The best petrol cars

Whether you're looking for something sporty, a practical hatchback or an SUV, petrol power can still make plenty of sense. We count down the best cars that drink from the green pump...

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by
Steve Huntingford
Updated26 July 2022

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If you're buying a new car, chances are you're looking at one with a petrol engine. With the gradual downturn in the sale of diesel-engined cars, petrol power is the top choice for most UK drivers, especially those not yet ready to switch to a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric car.

And the good news is that petrol engines are smoother, more powerful and more economical than ever before. So while you might have thought that you'd need to choose diesel for a larger car, such as an SUV, that's now no longer the case, as our round-up of the best petrol cars shows. And if you're looking for a quick ready-reckoner, it's the Volkswagen T-Roc that our expert team of testers regard as the very best petrol-powered car on sale today.

Whether you're in the market for a performance saloon, a family hatchback or even a family SUV, we'll help you find a petrol car to suit your needs. And remember, as well as giving more detail about each model in our independent reviews, What Car? can help you secure one at a discount with our exclusive Target Price deals.

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride and quiet on the motorway
  • High-set driving position for a small SUV
  • Good boot by class standards

Weaknesses

  • Touch-sensitive controls can be fiddly
  • Upper trims and engine options are too pricey
  • Unexciting handling (the Ford Puma is a sharper drive)

Very recently, the Volkswagen T-Roc did the unthinkable – it toppled the Ford Puma to become our favourite small SUV. As well as impressing in all the areas that a small SUV should – namely, being good to drive, spacious for your family and their luggage and comfortable for long and short journeys alike – the T-Roc comes with a cracker of a petrol engine. The 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol that we recommend offers effortless performance no matter the situation, yet won't also send your running costs into the stratosphere. It's our favourite petrol-engined car.

Read our full Volkswagen T-Roc review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Loads of space in the back
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Firm ride on FR models
  • Road noise
  • Fiddly infotainment system

The Leon is our reigning Family Car of the Year and is truly great to drive, with a comfortable ride and engaging handing. There's a variety of petrol engines available, ranging from a 109bhp 1.0-litre option all the way through to a 187bhp 2.0-litre, but it's the mid-range 128bhp 1.5-litre petrol (badged TSI 130) that we recommend for its mix of performance and fuel economy.

Read our full Seat Leon review

Our pick: 1.6T GDi 157 48V ISG 3 5dr

0-62mph: 9.9 sec
MPG/range: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 562 litres
Insurance group: 20E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Lower-spec models are great value
  • Smart interior
  • Generous rear leg room and boot space

Weaknesses

  • Hybrid petrol engine sounds strained
  • Rear head room compromised with panoramic roof
  • No clever rear seat functions

This five-star family SUV is offered with petrol, hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) power, but if it's pure petrol you want, the 148bhp 1.6-litre option is a good choice. It can be had with fuel-saving mild-hybrid technology if you team it with the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox. There's plenty of space inside for your family and all their luggage, while the Sportage's interior features lots of high-quality materials.

Read our full Kia Sportage review

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid mHEV 155 ST-Line DCT 5dr

0-62mph: 8.7 sec
MPG/range: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 128g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 17E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great fun to drive
  • Remarkable blend of performance and fuel economy
  • Big and cleverly designed boot

Weaknesses

  • Rear space is adequate rather than outstanding
  • Visibility could be better
  • Volkswagen T-Roc is more comfortable and quieter

The Puma a cracking small SUV and a former What Car? Car of the Year, but as well as being both spacious and good to drive, it also comes with a pleasantly peppy 1.0-litre petrol engine. It gets even better, though, because it's also a mild hybrid, so it uses small amounts of electric power to help save you money at the pumps.

Read our full Ford Puma review

Our pick: 420i M Sport 2dr Step Auto

0-62mph: 8.2 sec
MPG/range: 41.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 154g/km
Seats: 4
Boot: 385 litres
Insurance group: 32E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Range-topping M440i is seriously rapid
  • More fun to drive than direct rivals
  • More room in the back than you might imagine

Weaknesses

  • Some wind and tyre noise
  • Back seats don't split and fold down
  • Divisive looks

Welcome to the best convertible car on sale today – and that's especially true if you buy your BMW 4 Series Convertible with our favourite 420i 2.0-litre petrol engine. With 181bhp on offer, it has no trouble propelling the 4 Series up to motorway speeds, and even sounds relatively sporty while doing it. You can upgrade to the more powerful 430i or range-topping M440i petrol engines if you want, but doing so will cost you a lot of money.

