the 208 makes much more sense as a used purchase. 2020 cars have already dropped as low as £14,000 on BuyaCar’s listings and are likely to fall further before long; if that’s too much for you, the previous-generation model is usefully cheaper.

PEUGEOT 208 BUYERS’ GUIDE

5. Citroen C3 Aircross

Used diesel deals from £7,950
Monthly finance from £133*

If you want your diesel to be a small car, there’s no reason why you should be limited to hatchbacks and superminis. Compact SUVs are by definition small but tall, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of a higher driving position and typically more headroom without driving something that feels massive on the road.

The Citroen C3 Aircross is one of the funkier cars of this type, but don’t let its quirkiness put you off. There’s oodles of space to make passengers feel comfortable on a long journey, and models with the optional sunroof will feel especially airy. Standard kit includes Bluetooth connectivity and a digital radio, although you’ll need to step up to the top two trim levels to add the more sophisticated seven-inch touchscreen media system (which comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity).

Launched in 2017, the most economical engine in the lineup was the BlueHDi 100, a 1.6-litre unit that could return 70.6mpg on paper. It could also hit 0-62mph in 12.8 seconds, while the higher-powered BlueHDi 120 cut this to 10.7 seconds. The latter engine is the one we’d go for, as it’ll still manage 68.9mpg, but the extra punch should be more noticeable.

CITROEN C3 AIRCROSS BUYERS’ GUIDE

6. Audi Q2

Used diesel deals from £14,866
Monthly finance from £233*

Just because a car is small doesn’t mean it shouldn’t also be luxurious. This is the reasoning behind the Audi Q2, a small SUV that’s designed to make family life on the road as relaxing as possible.

There are two diesel engines in the Q2 lineup, and they go a long way to making it feel like a luxury vehicle. The more powerful version - the 35 TDI - develops 148hp for a 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds, while the 30 TDI generates 114hp and does the same sprint in just over 10 seconds. So, you can prioritise speed or efficiency, but both engines are exceedingly smooth under acceleration and very quiet when you get up to speed.

The steering has a reassuring weight to it, and the quality of the interior finish is up there with the very best cars of this type. The entry-level SE trim comes with a seven-inch touchscreen media system and smartphone connectivity, while the Sport, S line and Black Edition levels add increasingly sophisticated on-board technology and more upmarket upholstery.

AUDI Q2 BUYERS’ GUIDE

7. BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

Used diesel deals from £9,624
Monthly finance from £198*

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is the people carrier version of the sleek BMW 2 Series two-door coupe. This is still a relatively small car so it has five seats; if you need seven seats, check out the larger 2 Series Gran Tourer instead.

People carriers don’t often scream ‘fun’, though the 2 Series Active Tourer is more or less the most enjoyable car of this type to drive. Thanks to BMW’s handling know-how, the Active Tourer’s steering is precise, the body lean is nicely suppressed when you go around a corner, and the ride is firm enough to make the car feel responsive without being uncomfortable.

Three diesel engines are offered: the 216d, 218d and 220d. These produce 116hp, 150hp and 190hp respectively, with the latter version hitting 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. It also registers 64.2mpg, meaning the money you spend at the filling station will go a long way.

While it’s expensive for a people carrier, the 2 Series Active Tourer offers a lot to justify its price when new, with a top-notch interior design and the very latest onboard technology. Used examples take the sting out of the price: 2020 examples on BuyaCar start from less than £20,000, and at the other end of the spectrum you could pay half that for a 2017 model with 50,000 miles on the odometer.

BMW 2 SERIES ACTIVE TOURER BUYERS’ GUIDE

8. Mercedes SLC

Used diesel deals from £18,112
Monthly finance from £238*

This is a left-field inclusion when it comes to small diesels: not many people go looking for diesel power in their convertible, two-seater sports cars, but the Mercedes SLC is just that. In fact, diesel was the most popular choice in the SLC lineup for the period that the 250d diesel version was an option.

How come? Well for one thing it could manage 70.6mpg on paper, which certainly helped some people make the numbers work when deciding if a sports car was really affordable. It also helped that the SLC wasn’t the sportiest two-seater on offer, with the character of the car more suited to those with a relaxed driving style and a desire for elegance.

To that end the interior is splendidly finished, as you’d expect from Mercedes. You get all the bells and whistles in terms of kit, and everything inside is geared towards keeping you comfortable on the go. It’s just a shame that the suspension sometimes doesn’t deliver the same kind of ride quality on rougher road surfaces.

MERCEDES SLC 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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