Real MPG: most economical petrol cars

Our Real MPG tests show what fuel economy you can really expect from a car. Here, we reveal the best and worst performing petrol-powered models we've ever tested...

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Alasdair Rodden
Published15 April 2024

In these environmentally aware days, many drivers are making the switch to electric power. But rumours of petrol's demise are greatly exaggerated, because it still has an important part to play – and some of the most efficient cars you can buy run on the stuff.

Real MPG: most efficient petrol cars

A petrol engine is particularly well suited to a small car; when you combine a small petrol engine with a lightweight car, the result can be excellent real-world fuel economy. But, which are the most fuel-efficient petrol cars on sale? Here we count down the 10 most economical we've ever tested – which is led by the remarkable Suzuki Ignis – and name the petrol-powered models that performed the worst. 

Each car has been classified according to how it performed in our Real MPG testing, and for consistency, we've included mild hybrids but excluded other forms of hybrid engine. 

How we test for a car's Real MPG

In most cases, official WLTP or NEDC fuel economy figures are more generous than you might find in the real world. So, for that reason, we carry out Real MPG tests.

Each car that we test is driven on a rolling road under laboratory conditions to ensure the most accurate results. That means that uncontrollable variables – such as weather or traffic – don't affect our readings. However, the simulated route the cars take is based on one in the real world.

We also check the tyre pressures of each car and set the climate control to 21 degrees. If the car has manual air conditioning, the temperature is set to its midway point, and the fan speed to its lowest setting.

We calculate the Real MPG results using data from an exhaust connection, which allows the car's emissions to be measured every second.

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

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
Buying & Owning


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


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

WLTP MPG 55.7mpg | Real MPG Average 59.9mpg | Town 51.3mpg | Motorway 53.3mpg | Rural 74.8mpg

The Suzuki Ignis's 1.2-litre petrol engine may have just 82bhp, but it rarely feels out of its depth, even if you spend most of your time on faster roads. It's also ruthlessly efficient, partly because it's a mild hybrid.

The Ignis returned an impressive 53.3mpg on the motorway in our tests, and close to 75mpg on rural roads. With an average of almost 60mpg, it's the most efficient petrol-engined car we've tested to date.

Read our full Suzuki Ignis review


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


  • Cheap-feeling interior
  • Limited infotainment options

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

In a car as small and light as the Suzuki Celerio, even a 67bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine can give you a pleasant turn of speed. Indeed, while the Celerio feels most at home in town, like the more modern Suzuki Ignis, it isn't outpaced on faster A-roads or motorways.

Additionally, Suzuki as a brand has an impressive reliability record, so you shouldn't face many instances of things going wrong. The Celerio was discontinued by Suzuki in 2019; used examples cost from around £3000.

Read our full used Suzuki Celerio review


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


  • 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 72.2mpg

Since its launch in 2012, the Volkswagen Up has been offered with several frugal 1.0-litre petrol engines. The most efficient of the bunch is the entry-level 59bhp version. The absence of a turbocharger means it can feel a bit weedy, but having to make fewer trips to the petrol station will at least partially make up for that.

Unfortunately the Up is no longer available to buy new, although used examples are widely available.

Read our full used Volkswagen Up review


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


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

NEDC MPG 62.7mpg | Real MPG Average 55.2mpg | Town 46.6mpg | Motorway 49.9mpg | Rural 70.4mpg

Suzuki has scored a hat-trick in the economical petrol car contest with this, the Baleno. It's a small car rival to the likes of the Skoda Fabia, but one which – in this 1.0-litre form – is more economical than most.

You get lots of equipment as standard, too, plus a spacious boot. It's worth noting that the Suzuki Baleno is no longer on sale, but you can find used examples at very reasonable prices.

Read our full used Suzuki Baleno review


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


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

NEDC MPG 62.8mpg | Real MPG Average 55.2mpg | Town 45.9mpg | Motorway 50.0mpg | Rural 70.6mpg

With just 59bhp, you might think this entry-level version of the Citigo – Skoda's version of the Volkswagen Up featured above – is best avoided. In reality, it's fine for those who value fuel economy and do most of their miles in town.

