Most Economical Cars

10 minutes Published: 12/10/2020
Emily Hanson

“I am sick to death of filling this tank up and have it emptied out like that!” you say, snapping your fingers for emphasis. “Enough of the fast and furious. I want the most economical car I can get my hands on.”

It’s frustrating making trip after trip to the petrol pump when you’re not exactly taking a country-wide road trip. If your car is brimming with modern safety and entertainment tech, surely the manufacturer can make sure it can hold a gallon or two of petrol for more than a couple of days?

For most of us, our cars aren’t about the need for speed. We don’t need a supercar. We want something that will get us from A to B without forcing us to take out a second mortgage in fuel costs.

It's no secret that electric cars are more efficient. For maximum fuel economy, check out our best electric cars and our best hybrid cars list! The smaller the car, the cheaper it is to run - have a look at our best small cars!

1. Toyota Prius

RRP: £24,175 - £34,040
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.8
  • Fuel: H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 28 - 104g/km

Pros

  • Comfortable - why else do taxi drivers LOVE them?

  • Smooth handling and ride

Cons

  • Lacking rear legroom

  • No Apple Carplay or Android Auto with their Touch 2 multimedia system.

I bet you already knew that the Prius was top of the list before you even clicked through to this roundup, eh?

Pioneer of hybrid tech, the Toyota Prius was first launched in 1997, leading us into a motoring world where diesel cars began to fall out of favour. Their hybrid technology made for very efficient cars with MPG figures that drop jaws.

Official MPG figures for the fourth-generation 2018 revamp of the Prius are very impressive. The running costs of the standard self-charging hybrid are excellent, but the plug-in hybrid is even better.

The trusty Prius is a fantastic set of wheels and we know that Toyota will only take their fuel conservation efforts further. If you’re looking for a new car with excellent fuel efficiency, you can’t go wrong with the Prius.

2. Volkswagen Golf Hatchback

RRP: £23,070 - £35,905 | From £236.51 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 3.2
  • Fuel: P, D, H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 278g/km

Pros

  • Impressive interior quality.

  • Autonomous emergency braking as standard.

Cons

  • There are cheaper alternatives.

  • Infotainment has dated graphics - feels a little cheap.

The Volkswagen Golf Hatchback is a firm favourite. It ticks loads of boxes. Good for families. Nice and compact. Great tech. And fantastic fuel economy!

For the best MPG possible, you want to opt for the Volkswagen e-Golf. If you’re not ready for that, the diesel engines offer the best fuel economy, while the petrol offers better performance.

Small cars aren’t exactly supercars but they are generally very fuel-efficient cars. The Golf is pretty high-spec for its price. You know that you’re getting something a great stretch ahead of a model that’s most exciting features are driver armrests and electric windows (we’re looking at you, Dacia Sandero).

3. Kia Picanto Hatchback (2017)

RRP: £9,255 - £15,150
  • Doors:
  • Engine:
  • Fuel:
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive:
  • CO2:

Pros

  • A very generous seven-year (or 100,000 mile) warranty.

  • Has tech most often found in bigger cars, so you get great bang for your buck.

Cons

  • Pokey boot space.

  • Not as fun to drive as competitors.

The Kia Picanto is a cute little petrol car. You’ve got a choice of two engines, both with excellent MPG stats so you can zip up and down the city streets without guzzling gas as if your wallet knows no bounds.

For the most economical option, you want the petrol engine with a manual transmission. The automatic on the Picanto is just bang average, and you’ll take a hit in MPGs for the convenience.

The Picanto is an incredibly reliable set of wheels. If you’re looking for something that’s built to last and doesn’t cost a fortune to run, Kia has got your back.

4. Hyundai Ioniq Hatchback

RRP: £22,640 - £32,195 | From £239.75 per month to lease
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 26 - 85g/km

Pros

  • Very affordable for the technology you get.

  • Lengthy 5 years and unlimited mileage warranty.

Cons

  • Firm ride.

  • Interior isn’t as snazzy as competitors.

This list is not complete without more than a couple of hybrid cars thrown into the mix. The Hyundai Ioniq makes great use of its electric motor to drive up its MPG figures.

The self-charging hybrid offers a pretty good MPG for those who don’t want the hassle of having to plug-in to charge. If you’ve got the patience for it though, you can expect truly incredible fuel economy.

Hyundai has boosted the Ioniq’s efficiency by stripping back some weightier components and instead kitting it out with an aluminium bonnet and boot. This also has the added benefit of smoother, easier handling and faster performance.

