Real MPG: the cars that beat official fuel economy figures

Official fuel economy figures are closer to reality than ever according to What Car?'s unique Real MPG testing, but some models do even better. Here are the 10 best, plus three that fell way shor...

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by
Alasdair Rodden
Published23 March 2024

For many years, the official fuel economy figures cited by car manufacturers were often way in excess of what drivers would experience in the real world. A 40mpg car could easily be capable of just 30mpg. Drivers would be left frustrated, and hit in the wallet with greater-than-expected fuel bills.

That's where What Car?'s Real MPG steps in. Our fully-independent, in-depth economy tests reveal the how much fuel your car will really use across a range of roads.

Real MPG: How realistic are official fuel economy figures?

While many cars' real-world economy is still less than the official figures recorded on the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), there are some which actually beat them. Rather unexpectedly, the car that beat the official figures by the most was a high-performance SUV, the Skoda Kodiaq vRS, and delivered a near-43% improvement.

It’s not alone, though, so here we name the 10 models which beat their official fuel economy figures by the biggest proportion, as well as the three which are furthest from living up to their WLTP claims.


How we test for a car's Real MPG

To ensure they are repeatable and comparable, the What Car? Real MPG tests are undertaken on a rolling road set in laboratory conditions. This ensures that variables, such as traffic or inclement weather, don't bias our results. The route the car is 'driven' on is a real-world one, taking in a variety of speeds.

Prior to every Real MPG test, the car's tyre pressures are checked and weight recorded. If the car has climate control, it is set to 21C. If not, we set the heater to the midpoint, with the fan speed on its lowest moving setting. All electrical equipment, from headlights to heated seats or the radio, are switched off.

The only additional piece of kit attached to the car is an exhaust connector, which channels emissions and allows them to be recorded every second. The Real MPG scores we then report are based on an average of those results.

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

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Smart interior
  • Decently practical all round

Weaknesses

  • Expensive to buy
  • Not that quick for a sports SUV
  • Thirsty petrol engine

Official MPG 33.1mpg | Real MPG average 47.3mpg | Town 26.4mpg | Motorway 55.0mpg | Rural 63.2mpg | Shortfall -42.9%

Despite being the performance variant of Skoda's spacious seven-seater, the Kodiaq vRS returned almost 50mpg in our testing, proving that – depending where you drive it – it's not nearly as thirsty as the official figure suggests. However, even with that in mind, it's hard to recommend the vRS. It's considerably more expensive than the regular Skoda Kodiaq, and if driving fun is high on your list of priorities you'd be better off doing without the third row of seats and buying a Cupra Ateca.

Read our full Skoda Kodiaq vRS 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

Official MPG 42.7mpg | Real MPG average 50.9mpg | Town 45.0mpg | Motorway 44.9mpg | Rural 65.3mpg | Shortfall -19.2%

The Citroën C3 is one of the cheapest cars on sale today, so it's reassuring to know that owners won't find their fuel bills getting much higher than they'd bargained for. Unfortunately, like the Kodiaq, the C3 is outclassed by its rivals in most other areas. It's disappointing to drive – especially when fitted with this entry-level engine, which you need to work hard just to be able to keep up with traffic – and even the cheaper Dacia Sandero is a big step up in terms of ride comfort.

Read our full Citroën C3 review

Strengths

  • Accurate steering
  • Good interior
  • Plenty of off road ability

Weaknesses

  • Fuel economy
  • Noisy engine
  • Poor autonomous safety tech

Official MPG 30.7mpg | Real MPG average 36.5mpg | Town 25.4mpg | Motorway 35.6mpg | Rural 48.7mpg | Shortfall -18.9%

These Real MPG figures were achieved in the range-topping 210bhp 2.0 Ecoblue 213 version of the previous-generation Ford Ranger, proving that big, heavy pick-up trucks can benefit from powerful engines that can be driven low in the rev range. Furthermore, the Ranger benefits from a 10-speed automatic gearbox, which can seamlessly slot into the most efficient cog at any time. It's not the most refined diesel engine, though (if you're used to driving a relatively hushed SUV you'll notice the difference).

Read our full Ford Ranger (2011-2023) review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Big cargo bay with a high payload capacity
  • Space for four six-footers in Double Cab versions
  • Good to drive for a pick-up

Weaknesses

  • Not the cheapest pick-up
  • Warranty could be better

Official MPG 20.5mpg | Real MPG average 24.0mpg | Town 16.0mpg | Motorway 24.1mpg | Rural 32.2mpg | Shortfall -17.1%

No matter how you look at it, the Ford Ranger Raptor is not a sensible vehicle. Its 288bhp six-cylinder petrol engine is about the thirstiest you'll find in a modern pick-up truck, its flared wheel arches and bold 'Raptor' decals are certain to get you noticed wherever you go and its performance-tuned suspension means you can carry so little weight in the back that it doesn't actually qualify for the commercial vehicle status applied to most pick-ups. However, if you think of it as a jacked-up, go-anywhere performance car, it starts to make a bit more sense.

