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
Aug 28, 2020

Are you set on petrol power for your next car? You're not the only one. We are seeing increasing numbers of petrol powered cars hitting British roads, as diesel cars fall out of fashion thanks to ever tightening emissions restrictions.

What with the introduction of clean air zones and the London ULEZ that are dropping heavier penalties on diesel drivers, fears of future tax rises, concerns about diesel pollution and the rising price of diesel fuel, it's little wonder these cars once applauded for their superior fuel economy are now being shunned in favour of less harmful alternatives.

At the same time, petrol models are becoming increasingly appealing; with ever evolving technology 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. With options ranging from peppy turbocharged superminis all the way to large and comfortable people carriers.

Best petrol cars

1. VW Up

Best petrol city car

Our pick Volkswagen High Up 1.0 TSI 90hp
Used deals from £5,750
Monthly finance from £116

Apart from the badge on the bonnet and a few minor details, the Volkswagen 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 90hp engine, giving it crucial extra power on motorways, and extra nippiness in town.

The lesser-powered models aren't bad, they will happily maintain motorway speeds, but they take a long time to get there. While the more spritely 90hp model will offer more pronounced acceleration, these small city cars are definitely best used in town, with energetic acceleration at low speeds proving more than enough in short bursts away from junctions or traffic lights.

VOLKSWAGEN UP BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Seat Ibiza

Best small petrol car

Our pick Seat Ibiza SE Technology 1.0 95PS
Used deals from £8,690
Monthly finance from £139

The Seat Ibiza is tone of the best small cars you can buy, with space, comfort, modern technology and nimble cornering. The latest model (with headlights that slant upwards, as shown above) went on sale in 2017 and is an improvement over the older and cheaper model, and we'd recommend forking out the extra cash for the updated tech and improved drive on offer.

We recommend the 1.0-litre, 95hp engine as it offers plenty of power without giving too much away in terms of fuel economy, while it doesn't cost an awful lot more - especially on the used market, with monthly finance easily below £200 per month.

SEAT IBIZA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Ford Fiesta ST

Best petrol hot hatchback

Our pick Ford Fiesta ST-2
Used deals from £13,950
Monthly finance from £213

Ford's small, turbocharged 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. 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, but the newer model is a general step up in terms of tech and safety equipment.

FORD FIESTA ST BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Golf

Best petrol family hatchback

Our pick Volkswagen Golf SE 1.5 TSI Evo 130PS BlueMotion
Used deals from £13,259
Monthly finance from £172

The 1.5-litre 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 replaced.

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 overtake and join fast-moving traffic. At this price, it's hard to beat the Golf as a family hatchback, with its endless practicality and improved fuel economy; the Golf has become solid workhorse. The arrival of the new model should help to reduce used prices all the more, too.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Volkswagwen Passat Estate

Best petrol estate car

Our pick Volkswagen Passat GTE TSI 1.4 auto
Used deals from £16,700
Monthly finance from £236

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 Volkswagen Passat GTE is a plug-in hybrid with a battery that can be charged up with enough electricity to drive 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. The key thing to note is that the excellent fuel economy that's possible with a plug-in hybrid is only attainable if you keep the battery charged up before every journey, otherwise you'll find your fuel level dropping at a rather alarming rate.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ESTATE BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Peugeot 3008

Best petrol SUV

Our pick Peugeot 3008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure
Used deals from £15,026
Monthly finance from £187

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 Peugeot 3008 moving at a reasonable pace without any unpleasant engine roar. Larger cars like this are traditionally better with diesel power, but advancements in petrol power have shown that needn't be the case for much longer.

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
Used deals from £12,498
Monthly finance from £199

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 flat-out enjoyment is what the little Mazda is all about.

On this basis, the 1.5-litre motor suits it down to the ground. It revs smoothly, encouraging you to slice through the gears, and it's relatively lightweight, which keeps steering response sharp and direct. It might be the least-expensive option from the current range - there's also a more powerful and more expensive 2.0-litre option, 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
Used deals from £10,199
Monthly finance from £193

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-litre TFSI petrol motor, which brings improved performance and smoothness.

There's no need for Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system if you're budget won't stretch - it adds even more weight, which further affects the handling. 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
Used deals from £24,605
Monthly finance from £314

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
Used deals from £13,990
Monthly finance from £209

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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