Real MPG: Most economical family cars

Looking for an efficient family car to keep fuel bills low? Our Real MPG tests shows the economy you can really expect...

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by
Stuart Milne
Published18 December 2023

Family cars tend to lead tough lives, carrying people and luggage on long and short journeys alike. That means it’s particularly important to pay attention to your real-world fuel economy.

That’s where our Real MPG tests come in. Rather than relying on often-optimistic official fuel economy figures, our testing shows what’s achievable if you drive gently – but without resorting to complicated ‘hypermiling’ fuel saving techniques.

In our testing, it was the Skoda Octavia that topped our testing. With the 2.0 TDI 115 diesel engine, it achieved a class-topping average figure of 57.9mpg.

Seat Leon hatchback 2018

How we test a car’s Real MPG

Our Real MPG tests are conducted in laboratory conditions designed to simulate real-world driving. We favour this approach because it delivers comparable results because they’re not influenced by factors such as weather, temperatures or erratic traffic conditions.

To reflect how drivers really use their cars, the laboratory tests are based on real-world driving routes, which take in motorway, town and rural roads.

In a further control measure, all cars are thoroughly prepared ahead of testing to ensure they’re in the condition the manufacturer recommends. This includes ensuring all tyres are correctly inflated. The tests are performed in a temperature-controlled environment, with headlights off and, where fitted, the air-con is set to 21 degrees operating with its slowest fan setting.

The resulting fuel economy figures are calculated using measurements of the car’s exhaust emissions, which is then translated into our definitive Real MPG figure.

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


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Our pick: 1.5 TSI 150 SE L 5dr

0-62mph: 8.5 sec
MPG/range: 53.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 121g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 600 litres
Insurance group: 21P
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Plush interior
  • Huge boot
  • Frugal engines

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are sharper to drive
  • Touchscreen can be tricky to use on the move
  • Currently no plug-in hybrid option

Real MPG Average 57.9mpg | Town 50.5mpg | Motorway 52.1mpg | Rural 72.6mpg

The first car on our list, and the most economical family car, is the Skoda Octavia. It’s also one of the largest and most practical here, too, which makes its efficiency all the more impressive. It also goes to prove that diesel power still has plenty to offer drivers who cover big distances on a regular basis. 

The 2.0-litre, 114bhp TDI diesel engine might lack the outright shove of the more gutsy 148bhp version, but our road testers found it’s still plenty powerful – especially given those remarkable Real MPG economy figures.

Read our Skoda Octavia review

Our pick: 1.2 Turbo 130 GS 5dr

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 422 litres
Insurance group: 19E

Strengths

  • Spacious interior
  • Relatively cheap to buy
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Vague steering
  • Diesels can be noisy
  • Low-speed ride can be fidgety
  • Reliability mixed

Real MPG Average 56.3mpg | Town 46.4mpg | Motorway 50.7mpg | Rural 73.7mpg

If you’re looking for rock-bottom running costs, then this particular Vauxhall Astra could fit the bill. Not only is the fuel economy mightily impressive, but heavy depreciation means it represents huge value for money as a used purchase – especially if you choose the frugal 1.6-litre diesel. 

The 109bhp version tested here is the entry-level diesel, but it offers exceptional economy – at the hands of our Real MPG testers, it achieved a remarkable 56.3mpg overall. The 73.7mpg it achieved in our rural economy tests is the best of any family car, making it the top choice if you regularly find yourself on winding country roads.

Read our used Vauxhall Astra review

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

Real MPG Average 56.0mpg | Town 46.3mpg | Motorway 50.9mpg | Rural 71.7mpg

The Seat Leon featured twice in our top 10 most economical family car rundown, but we’ve combined them both here. The 1.6-litre diesel achieved a superb average of 56.0mpg in Ecomotive trim, a model which benefits from slightly sleeker bodywork and a revised gearbox.

The 1.0-litre petrol version, which recorded an average figure of 51.8mpg, deserves a special mention because it’s the most economical petrol-powered family car on our list. It’s particularly well suited to those who do lots of short journeys around town – situations where diesels can struggle due to the likelihood of their particulate filters becoming clogged.

Read our used Seat Leon review

Strengths

  • Good-quality interior
  • Low running costs
  • Hybrid is good to drive

Weaknesses

  • Poor rear head room
  • Unsettled ride around town
  • Poor reliability – electric model only

Real MPG Average 51.8mpg | Town 109.0mpg | Motorway 40.8mpg | Rural 53.7mpg

The only plug-in hybrid on our list posted the single-most impressive economy figure – an incredible 109.0mpg around town. It’s an area where hybrids of all kinds generally perform well, but three-figure fuel economy is extremely good.

That’s partly explained by the way in which the engine and motor tag-team their operation to use less fuel and the car’s regenerative braking, which puts power back into the batteries when slowing down. It also explains a poorer motorway economy figure, because at higher, constant speeds, the impact of both those systems is less pronounced.

