Real MPG: most economical cars you can buy new

What Car?'s Real MPG tests show what fuel economy you can really expect from a car. Here are the most and least efficient models you can currently buy in the UK...

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by
Darren Moss
Published08 June 2024

Buying a new car can be an expensive undertaking, so the last thing you want is to discover your purchase isn’t as frugal as you’d been led to believe.

Official WLTP fuel economy test results can often be misleading – a belief supported by recent high-level EU reports which suggest some models’ figures are up to 23% higher than what’s achievable in real-world use. That’s why we conduct our own Real MPG efficiency tests.

Toyota Yaris Cross cornering with Real MPG logo

Here, we reveal the 10 most frugal – and three thirstiest – of the petrol, diesel and hybrid cars we’ve tested which you can still buy today. The ultra-efficient Toyota Yaris Cross takes the top spot here, but this list comprises a range of cost-cutting cars and SUVs, including a classy executive car.


How we test for a car’s Real MPG

Our tests are carried out under laboratory conditions to ensure repeatability, but they’re based on a real-world driving route that takes into account a wide range of road conditions. The figures reflect what’s achievable if you drive carefully, but without resorting to any extreme measures such as ‘hypermiling’.

We weigh each car, check its tyre pressures and set the climate control to 21 degC (or the midway point if the car has manual air conditioning). The headlights, stereo and any other electrical bits are switched off.

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

Our pick: 1.5 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 11.2 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 460 litres
Insurance group: 11E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Very efficient
  • Lofty driving position
  • Uncluttered dashboard is easy to use

Weaknesses

  • Could be more spacious in the back seats
  • Vocal engine when accelerating
  • Not as fun to drive as the Ford Puma

WLTP MPG 62.7mpg | Real MPG Average 60.1mpg | Town 103.3mpg | Motorway 45.5mpg | Rural 70.5mpg

It should come as no surprise that Toyota – which introduced the world to hybrid power with the original Prius back in 1997 – still leads the way when it comes to efficiency. Indeed, the Yaris Cross is the only car we’ve tested to have recorded triple-digit economy in the town portion of our test. Factor in impressive (if not class-leading) results in the other two sections, and you end up with a seriously frugal small SUV.

The Yaris Cross has one electric motor to supplement its 1.5-litre petrol engine, but the two power sources work well together – even though the CVT automatic gearbox tends to send the engine’s revs flaring raucously when you put your foot down.

While it’s not as agile to drive as the Ford Puma, the Yaris Cross rides and handles capably enough to suit most buyers’ everyday driving needs. It deals well with bumps and potholes and stays reasonably upright through corners.

An elevated driving position makes you feel like you’re in a proper SUV, and everything inside feels sturdy and able to stand up to the rigours of family life, although rivals such as the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke feel more upmarket.

Cash buyers will find that the Yaris Cross is priced roughly in line with the Puma, but thanks to that hybrid system and its resulting lower CO2 emissions, it will be cheaper to run as a company car.

Read our full Toyota Yaris Cross review

Our pick: 1.5 Hybrid Design 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 68.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 91g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 286 litres
Insurance group: 14E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Excellent real-world fuel economy
  • Toyota's reliability record
  • Slow predicted depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride, especially on higher-spec models with bigger wheels
  • Poor rear passenger space
  • So-so interior quality

WLTP MPG 68.8mpg | Real MPG Average 59.9mpg | Town 80.0mpg | Motorway 46.7mpg | Rural 74.1mpg

Second only to its SUV sibling, the Toyota Yaris combines a 1.5-litre petrol engine with two electric motors that allow it to cover short distances on battery power alone, and until the Yaris Cross came along, it was the most frugal car we’d ever tested.

In fact, you could argue that the Yaris makes the better all-rounder of the pair; it actually outperformed the Yaris Cross on the motorway and rural sections of the test, while still returning 80mpg around town.

The ride is firm enough to jostle you around in your seat more than a Honda Jazz or Volkswagen Polo would, but the Yaris handles fairly well, resisting body lean through bends and offering decent grip.

There’s a reasonable amount of space up front, but the rear seats are cramped for taller passengers, plus the boot is relatively small.

As a cash buy, the Yaris is pricier than most other small cars, but it counters with slow predicted depreciation. And as with any Toyota, you can expect the Yaris to be a paragon of reliability.

Read our full Toyota Yaris review

Our pick: 1.2 Dualjet 12V Hybrid SZ-T 5dr

0-62mph: 12.7 sec
MPG/range: 56.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 112g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 260 litres
Insurance group: 21D
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Good fuel economy
  • Spacious for a small car
  • Generous equipment

Weaknesses

  • Ride can be fidgety
  • Vague steering
  • Poor infotainment system

WLTP MPG 56.9mpg | Real MPG Average 59.9mpg | Town 51.3mpg | Motorway 53.3mpg | Rural 74.8mpg

The 1.2-litre Suzuki Ignis is so efficient in real-world use that it actually beat its official figure by around 5%. And although it isn't a full hybrid (rather a mild hybrid), the Ignis only just missed out on a second-place finish, and is the more frugal choice for those who regularly venture beyond urban streets.

