Best petrol cars 2023
Smooth, quiet and now more efficient than ever: if you're not sure about diesel, these are some of the best petrol cars
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
Best petrol city car
Our pick Volkswagen Up GTI 1.0 TSI 115hp
Used deals Limited stock
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 115hp 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 115hp 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.
Best small petrol car
The Seat Ibiza is one of the best small cars you can buy, with space, comfort, modern technology and nimble cornering. The latest model 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 turbocharged 1.0-litre 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.
Best petrol hot hatchback
Our pick Ford Fiesta ST 1.5 EcoBoost
Used deals from £5,695
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.
Best petrol family hatchback
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 a solid workhorse. The arrival of the new model should help to reduce used prices all the more, too.
Best petrol estate car
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.
Best petrol SUV
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.
Best petrol sports car
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.
Best petrol coupe
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.
Best petrol large family car
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: 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.
Best petrol people carrier
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.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
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
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.