Real MPG: most economical cars with 1.0-litre engines

What Car?'s Real MPG tests show what you can really expect from a car – here we reveal the 10 most frugal cars with 1.0-litre petrol engines, plus those which will cost you most at the pumps...

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Alasdair Rodden
Published02 April 2024

If you're a new driver, mainly drive in town or are simply looking to keep costs down, then you might be considering a car with a 1.0-litre petrol engine. Such engines were traditionally the reserve of affordable small cars, but nowadays you’ll find them in a number of small SUVs and even some family cars.

Don't think that choosing a car with a 1.0-litre engine means you'll forever be in the slow lane, either. While you're unlikely to be blown away by their performance, these engines are usually turbocharged, so most offer surprisingly nippy acceleration.

What’s more, they’re some of the most affordable cars to run – especially if you don't fancy a hybrid or electric car. But which models are the most frugal in the real world?

Real MPG: most efficient cars with 1.0-litre engines

According to the results of our unique Real MPG testing, it’s the Suzuki Celerio that’s come out on top. We conduct our Real MPG tests because the official figures published in brochures don’t always reflect what you can actually achieve (although current WLTP stats are at least more representative than the pre-2017 NEDC figures). To provide a comparison between the official figures and our own, we've listed them below. If a car was tested under the older NEDC regime, that is what's included – otherwise we've mentioned the WLTP figures.

Read on, as we reveal how efficient the Celerio really is, and name the other most (and least) economical cars with 1.0-litre engines.


How we test for a car’s Real MPG

Our Real MPG tests are conducted on a rolling road, but are based on a route which simulates real-world driving conditions across a variety of road types. Using a laboratory ensures our results are comparable, because external factors such as the weather or traffic conditions can't influence the test.

Before testing any car, we prep them to make sure that they're in the condition recommended by the manufacturer – that all tyres are correctly inflated, for example). We also ensure that the headlights are off and that the air conditioning system is set to 21 degrees (or the midpoint for manual air con) on its lowest fan setting. 

The resulting test measures the car's exhaust emissions, and those figures then translate to become the car's Real MPG result.

Read more: How we test a car's Real MPG

 

Strengths

  • Cheap to run
  • Spacious by class standards
  • Reliability record

Weaknesses

  • Cheap-feeling interior
  • Limited infotainment options

NEDC MPG 65.7mpg | Real MPG Average 57.8mpg | Town 47.0mpg | Motorway 53.3mpg | Rural 73.5mpg

The Celerio is a small hatchback designed for life in the city – and that's where it feels most at home. While its three-cylinder petrol engine won't thrill you, it feels plenty fast enough for most situations and, as our test results show, shouldn't cost you much to run. Plus, CO2 emissions of less than 100g/km mean it should be cheap to tax. 

While the Celerio is no longer on sale as a new car, used examples are pretty affordable. We'd recommend seeking out an SZ4 model, which was the range-topping variant. It'll cost you a little more to buy, but comes with useful luxuries including all-round electric windows, front foglights and electrically adjustable door mirrors.

Read our full used Suzuki Celerio review

 

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride and fun to drive
  • Economical three-cylinder engine
  • Upmarket interior

Weaknesses

  • Some rivals are better value
  • Smaller engines are sluggish
  • Optional automatic gearbox is slow and jerky

WLTP MPG 50.7mpg | Real MPG Average 56.0mpg | Town 44.3mpg | Motorway 51.9mpg | Rural 72.1mpg

Every version of the tiny Volkswagen Up is ruthlessly efficient, but it's this 59bhp version which tops the table, with an average Real MPG score of 56.0mpg. This naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) model may not have heaps of power, but performance is adequate around town – plus, it's worth noting that its grunt was increased to 64bhp since our economy figures were recorded. Add in all the Up's other strengths – namely a smart interior and fun driving experience – and this small car proves very competent and easy to live with.