Read our used Hyundai Ioniq review

Strengths

  • Smooth ride
  • Enjoyable to drive
  • Upmarket interior

Weaknesses

  • Not as cheap as some of its rivals
  • Could be more spacious
  • Reliability only average

Real MPG Average 49.7mpg | Town 40.0mpg | Motorway 45.3mpg | Rural 64.6mpg

A small engine in a fairly large car sounds sensible on paper, but often they need to work too hard to haul the vehicle’s mass (the 44mpg Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost is a case in point). So it’s great to see the Golf 1.0 TSI appearing in our list of most economical family cars.

Its round-town average of 40.0mpg is good for a petrol-powered car, although its overall figure is dragged down by its motorway economy – proving that this is a family car that’s best suited to urban life.

Read our used Volkswagen Golf review

Strengths

  • Good low-speed ride
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Not good to drive
  • Cramped

Real MPG Average 49.2mpg | Town 40.4mpg | Motorway 45.1mpg | Rural 62.7mpg

You’d be forgiven for not immediately recognising the Infiniti Q30, because it was a slow-selling hatchback that only lasted three years. And apart from good equipment levels and a comfortable low-speed ride, it was a hard car to recommend.

The 1.5 diesel’s economy was certainly a high point, if you can live with the noise it generated. In our real-world testing, it gave an average figure of 49.2mpg and an eye-catching 62.7mpg on our rural-road test.

Read our used Infiniti Q30 review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Spacious interior and big boot
  • Low price if you avoid the hybrid engine
  • Good standard safety tech

Weaknesses

  • Disappointing ride
  • Interior feels cheap
  • Poor residual values

Real MPG Average 49.1mpg | Town 42.2mpg | Motorway 44.2mpg | Rural 62.1mpg

For years, Fiat has focused its attention on the small car market, but the slow-selling Fiat Tipo remains available as a new car – albeit in a slightly more rugged ‘Cross’ guise. The frugal 1.6 Multijet 120 diesel engine we tested is a thing of the past, too, but it remains an impressively economical family car.

If you can overlook the Tipo’s shortcomings in the way it drives and a cheap-feeling interior, then you’ll enjoy decent interior space and good fuel economy. In our real-world testing, the Tipo achieved just over 49mpg on average.

Read our used Fiat Tipo review

Strengths

  • Well equipped
  • Spacious rear seat and boot
  • Refined petrol engines

Weaknesses

  • Fidgety ride in town
  • So-so handling
  • Average security rating

Real MPG Average 48.9mpg | Town 39.5mpg | Motorway 45.2mpg | Rural 62.0mpg

The Kia Rio is a compelling buy for a number of reasons, not least because every model comes with plenty of equipment, it’s quiet on the move, spacious and easy to drive around town. And with the clever ‘iMT’ clutch that allows the car to automatically coast when you’re not on the accelerator, fuel economy is strong, too.

In our tests, the iMT-equipped, 1.0-litre Rio achieved 48.9mpg overall, with great showings in our motorway and rural tests.

Read our used Kia Rio review

Strengths

  • Vast interior and boot
  • Good value for money used
  • High-quality materials

Weaknesses

  • Some rivals are more fun to drive
  • Diesel engines are occasionally gruff
  • 2.0-litre petrols are quick, but rather thirsty

Real MPG Average 48.2mpg | Town 37.8mpg | Motorway 45.4mpg | Rural 61.1mpg

The Skoda Superb was certainly a car to live up to its name. It was the biggest car in its class – rivalling fully-fledged executive saloons in that regard – fantastically comfortable, quiet and represents incredible value for money.

It’s another instance where diesel power wins out, because petrol engines were thirsty and plug-in hybrids were fairly rare. In raw economy terms, the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI (the second of three diesels) was stellar, returning an average of 48.2mpg in the real world.

Read our used Skoda Superb review

Our pick: 40 TFSI e Sport 5dr S Tronic

0-62mph: 7.6 sec
MPG/range: 256.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 26g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 280 litres
Insurance group: 24E

Strengths

  • Strong engines
  • Beautifully finished interior
  • Great to drive

Weaknesses

  • Not as spacious as the VW Golf in the back
  • Firm low-speed ride
  • Lower trims sparsely equipped

Real MPG Average 47.3mpg | Town 36.0mpg | Motorway 44.4mpg | Rural 61.6mpg

The fourth result for the Volkswagen Group’s TDI diesel engine comes when it’s installed in the previous generation of Audi A3, and could have crept up the list with a better round-town economy figure.

Still, economy elsewhere is very good, and represents the cherry on the top of a very strong engine range. Allied to entertaining handling and excellent refinement, the A3 makes for a very competent motorway car.

Read our used Audi A3 review