Read our full BMW 4 Series Convertible review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI SE Comfort 5dr

0-62mph: 10.7 sec
MPG/range: 55.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 115g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 380 litres
Insurance group: 11E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Huge boot
  • Roomy interior with clever features
  • Fairly supple ride

Weaknesses

  • Renault Clio has a smarter interior
  • Not as practical as the Honda Jazz
  • Entry-level engine only suited to town driving

The Skoda Fabia has become synonymous with the small but mighty mantra, and the latest version continues the trend – it's hugely spacious inside, is comfortable for longer trips, and is crammed full of clever features. It's also available with a corking petrol engine, in this case a turbocharged 94bhp 1.0-litre unit. The performance is best described as adequate rather than brisk – the 0-62mph sprint takes 10.5sec – but it's fine for most situations. If you value more speed, then a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol is also available.

Read our full Skoda Fabia review

Our pick: A45 S 4Matic+ Plus 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 3.9 sec
MPG/range: 30.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 208g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 370 litres
Insurance group: 40E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Savage acceleration
  • Immense grip
  • Quick-shifting automatic gearbox

Weaknesses

  • Very expensive
  • Audi RS3 is more comfortable
  • Infotainment controls could be easier to use

A hot hatchback is prime territory for a petrol engine, and the one in the Mercedes A45 is just as rorty as you'd expect. With 415bhp available in our recommended S form, it can catapult the A45 to 62mph in just 3.9sec – that's quicker than some far more expensive sports cars. A fast-acting automatic gearbox helps to make the most of the engine's power, leaving you to enjoy every blip of the accelerator. You might imagine that running an A45 would be ruinous to your wallet, but its official fuel economy figure of 31mpg – and 28mpg in our real-world tests – isn't bad for the class.

Read our full Mercedes A45 review

Our pick: 1.5 TSI 150 SE L 5dr

0-62mph: 8.6 sec
MPG/range: 51.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 124g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 640 litres
Insurance group: 21P
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Supple ride most of the time
  • Plush interior
  • Well priced next to rivals

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are more fun to drive
  • Body control could be better over big undulations
  • Heating controls are in the touchscreen

If you're looking for a comfortable and practical estate car which also won't break the bank, then the Skoda Octavia Estate deserves to be near the top of your shortlist. While it's available with petrol and diesel engines as well as with plug-in hybrid power, it's the former that we recommend. Indeed, our favoured 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol offers plenty of punch, even if it needs revving hard to perform at its best if you've got a full load on board.

Read our full Skoda Octavia Estate review

Our pick: 4.0 GTS 2dr

0-62mph: 4.5 sec
MPG/range: 25.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 247g/km
Seats: 2
Boot: 270 litres
Insurance group: 46E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Brilliant handling
  • Wonderful six-cylinder GTS engine
  • High quality

Weaknesses

  • Stingy standard equipment
  • Lack of safety equipment
  • Disappointing sound of the smaller four-cylinder engines

If you want to drive a car that celebrates petrol power with every journey, the latest Porsche 718 Cayman should be on your shortlist, especially in the GTS form we recommend. You see, while most Caymans have turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines, the GTS and GT4 versions get a six-cylinder engine with no turbocharger. The result is a powerhouse, with 394bhp available and a soundtrack you'll want to listen to every time you drive. It's sublime.

Read our full Porsche 718 Cayman review

Our pick: 1.5 TSI EVO SE Family 5dr

0-62mph: 8.9 sec
MPG/range: 44.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 146g/km
Seats: 7
Boot: 834 litres
Insurance group: 19E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Superb space and practicality
  • Strong level of standard equipment
  • Great to drive by MPV standards

Weaknesses

  • Rivals offer more economical diesel or hybrid engines
  • Costly to buy on PCP finance
  • Automatic gearbox can be hesitant

Petrol power makes great sense in a people mover like the Volkswagen Touran, and indeed the engine we recommend is a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol, badged as the TSI 150. It offers punchy acceleration even with seven seats filled, yet also keeps your running costs sensible. Elsewhere, the Touran impresses with its practical interior and tempting PCP finance offers – no wonder it's our reigning MPV of the Year.

Read our full Volkswagen Touran review

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