Read our full used Volkswagen Up review

 

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Smooth ride
  • Cheaper than a Volkswagen Up

Weaknesses

  • Only four seats
  • Clumsy automatic gearbox
  • Volkswagen Up holds its value better

WLTP MPG 54.8mpg | Real MPG Average 55.2mpg | Town 45.9mpg | Motorway 50.0mpg | Rural 70.6mpg

Although mechanically very similar to the Volkswagen Up, the Skoda Citigo was a little cheaper from new. You can no longer get a new Citigo, but that’s no bother – it’s even more affordable as a used buy, and is a fantastic all-rounder.

Don't think of it as a cut-price Up, because in many ways it feels just as polished. It's capable, comfortable and good to drive – and most versions come loaded with useful kit.

Read our full used Skoda Citigo review

 

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Spacious interior and boot
  • Affordable buying and running costs

Weaknesses

  • Vague steering
  • Flimsy feeling interior
  • Unrefined and noisy at speed

WLTP MPG 46.8mpg | Real MPG Average 55.2mpg | Town 46.6mpg | Motorway 49.9mpg | Rural 70.4mpg

The Baleno is the second Suzuki to feature in this top 10, proving that the Japanese brand is well versed in creating cars with small, efficient engines. You can't buy a Baleno from new any more, but they're well worth seeking out on the used market, and prices start from just £6500. For that money, you'll get a high-mileage car, but the good news is that Suzuki usually performs well for reliability

While the 1.0-litre petrol engine fitted to most examples of the Baleno only has 109bhp, it feels peppier than its performance figures suggest – although the petrol engines in some rivals are more refined.

Read our full used Suzuki Baleno review

 

Our pick: 1.0 TSI 95 FR 5dr

0-62mph: 11 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 355 litres
Insurance group: 12E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Roomy by class standards
  • Strong TSI petrol engines

Weaknesses

  • Lots of road noise
  • Resale values could be better
  • Firm ride in FR versions

WLTP MPG 55.4mpg | Real MPG Average 54.0mpg | Town 45.1mpg | Motorway 48.8mpg | Rural 69.4mpg

As small cars come, the Seat Ibiza is among the best. It's fun to drive, thanks in part to some peppy yet economical engines, and it's deceptively spacious, too.

Like the Skoda Citigo, it shares parts with a Volkswagen – in this case the Volkswagen Polo – but is cheaper to buy than its VW cousin. Unlike the Citigo, as of writing, the Ibiza remains on sale as a new car, although it’s also about the best used small car you can buy.

Read our full Seat Ibiza review

 

Strengths

  • Reliable engines
  • Plenty to choose from
  • Long warranty

Weaknesses

  • Bumpy ride
  • Not much fun to drive
  • Small boot

NEDC MPG 62.8mpg | Real MPG Average 53.3mpg | Town 46.6mpg | Motorway 47.3mpg | Rural 67.3mpg

With tidy handling, a good-sized boot (by class standards) and excellent infotainment on upper trim levels, the Kia Picanto proves itself as a well-executed city car. This engine is the Picanto's least powerful offering, but, unless you're planning on doing much motorway driving, it does its job well and does it at an impressively low cost. It's worth noting that the model tested here has now been discontinued, so is only available to buy used. The good news is the current Picanto remains a very economical choice, as you'll soon find out...

Read our full used Kia Picanto review

 

Strengths

  • Good to drive
  • Well equipped
  • Cheap to buy and run

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride
  • Not as refined as some rivals
  • Bland interior

NEDC MPG 64.2mpg | Real MPG Average 53.1mpg | Town 42.9mpg | Motorway 48.6mpg | Rural 68.9mpg

This previous-generation version of the Seat Leon family car looks like a bit of a bargain – you see, there are lots around on the used market, and with prices starting from just £5000, the chances are that you'll find something within your budget. Plus, as our real-world test result shows, the 1.0-litre petrol engine should cost pennies to run.