5. Renault Clio

RRP: £14,070 - £23,465
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine:
  • Fuel: P, D, H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 118g/km

Pros

  • Expensive feel to the interior.

  • Big boot, bigger than even some in the class above.

Cons

  • Not as good suspension as the VW Polo.

  • Wind and road noise can be irritating in the cabin.

Ah, the Renault Clio. An oldy but a goody. The all-new shake-up of this beloved model has seen it become even more fuel-efficient to stay in favour with motorists swarming to similar models with low running costs.

You’ve got your pick of a bunch of engines. The diesel engine is more efficient than the petrol, but the petrol option is a bit punchier - so take your pick. Even the petrol engine offers pretty good MPG, though, so it’s one of the most economical cars out there either way.

It’s a trusty small car and it just keeps getting better. In fact, you could just keep trading in old Clio models for the new Clio model and know that you’re always in safe hands.

6. Ford Focus Hatchback

RRP: £17,730 - £33,785 | From £188.99 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.5
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 237g/km

Pros

  • Generous head, leg and elbow room.

  • Suspension is good and can get adaptive suspension on top trim levels.

Cons

  • Interior materials are just okay.

  • Slow acceleration.

Here’s what you’ve been scanning the list for - the Ford Focus. Ford knows how to make great, efficient, long-lasting cars and the Focus is right up there, sweeping up all the awards for fuel economy.

The highly-regarded EcoBoost turbocharged engines offer a nippy performance, while still managing to cost very little to run.

This absolute classic is a classic for a reason. It ticks all the boxes. Family-friendly? Check. Smooth ride? Check. Fuel efficient? Yep. Why venture off into pastures of cars new when you know multiple Focus cars are waiting at every single car dealership and leasing broker in the country?

7. Skoda Citigo Hatchback

RRP: £8,440 - £11,705
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.0
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 95 - 105g/km

Pros

  • Decent interior space - good boot and room for folks in the backseat.

  • 5 Star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Cons

  • Not one for tech-heads and the fast and furious - it’s got great MPG, but it’s pretty basic.

  • As a city car, it’s not fantastic for long-haul journeys.

The Skoda Citigo is triplet to the Volkswagen Up and Seat Mii. Take away the badge and they all look exactly the same. But the Citigo has made our most economical car list so let’s put that aside for a minute.

Skoda gives you the option of two petrol engines with the Citigo and they’re equally cheap to run. With low BHP around the board, the Citigo isn’t exactly powerful. Because it’s so light, however, you won’t feel underpowered in this car. The fuel economy all round is excellent and insurance prices are extremely low.

It’s a great little car that is excellent value for money and is perfect for your morning commute into a busy city centre.

8. Peugeot 208 Hatchback

RRP: £16,065 - £23,855
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 79 - 149g/km

Pros

  • Safety tech like immobiliser and deadlocks to scare off carjackers.

  • Nice interior.

Cons

  • Average handling.

  • Noisy suspension on bumpy roads.

The Peugeot 208 is one of the most economical cars you can buy today. Available as a petrol, diesel, or fully electric car, it’s quite the energy conserver!

This supermini has a wide range of fuel-efficient engines. Your basic Puretech petrol engine delivers a decent MPG and has the best performance. As expected, the fully electric version is the cheapest to run but most expensive to buy upfront. The diesel fits in the middle, with great fuel economy but more money in the long-term.

With stop-start technology available to conserve fuel and such a light body, it’s no wonder that the 208 is one of the most economical cars on the market.

9. Mercedes A Class Hatchback

RRP: £22,630 - £37,425 | From £249.47 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.1
  • Fuel: D, P, H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 32 - 197g/km

Pros

  • Proper premium-feel family hatchback interior.

  • Decent space.

Cons

  • Quite vocal acceleration for a premium hatchback.

  • Watch out for the bumps in the road!

Right about now you might be thinking to yourself, “Of course city cars have got good fuel economy - what else can I get my hands on!?”

Here’s a car with a more luxurious feel to it: the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

With a light construction, sleek aerodynamics, and a modern, high-spec engine, Mercedes have really hit the nail on the head here and made the A-Class one of the most fuel-efficient cars in its league.

With a buttery-smooth six-speed manual gearbox, this (relatively) affordable Mercedes offering will keep you looking cool and your wallet stuffed full.

10. Vauxhall Corsa Hatchback

RRP: £15,365 - £26,425 | From £128.51 per month to lease
  • Doors: 2 - 5
  • Engine: 1.8
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 203g/km

Pros

  • Smooth, comfortable ride.