However, the Citigo is at its most frugal when you venture out of the urban jungle, into the countryside. Petrol-engined versions of the Citigo, as well as the fully electric Skoda Citigo e iV, are now available only on the used market.

Read our full used Skoda Citigo 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


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


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

NEDC MPG 60.1mpg | Real MPG Average 54.0mpg | Town 45.1mpg | Motorway 48.8mpg | Rural 69.4mpg

This 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol version of the Seat Ibiza pulls willingly from low revs and can whisk you up to motorway speeds surprisingly quickly, yet it also proved exceptionally frugal in our testing.

On top of this, the Ibiza is among the best small cars you can buy if driving fun is a priority. The Ibiza was named our Small Car of the Year in 2018, although the Renault Clio is now the leader of the pack – even if it can't match the Seat's economy.

Read our full Seat Ibiza review


  • Reliable engines
  • Plenty to choose from
  • Long warranty


  • 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

The second-generation Kia Picanto won multiple What Car? Awards over the years. However, while there's no denying that the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol engine is supremely economical, it needs to be worked hard to perform at its best.

What’s more, the contemporary Hyundai i10 (2014-2020) could be bought with a version of the same frugal engine, yet it outclasses the Picanto as a secondhand buy. In either car, the extra power of the 1.2-litre engine is worth the potential efficiency penalty if you often travel on motorways.

Read our full used Kia Picanto review


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


  • 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

The previous-generation Leon is the first and only family car in this top 10. Despite its extra size, it’s almost as frugal as the diminutive Mk2 Kia Picanto, and it has plenty more to offer to the discerning used car buyer than just the promise of low running costs.

For starters, it’s great fun to drive, with sporty handling and quick steering. And, although it’s the entry-level option, the 1.0 TSI petrol engine we put through this test still offers flexible performance, which complements its impressive economy.

Read our full used Seat Leon review

Our pick: 1.0 Tce Bi-Fuel Expression 5dr

0-62mph: 11.6 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 109g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 328 litres
Insurance group: 14E


  • Economical 0.9 TCE engine
  • Surprisingly spacious
  • You won’t have to read the manual


  • Nothing special to drive
  • Interior feels cheap
  • Entry-level version is very basic

NEDC MPG 55.4mpg | Real MPG Average 52.8mpg | Town 44.3mpg | Motorway 47.3mpg | Rural 68.5mpg

Although it can’t hold a candle to its replacement (the current Dacia Sandero), this first-generation model still won favour with many buyers when it was new thanks to its no-frills philosophy and affordable price. And it’s even more affordable now than it was then, with prices starting below £2000.

When we put the 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine through our tests, it managed more than 50mpg on average – meaning the Sandero’s not just cheap to buy, but cheap to run as well.

Read our full used Dacia Sandero 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
Buying & Owning


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


  • 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

Scraping in at number 10, the Aygo X is a touch more efficient than a Mazda 2 or Volkswagen Polo. The 71bhp, 1.0-litre petrol engine in the version we tested is the sole option, and is down on power compared with most rivals’ offerings.

Putting up with its leisurely performance does have its benefits, though. Toyota has a stellar reliability record, and owners who get their Aygo X serviced at a dealership can benefit from a warranty stretching up to 10 years.

Read our full Toyota Aygo X review


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And the least economical petrol cars...

Ford Ranger 3.0 Ecoboost

WLTP MPG: 20.5mpg | Real MPG: 24.0mpg. The Ranger Raptor’s 288bhp turbocharged V6 may be thirsty, but it actually beat its official fuel economy figure in our tests. Read our review

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

NEDC MPG: 34.4mpg | Real MPG: 23.5mpg. An expensive performance car has to be fun to drive, and the Giulia Quadrifoglio is exactly that. Don't expect to make many long journeys between trips to the petrol pump, though. Read our review

Audi S8

WLTP MPG: 24.6mpg | Real MPG: 21.7mpg. At almost 5.2 metres in length and 2.3 tonnes in weight, the Audi S8 is a collection of big numbers. Its whopping 563bhp goes hand in hand with a dismal real-world fuel economy figure. Read our review