It helps that the Leon is very good at the business of being a family car, too. It's good to drive, with well-weighted steering and a comfortable ride, and it has plenty of space inside for your family and all of their luggage.

Read our full used Seat Leon review

 

Our pick: 1.0 VVT-i Edge 5dr

0-62mph: 14.9 sec
MPG/range: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 110g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 226 litres
Insurance group: 6A
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Cheap to run
  • Good level of safety kit
  • Warranty of up to 10 years

Weaknesses

  • Cramped in the back
  • Smaller boot than rivals
  • Lacklustre performance

WLTP MPG 58.9mpg | Real MPG Average 52.2mpg | Town 42.6mpg | Motorway 48.0mpg | Rural 66.7mpg

Though this funky city car has some rugged SUV style, the Toyota Aygo X is much better suited to the urban jungle than the actual one. Its 71bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine isn't the last word in power – the 0-62mph sprint takes a leisurely 14.9sec, for example – but it is efficient, whether you're in town or on the motorway. We also like that every Aygo X comes with a plethora of safety kit, and there's the reassurance of Toyota's long warranty should anything go wrong – not that it should, because the brand regularly performs extremely well in our Reliability Survey.

Read our full Toyota Aygo X review

 

Our pick: 1.0 TSI Life 5dr

0-62mph: 10.8 sec
MPG/range: 54.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 118g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 351 litres
Insurance group: 9E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Good to drive
  • Generous interior space
  • Attractive PCP finance deals

Weaknesses

  • Ford Fiesta is more fun to drive
  • Gutless entry-level petrol
  • Standard safety kit could be better

WLTP MPG 49.6mpg | Real MPG Average 51.8mpg | Town 43.8mpg | Motorway 46.6mpg | Rural 66.5mpg

A jack of all trades, the Volkswagen Polo feels just as at home around town as it does on the motorway, especially when fitted with this peppy 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine. In other words, it has decent get-up-and-go, and not at the expense of fuel economy. It doesn't sip fuel quite as gently as its Seat Ibiza cousin, though, nor is it as engaging on a twisty road; it'll also cost you more to buy in the first place.

Read our full Volkswagen Polo review

 

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Really tidy handling
  • Frugal 1.0 MPi petrol engine
  • Excellent infotainment and equipment on 3 trim

Weaknesses

  • 1.0 MPi petrol engine isn't very quick
  • Firm(ish) low-speed ride
  • A Dacia Sandero is much roomier

WLTP MPG 58.9mpg | Real MPG Average 51.7mpg | Town 42.0mpg | Motorway 48.0mpg | Rural 64.9mpg

Like its predecessor, the current Kia Picanto is a remarkably frugal car. And, with the likes of the Citroën C1 and VW Up no longer on sale, it's one of an increasingly rare breed of city-focused small cars.

Unfortunately, once you start to look at the bigger picture, the Picanto is outclassed by key rivals. If it's maximum affordability you're after, the Dacia Sandero is considerably cheaper (not to mention much more practical), while the Renault Clio offers a much better all-round package for not much more money.

Read our full Kia Picanto review

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And the least economical cars with 1.0-litre engines...

Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost 155

WLTP MPG: 51.4mpg | Real MPG: 38.7mpg It may be a mild hybrid, but the Focus' punchy Ecoboost 155 petrol engine can still chew through a surprising amount of petrol. Read our review

Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost 140

WLTP MPG: 51.4mpg | Real MPG: 38.3mpg There are lots of reasons to consider the Fiesta, even though it's not all that economical. Read our review

Dacia Duster TCe 100 Bi-Fuel

WLTP MPG: 40.4mpg | Real MPG: 35.3mpg This Bi-Fuel version of the Dacia Duster SUV can be somewhat forgiven for its unimpressive efficiency, because the Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) fuel it uses is a lot cheaper per litre than unleaded. Read our review