  • Good range of standard tech equipment.

Cons

  • Lags behind competitors with a four-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating.

  • Some of the interior feels a little cheap.

And now we’re back to our small cars. They are the most fuel-efficient after all!

The Corsa really gives you impressive value for money, which is one of its greatest lures. And it’s why it’s always in the roundups of some of the UK’s best-loved cars! Keep your eyes peeled for the fuel efficiency improvements in the future, as it’s a big priority for Vauxhall.

All engines are dirt-cheap to run and are more than powerful enough for day-to-day life. Interior tech on the Corsa is excellent for the price, so you really can’t go wrong with this car.

11. Nissan Micra

RRP: £11,800 - £22,750
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 163g/km

Pros

  • Excellent safety features - autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and auto-dipping headlights as standard.

  • Smart looking design, both inside and out.

Cons

  • Poor headroom for rear passengers.

  • An average (and bumpy) drive.

The Nissan Micra is a stylish supermini with excellent fuel efficiency.

The diesel engine is the most economical option, returning high MPGs. While it’s not a particularly powerful engine, it's enough to not feel underpowered, and the cash you’ll save on fuel more than makes up for it.

It’s no wonder that driving instructors race in their masses to Nissan dealerships to get their mitts on a Micra. At these incredibly low running costs, they can scoop up and bank as much of their driving tuition fees as possible!

12. Citroen C4 Cactus

RRP: £17,770 - £24,065
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 89 - 117g/km

Pros

  • Comfortable to drive with a clever suspension system

  • Nice and quiet in the cabin - sound deadening and thicker glass.

Cons

  • No four-wheel-drive option

  • The handling isn’t great.

The Citroen C4 Cactus is a smart and stylish family car. The previous generation was in need of a makeover and Citroen really delivered with this version, not only in terms of design but in spec, including fuel efficiency.

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to engines for this set of wheels. The BlueHDi engines have been ground-breaking and return some wallet-friendly high MPGs.

The C4 Cactus has Citroen’s trademarked Progressive Hydraulic Cushions and Advanced Comfort Seats so you’ll feel like you’re on a cloud when you go for a jaunt in the car. You can totally chill knowing you’re not forking out big-time on fuel.

13. Dacia Sandero

RRP: £5,780 - £10,075
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.5
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M
  • CO2: 90 - 135g/km

Pros

  • Room for five adults, comfortably.

  • Good visibility - the pillars are thin and the window line is low.

Cons

  • It’s not exciting, as much as Dacia tries to make out it is.

  • It’s not the quietest car to drive.

When Dacia released the Sandero, they shouted off the rooftops: “affordable doesn’t mean dull!” This is great news if you’re looking for something to run around town in that is incredibly, incredibly cheap to buy/lease and run, but you don’t want to look like a total granny.

Now when we say affordable, we mean affordable. This has come up as the cheapest car to buy outright in the UK. They’re able to push down this price though because they’ve stripped it of pretty much everything. There’s not even a radio with the standard trim. No radio!

Maybe that doesn’t bother you though - you’ve got a smartphone, the Spotify app, and mobile data. It’s back to basics and you can just focus on your fuel tank and how little it drops.

14. Honda Civic Hatchback

RRP: £18,180 - £33,895
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.2
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 215g/km

Pros

  • Android Auto, Apple Carplay and Sat Nav as standard.

  • Nice supportive soft seats.

Cons

  • Its design isn’t to everyone’s tastes.

  • Lots of other features only available on other models.

Honda has got their hands on so many different projects, from lawnmowers to aircraft, that it’s really no wonder they’ve nailed fuel economy.

The Civic is truly bombproof and is one of the most reliable cars ever made. While they’re not as sporty as German rivals, they offer a reliability record that’s only matched by Toyota. The Civic is dirt-cheap to run, and with such great reliability, you won’t spend much money on it over the years.

You can’t go wrong with a Honda, really. They know their motors.

Summary

So, by now you’ll have realised that you’re not going to get the best fuel economy from a big SUV that can do 0-62mph in 3 seconds. There are some sacrifices you need to make when you’re looking to save some cashola with a more economical vehicle.

If you want a car with better fuel efficiency, you’re best looking for something a bit smaller, with fewer fancy gadgets and gizmos. Lucky for you, these cars are better for the environment and they’re generally cheaper to buy or lease in general.

An electric future is imminent, so get ready with our best electric cars and best hybrid cars! For a round-up of super small, super cheap-to-run cars, take a look at our best small cars list. We also have full pages devoted to all our electric lease deals and hybrid car lease deals!