Plus, the electrical assistance provided by the mild-hybrid set-up helps the Ignis to feel quicker than its modest 82bhp power output would suggest.

Despite its chunky looks, the Ignis isn’t as spacious as rivals such as the Skoda Kamiq. However, if you view the Ignis as a rival to small cars like the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto, it’s better than those models at carrying four passengers.

Don’t expect the Ignis to be thrilling to drive; its slow steering is inconsistently weighted and the car leans over more in corners than some rivals. However, it undercuts most other small SUVs on price, and it comes very well equipped. You can even specify it with four-wheel drive if you live somewhere that suffers regularly from slippery roads, although you could reasonably expect that to come at the expense of economy.

Read our full Suzuki Ignis 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 55.1mpg | Real MPG Average 54.0mpg | Town 45.1mpg | Motorway 48.8mpg | Rural 69.4mpg

This petrol version of the Seat Ibiza is the most efficient car here that doesn’t have any form of electrical assistance. Its 94bhp turbocharged 1.0-litre engine returned an average Real MPG figure that was just 2% adrift of its official WLTP result, although the Ibiza still fell almost 6mpg behind the Suzuki Ignis and Toyota Yaris overall.

The Ibiza is more than just frugal, though; it’s also a hoot to drive. With a 0-60mph sprint time of 9.8sec, it has no trouble keeping up with traffic on faster roads. Plus, with little body lean through bends and sweet steering that offers a good sense of connection to the front wheels, the Ibiza is one of the best-handling small cars you can buy.

You sit fairly low behind the wheel, with controls that fall easily to hand and generally feel built to last. The quality of the materials impresses, too, with squidgy plastic to the top of the dashboard and a leather-trimmed steering wheel, handbrake and gearknob, and all versions come with a reasonable amount of equipment.

Read our full Seat Ibiza 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

SUVs are all the rage these days, so it’s understandable that Toyota would treat its smallest car, the Aygo, to some rufty-tufty body cladding and a raised ride height to create the Aygo X. Beyond those go-anywhere looks, however, is a highly efficient petrol engine. True, performance is leisurely (0-60mph took 14.9sec in our test), but when you factor in all the costs of ownership, including depreciation, the Aygo X starts to look like a pretty cheap ownership proposition next to its closest rivals.

There is one caveat, though; small cars and SUVs usually cover most of their miles around town, yet it's there that the Aygo X is at its least frugal, meaning it could cost you around twice as much to run as its big siblings, the Yaris and Yaris Cross.

The Aygo X handles neatly through bends, and its tight turning circle makes low-speed manoeuvring a breeze. However, the Seat Ibiza is a much better choice if you want sharp handling.

Most rivals make more sense if you’ll regularly be carrying rear passengers, too. The Aygo X offers only two rear seats, where the Hyundai i10 has three, and the little Toyota’s boot is small, even by the standards of the class.

Read our full Toyota Aygo X review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Class-leading interior quality
  • Smooth engines
  • Well-equipped

Weaknesses

  • Entry-level engines are a touch weedy
  • A BMW 3 Series is more fun to drive
  • You can’t add many options

WLTP MPG 53.3mpg | Real MPG Average 52.2mpg | Town 45.6mpg | Motorway 46.2mpg | Rural 67.0mpg

Driving a diesel car like this Audi A4 may be about as frowned upon as chain-smoking in a kindergarten nowadays, but if you’re going to be clocking up lots of miles, they can still make a lot of sense – especially when you consider the discounts available through our free New Car Deals service.

And with this particular version, your trips to the petrol station need not weigh on your conscience, or your wallet. That's right, this practical and classy executive saloon returned the same average Real MPG score as the much, much smaller Toyota Aygo X.

In even better news, this 160bhp 35 TDI diesel is our pick of the A4’s engine line-up, offering plenty of low-down pulling power along with decent pace; the 0-62mph sprint takes a respectable 8.2sec.

The suspension set-up depends on the trim level, but the A4 is generally better at soaking up bumps and potholes than its BMW 3 Series rival. And while the latter is more enjoyable along a country road, the A4 still handles well, with precise, well-weighted steering.

No version of the A4 is sparsely equipped, and the interior feels properly premium. High-quality materials cover every surface you touch, and the buttons and dials feel like they’d survive a nuclear winter.

Read our full Audi A4 review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Frugal economy from mild-hybrid engines
  • Infotainment system is easy to use
  • Even entry-level trim is well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Poor refinement
  • Small boot
  • Gutless performance from all but the range–topping engine

WLTP MPG 56.5mpg | Real MPG Average 51.9mpg | Town 47.0mpg | Motorway 47.2mpg | Rural 62.1mpg

The 1.5-litre petrol engine in this version of the Mazda 2 – like the unit in the Suzuki Ignis – benefits from mild-hybrid technology, meaning the engine receives small amounts of electrical assistance to aid performance and fuel economy. It’s not enough to allow the 2 to move under electric power alone, but it should help to lower your fuel bills; a theory supported by its 51.9mpg Real MPG score.

