Best petrol cars

Smooth, quiet and now more efficient than ever: if you're not sure about diesel, these are some of the best petrol cars

Simon Ostler
Oct 31, 2019

As diesel cars fall out of fashion thanks to ever tightening emissions restrictions, we are seeing increasing numbers of petrol powered cars hitting British roads.

This year has also seen the introduction of clean air zones and the London ULEZ that will mainly penalise diesel drivers, fueling fears of future tax rises, concerns about diesel pollution and the rising price of diesel fuel have combined to scare drivers away from diesel cars.

At the same time, petrol models are increasingly appealing, bringing improved fuel economy alongside smooth and quiet power. We're also seeing petrol engines being used more and more in hybrid cars, where they can deliver efficiency beyond that of a diesel engine - particularly on shorter trips.

So, if diesel is losing its appeal for you, here are 10 great petrol cars you should consider.


Best petrol cars

1. VW Up

Best petrol city car

Our pick Volkswagen High Up 1.0 TSI 90hp
Latest VW Up deals from £4,200
Monthly finance from £86

Apart from the badge on the bonnet and a few minor details, the VW Up is identical to the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, all of which are only available with petrol engines. However, the Volkswagen is the only one available with a 90 horsepower (hp) engine, giving it crucial extra power on motorways, and extra nippiness in town.

The engine only became available recently, so prices for the 90hp model are high, starting at £6,745, or from £125 per month. Lesser-powered models aren't bad cars and can maintain motorway speeds, but they take a long time to get there. These cars are definitely best used in town, with energetic acceleration at low speeds.

Volkswagen Up buyers' guide

2. Seat Ibiza

Best small petrol car

Our pick Seat Ibiza SE Technology 1.0 95PS
Latest Seat Ibiza deals from £4,990
Monthly finance from £84

The Seat Ibiza is the best small car that you can buy at the moment, with space, comfort, modern technoloy and nimble cornering. The modern car (with headlights that slant upwards, as shown above), went on sale in 2017 and is an improvement over the older and cheaper model, which has headlights that slope downwards.

Best value is the 1-litre, 95 horsepower engine with prices on BuyaCar starting from £7,995 or £137
 per month.

Seat Ibiza buyers' guide

3. Ford Fiesta ST

Best petrol hot hatchback

Our pick Ford Fiesta ST-2
Latest Ford Fiesta ST deals from £8,000
Monthly finance from £156

Ford's small petrol engines are among the best you can buy, even if actual, real-world fuel economy is considerably lower than official figures suggest. They are smooth, powerful and deliver a characterful, sporty growl from the exhaust when you accelerate.

The best example is found in the latest Ford Fiesta ST, which went on sale this year. Its 1.5-litre engine catapults the car forward with a firm press of the accelerator but can be quiet and composed on longer journeys. The previous-generation Fiesta ST is available at much lower prices, and performs with just as much urgency.

New Ford Fiesta ST buyers' guide

4. VW Golf

Best petrol family hatchback

Our pick Volkswagen Golf SE 1.5 TSI Evo 130PS BlueMotion
Latest VW Golf deals from £6,795
Monthly finance from £133

The new 1.5 Evo petrol engine from Volkswagen has cylinder deactivation technology, which shuts down part of the engine if full power isn't required - when cruising at a steady speed, for example. This helps to boost the VW Golf's fuel economy to around 40mpg in real-world driving, which is a slight improvement over the less-powerful 1.4-litre engine it replaces.

It accelerates at a relaxed, steady pace, which will suit some drivers but performance becomes brisk when the engine is revved, making it easier to overake and join fast-moving traffic.

Volkswagen Golf buyers' guide

5. VW Passat

Best petrol estate car

Our pick Volkswagen Passat GTE TSI 1.4 auto
Latest VW Passat deals from £7,495
Monthly finance from £146

If you’re a company car driver keen to reduce your tax bill, then here's one version of the Passat Estate that could save you hundreds of pounds. The Passat GTE is a plug-in hybrid car with a battery that can be charged up with enough electricity to drive the car for around 25 miles (in real-world driving conditions) before a petrol engine takes over.