Read our full Ford Ranger review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Appealing interior
  • Good payload ratings
  • Safety tech available across the range

Weaknesses

  • Weak, noisy engine
  • Firm ride
  • Poor quality interior
  • Dimwitted automatic gearbox

Official MPG 30.7mpg | Real MPG average 35.2mpg | Town 28.2mpg | Motorway 33.8mpg | Rural 42.8mpg | Shortfall -14.7%

It's just as well the D-Max's 1.9-litre diesel engine is so efficient in the real world, because it's the only one that this rough-and-tumble pick-up truck is sold with. It's economy owes much to its ability to pull the D-Max along at low revs. Indeed, at higher revs it quickly runs out of puff. In our testing, the engine was linked to a decent six-speed automatic gearbox, its only fault being a reluctance to kick down, but a manual model is also available.

Read our full Isuzu D-Max review

Our pick: 2.0 eHEV Elegance 5dr eCVT

0-62mph: 9.4 sec
MPG/range: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 151g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 587 litres
Insurance group: 34E

Strengths

  • Very well equipped
  • Huge amount of space inside
  • Hybrid option

Weaknesses

  • No diesel option
  • Bland interior
  • Awkward infotainment system

Official MPG 42.2mpg | Real MPG average 47.4mpg | Town 47.6mpg | Motorway 38.9mpg | Rural 65.8mpg | Shortfall -12.3%

The CR-V is the first hybrid model to appear on this list although, with an average test figure of 47.6mpg, it’s far from being the most economical hybrid car we’ve ever tested. As a used large SUV buy, the CR-V can make a lot of sense; it’s very spacious inside, and comes very well equipped as standard. However, many rivals are better to drive, and this hybrid version can only tow up to 750kg, which is sub-par for the class.

Read our full Honda CR-V (2018-2023) review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Big cargo bay with a high payload capacity
  • Good to drive for a pickup
  • Space for four six-footers inside

Weaknesses

  • Not the cheapest pickup
  • Fiddly air-con controls

Official MPG 32.8mpg | Real MPG average 36.7mpg | Town 25.4mpg | Motorway 35.7mpg | Rural 49.4mpg | Shortfall -11.9%

It may be closely related to the award-winning Ford Ranger, but the Volkswagen Amarok is no low-effort rebadging effort. In fact, you might actually struggle to see the shared DNA at a glance – only a handful of exterior parts are common to both. To further distinguish the two models, the Amarok has its own infotainment system. Unfortunately, Volkswagen's decision to remove the physical climate controls you'd find in a Ranger means that the Amarok's system is harder to adjust on the move.

Read our full Volkswagen Amarok 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

Official MPG 50.7mpg | Real MPG average 56.0mpg | Town 44.3mpg | Motorway 51.9mpg | Rural 72.2mpg | Shortfall -10.5%

Downsized 1.0-litre engines have a reputation for returning great official fuel economy but disappointing real-world figures. The little Up turns that argument on its head though, and proves that this is the right-sized car for a small engine. This result was achieved with the entry-level 59bhp unit, which is reasonably common on the used market. This engine was replaced with a 64bhp variant, which trades some efficiency for a touch more power; both are very recommendable options.

View our full Volkswagen Up (2012-2023) review

Our pick: 1.5 [132] Exclusive-Line 2dr

0-62mph: 8.3 sec
MPG/range: 45.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 140g/km
Seats: 2
Boot: 130 litres
Insurance group: 27E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Good ride and handling balance
  • Performance suited to UK roads
  • Low running costs

Weaknesses

  • Not much head room for tall drivers
  • Limited storage
  • Driving position would benefit from greater range of adjustment

Official MPG 40.9mpg | Real MPG average 45.1mpg | Town 33.2mpg | Motorway 44.4mpg | Rural 56.5mpg | Shortfall -10.3%

We've tested the more powerful engine option available in the MX-5 here, the 181bhp 2.0-litre unit, despite the more affordable entry-level 130bhp 1.5-litre being our pick of the range for most buyers. The revelation is that the 2.0-litre engine can deliver the best of both worlds – incredible economy when you are out cruising thanks to its reserves of power, as well as a fair whack of oomph for some extra fun if you want to work it hard and push the revs up (and prepare to watch your fuel economy plummet).

Read our full Mazda MX-5 review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Seriously cheap to buy and run
  • Spacious boot
  • 4x4 version is very capable off road

Weaknesses

  • Body control and handling are poor compared with most rivals
  • Interior feels cheap
  • Low Euro NCAP safety rating

Official MPG 39.8mpg | Real MPG average 43.8mpg | Town 34.0mpg | Motorway 40.8mpg | Rural 56.7mpg | Shortfall -10.1%

Few small SUVs come as cheap as the Dacia Duster, but it's still a spacious and practical choice, and is at its best with the turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine we tested here. As well as overachieving in terms of fuel economy, this engine is punchy enough to propel the Duster with ease. However, if you're looking to minimise running costs, the TCe 100 Bi-Fuel engine uses two fuel tanks, one for petrol and the other for LPG, meaning you can take advantage of LPG's lower price without worrying about being unable to find a suitable filling station.

Read our full Dacia Duster review

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