With 114bhp, this is the most powerful engine in the 2 line-up, so it feels pleasantly peppy, especially around town, but it’s available only with range-topping Homura Aka trim. At least that means all of your kit needs will be covered.

Soft-touch materials and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob help to lift the feel of the 2’s interior, but it isn’t as classy inside as the rival Peugeot 208. While there’s enough space for two average-sized adults to sit comfortably in the rear seats, they don’t get a great view out, because the Mazda’s rising window line can make that section of the car feel dark and claustrophobic.

Read our full Mazda 2 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

As well as being the cheapest car on this list, the Kia Picanto should be very cheap to run. Its real MPG result of 51.7mpg puts it between its closest cheap small car rivals, the Citroën C3 Origin and Toyota Aygo X.

However, as with both of those cars, this version’s petrol engine is quite underpowered – meaning you’ll need to work it hard when you’re joining the motorway or overtaking on faster roads. Indeed, the 0-60mph sprint took a pedestrian 14.9sec in our acceleration test.

The Picanto has relatively firm suspension, but its ride is rarely uncomfortable and it won’t jostle you around on undulating country roads in the way that some rivals will. Plus, that firm set-up helps it to corner better than most rivals, the Picanto resisting body lean through bends better than the Dacia Sandero and Hyundai i10.

Despite its size, the Picanto is reasonably spacious inside, and a couple of six-footers won’t complain about being in the rear seats, provided the journey isn’t too long. You can fit more into the Picanto’s boot than you can into the Aygo X’s, too.

Read our full Kia Picanto review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Spacious interior with flexible rear seats
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Very pricey by small car standards
  • Not the quietest cruiser
  • Some rivals are more fun

WLTP MPG 61.4mpg | Real MPG Average 51.6mpg | Town 66.0mpg | Motorway 38.9mpg | Rural 69.4mpg

If you mainly drive in the city, a hybrid like the Honda Jazz makes a lot of sense, because its electric motors and 1.5-litre petrol engine can work most efficiently at lower speeds. The facts back this up; its urban Real MPG figure of 66.0mpg is significantly better than those of all the non-hybrids featured here.

Unlike some of those cars, the Jazz doesn’t run out of puff when you venture on to faster roads, easily keeping pace with motorway traffic. It’s comfortable, too, being less floaty over bumps than the rival Citroën C3 Origin.

While the Jazz is perfectly decent to drive, you’ll be more impressed with how spacious and practical it is inside. No matter which seat you’re in, you’ll have lots of room to stretch out, while its rear seat bases can be flipped like those of an old-school theatre, so you can store long or tall items across the width of the car. That’s assuming you’ve managed to fill the Jazz’s boot, which is large by small car standards.

The Jazz costs more to buy than most rivals, but our Target Price discounts help to soften the blow.

Read our full Honda Jazz review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Decently equipped
  • Stylish interior
  • Efficient engines

Weaknesses

  • Poor to drive
  • AEB is not standard on lower trims
  • Cramped rear seats

WLTP MPG 42.7mpg | Real MPG Average 50.9mpg | Town 45.0mpg | Motorway 44.9mpg | Rural 65.3mpg

The Citroën C3 Origin small hatchback is one of the cheapest new cars you can buy in the UK, and running costs should be similarly low. In fact, the 1.2 Puretech 83 version’s Real MPG average of 50.9mpg beats its WLTP result by 19.2% – the most of any car here, and it's more frugal around town than the equivalent Kia Picanto. You’ll need to work it hard to get up to motorway speeds, though, and doing so will hurt its efficiency.

Inside, the C3 Origin looks stylish, with faux-leather door pull handles and a mixture of textures helping to lift perceived quality. However, rivals such as the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo feel plusher and more robust.

Anyone above average height will find the rear seats tight for space, but the boot is a decent size. Five carry-on suitcases can fit below the C3’s parcel shelf – two more than the Picanto can manage, but one fewer than you’ll get into a Dacia Sandero or Skoda Fabia.

Entry-level C3 Origins don’t come with much kit, but our recommended Plus trim gets most of the things you’re likely to want, including a rear-view camera and climate control.

Read our full Citroën C3 Origin review

And the least economical cars on sale

Cupra Ateca 2.0 TSI 300

WLTP MPG: 31.4mpg | Real MPG Average: 28.5mpg | Town: 23.1mpg | Motorway: 26.9mpg | Rural: 35.0mpg. Range-topping sporty Ateca is seriously quick and handles well, but its Real MPG results make most of its rivals look parsimonious. Read our review

Ford Ranger Raptor 3.0 Ecoboost

WLTP MPG: 20.5mpg | Real MPG Average: 24.0mpg | Town: 16.0mpg | Motorway: 24.1mpg | Rural: 32.2mpg. This performance variant of the Ford Ranger may be thirsty, but its Real MPG is actually 17.1% higher than the official figure. Read our review

Audi S8

WLTP MPG: 24.6mpg | Real MPG Average: 21.7mpg | Town: 13.5mpg | Motorway: 23.8mpg | Rural: 27.6mpg. If you're lucky enough to own an S8, running costs probably aren't a major concern. Even so, figures like these would be enough to make even CEOs wince. Read our review