This plug-in hybrid arrangement gives it an official carbon dioxide emissions rating of 40g/km, putting it in the bottom bracket for company car tax. It's quiet on electrical power in town, and not much louder when cruising along the motorway using the petrol engine.

Volkswagen Passat buyers' guide

6. Peugeot 3008

Best petrol SUV

Our pick Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure
Latest Peugeot 3008 deals from £14,495
Monthly finance from £205

Peugeot’s 1.2 PureTech petrol engines are small and efficient, but powerful too. Despite the small 1.2-litre size, they can get the bulky 3008 moving at a reasonable pace without any unpleasant engine roar.

If you don't like changing gears, you’ll find the EAT6 automatic version is just as economical. You can expect around 40mpg in real-world driving, which is respectable for a car of this type, even if it is 15mpg short of the official figure.

Peugeot 3008 buyers' guide

7. Mazda MX-5

Best petrol sports car

Our pick Mazda MX-5 1.5 SE-L Nav
Latest Mazda MX-5 deals from £9,995
Monthly finance from £189

It’s not the most powerful 1.5-litre engine out there but that’s never been the point with the MX-5. Instead, nimble cornering, accurate steering, and the ability to dart through corners in one joyous drive is what the little Mazda is all about.

On this basis, the 1.5 motor suits it down to the ground. It revs smoothly, encouraging you to slice through the gears, and relatively lightweight ensure that it doesn't dull the sharp steering response. It might be the least-expensive option from the current range, but it's the one to have.

Mazda MX-5 buyers' guide

8. Audi TT

Best petrol coupe

Our pick Audi TT Sport 2.0 TFSI 230PS
Latest Audi TT deals from £11,490
Monthly finance from £204

The Audi TT is a prime example of the advantages of petrol power: fitted with a diesel engine, this two-door coupe is noisy and heavy, which makes it less nimble in corners.

It's transformed by the 2.0 TFSI petrol motor, which brings improved performance and smoothness. There's no need for Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system which adds weight. A standard Audi TT fitted with winter tyres should offer enough grip on wintry roads.

Audi TT buyers' guide

9. BMW 5 Series

Best petrol large family car

Our pick BMW 530e iPerformance
Latest BMW 5 Series deals from £11,398
Monthly finance from £179

It's hard to make a bad choice with a BMW petrol engine. The firm has a stellar reputation for building engines that deliver strong, smooth and seemingly effortless performance. You'll find this whether you opt for the current car, which went on sale in 2017, or the cheaper, earlier model.

BMW built its reputation on its large six-cylinder engines, which are fitted to the expensive 540i, but the petrol pick of the current range is the cheaper 530e iPerformance: a plug-in hybrid with a battery that can be charged up to provide around 25 miles of all-electric driving, boosting efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions to put it into the lowest company car tax bracket. The electric motor and engine can also combine for swift acceleration.

BMW 5 Series buyers' guide

10. Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer

Best petrol people carrier

Our pick Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer Flair PureTech 130
Latest Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer deals from £9,298
Monthly finance from £145

Petrol engines produced by Citroen buzz away underneath the bonnet without much noise or vibration, helping to reduce stress on long journeys. All of the options have adequate power, so you're best off saving money and opting for the entry-level 1.2-litre PureTech.

These engines also have the advantage of excellent efficiency in real-world driving, so you can expect around 40 to 45mpg without making much effort. That's 10mpg lower than the official figures which, by the standards of modern cars is pretty good.

The Grand C4 SpaceTourer this engine powers is comfortable and spacious for a family of four, with a large boot at the back. Alternatively, you can raise the two small rear seats to carry seven passengers at the expense of the vast majority of luggage space. If you're looking at a used model, search for the Citroen C4 Picasso - it's an identical car apart from the name badge, which was changed to SpaceTourer in 2018.

Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer buyers' guide


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