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True MPG: most efficient cars for town driving

What Car?'s True MPG tests show what you can really expect from a car, and here we reveal the models that perform best if you do most of your driving on congested urban roads...

City traffic - True MPG

According to official figures, more than 43 billion miles were covered on urban roads in 2021. And whether you live in the city or have to travel into one for work, the chances are that most of us will spend a significant portion of our driving lives on such streets.

And that's a problem, because town roads, and the traffic situations they create, can dent your fuel economy; after all, the constant stop-start of urban traffic doesn't make for efficient driving. You can lessen the impact, though, by choosing a car that's at it's most efficient in town.

In this story, we'll use the results from our real-world True MPG tests to reveal which cars are likely to cost you the least to run in urban areas. In fact, each of the models in this list managed more than 60mpg during the town portion of our test – and the best did a lot better than that.

1. The most fuel-efficient car for town driving: Toyota Yaris Cross 1.5 hybrid

Toyota Yaris Cross front right tracking

True MPG Average 60.1mpg | Town 103.3mpg | Motorway 45.5mpg | Rural 70.5mpg

Not only is the Toyota Yaris Cross the only car to manage triple-digits in the town portion of our real-world fuel economy tests, but it's also the most efficient car we've ever tested overall. Key to that efficiency is its hybrid system, which matches an electric motor with a 1.5-litre petrol engine. When you're driving around town, the electric motor can take most of the strain of driving, leading to fewer trips to the fuel station. 

Elsewhere, the Yaris Cross impresses with its lofty driving position and its uncluttered dashboard design, but it's worth noting that some small SUV rivals are more spacious.

Read our full Toyota Yaris Cross review or see our latest Toyota Yaris Cross deals

Read on to find out how we find your car's True MPG, and see more of the cars which performed well in our tests, as well as the models which will cost you the most to run.

How we test for a car's True MPG

Unlike the official Government fuel economy tests – the results of which you'll see printed in manufacturer sales brochures – our laboratory tests are based on a real-world driving route which simulates a mix of town, motorway and country driving. This makes our tests repeatable and dependable, and eliminates any variables such as weather or traffic conditions.

To generate a car's True MPG figure, cars are first weighed and checked over to make sure that the the tyres are set to the manufacturer's recommended level. The internal climate is set to a strict 21 degrees – or the midway point on the temperature dial if the car has manual air conditioning, with the fan speed at its lowest setting. We also turn off the headlights and any other electrical equipment which might interfere with the results, such as the stereo.

Before the test begins, we fit an exhaust connection which allows the car's emissions to be measured. Once the test begins, those emissions are measured every second, and the True MPG score is calculated from an average of those results.

The best of the rest: cars for town driving

2. Toyota RAV4 2.5 hybrid 2WD

Toyota RAV4 front cornering

True MPG 49.0mpg | Town MPG 91.9mpg

That a big, heavy car like the Toyota RAV4 can be almost as efficient as the far smaller Yaris Cross around town is nothing short of remarkable, but as with that car, the secret is the fact that the RAV4 is a hybrid. That means its 2.5-litre petrol engine is paired with a powerful electric motor for a total of 302bhp, and around town, it's the electric motor which does most of the work.

As well as its frugal credentials, we like the RAV4's slow predicted depreciation and Toyota's stellar reliability record. Most SUV rivals are better to drive, though, and there's no seven-seat option.

Read our full Toyota RAV4 review

3. Toyota Corolla 1.8 hybrid

Toyota Corolla 2023 review

True MPG 53.3mpg | Town MPG 90.6mpg

You might be sensing a pattern here, because yes, Toyota takes the majority of places on this list, thanks to the Japanese brand's expertise with hybrid technology. In the Corolla, that means a 1.8-litre petrol engine that's teamed with an electric motor for maximum efficiency.

The Corolla is a fine family car even without its green credentials, though, thanks to a comfortable ride and the fact that you get loads of equipment as standard. Indeed, the Corolla earned our maximum five-star road test rating. 

Read our full Toyota Corolla review or see our latest Toyota Corolla deals

4. Suzuki Swace 1.8 hybrid

Suzuki Swace 2021 front cornering

True MPG 50.3mpg | Town MPG 86.6mpg

The Swace might not have a Toyota badge on its bonnet, but it does share heritage with one of the brand's models. You see, thanks to a partnership between Suzuki and Toyota, the Swace shares not only its bodywork but also most of its oily components – including its frugal hybrid setup – with the Corolla Touring Sports, yet it costs less than that car to buy.

The result is a super-efficient estate that's impressively frugal anywhere, but especially so around town. And while it can be rather noisy when you put your foot down, and the infotainment system is far below par, the Swace is a good choice if you want a green car that's also capable of moving some furniture.

Read our full Suzuki Swace review or see our latest Suzuki Swace deals

5. Honda Civic 2.0 eHEV

Honda Civic 2023 front cornering

True MPG 49.5mpg | Town MPG 84.6mpg

Like the other cars on this list so far, the Honda Civic features both a petrol engine and an electric motor. However, unlike most hybrids, the so-called eHEV setup means that around town, the petrol engine never directly powers the Civic's wheels – that only occurs at higher speeds.

There's a lot more to the Civic's string of talents than just efficiency, however, because it's also extremely practical and comes loaded with kit. It's so good, in fact, that it's our reigning family car champion.

Read our full Honda Civic review or see our latest Honda Civic deals

6. Toyota Yaris 1.5 hybrid

Toyota Yaris front right tracking

True MPG 59.9mpg | Town MPG 80.0mpg

The latest Yaris is ruthlessly efficient – in fact, its overall average score of 59.9mpg means it's the second most efficient car to ever go through our True MPG tests. It doesn't quite break into the top five in terms of in-town efficiency, but a score of 80mpg on urban roads means you won't be paying very many trips to the petrol station.

This Yaris also did well in the other sections of our test, recording scores of 74.1mpg and 46.7mpg in the country road and motorway sections respectively. 

Just don't expect practicality to be a key strength, here. There isn't much room for rear passengers to stretch out, or much space for them to put their luggage into the boot – even by the standards of the small car class.

Read our full Toyota Yaris review or see our latest Toyota Yaris deals

7. Toyota Yaris 1.5 hybrid

Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid Icon CVT

True MPG 49.2mpg | Town MPG 80.0mpg

No, you're not seeing double, this is indeed a second version of the ultra-efficient Toyota Yaris, but it's the previous generation of the car. The good news is that it's still thoroughly green, recording the same 80.0mpg during the town portion of our test, and 49.2mpg overall.

The even better news for bargain hunters is that you don't have to spend a lot to put one on your driveway, because used examples start from just £3000.

8. Honda Jazz 1.5 i-MMD hybrid

Honda Jazz front static

True MPG 56.0mpg | Town MPG 68.8mpg

Welcome to Britain's best small car – the Honda Jazz. Not only is it as practical as some far larger models, but it's also good to drive, well equipped and, as our real-world tests show, it's wonderfully efficient around town.

Like most of the other cars on this list, it's a hybrid, and on urban roads its electric motor is able to take care of most of the driving, leaving the peppy 1.5-litre petrol engine for the motorway or faster country roads.

The cherry on the cake here is that thanks to slow depreciation, you'll get a good portion of your money back when you come to sell your Jazz.

Read our full Honda Jazz review or see our latest Honda Jazz deals

9. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2.0 VVT-i Hybrid

Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2022 front cornering

True MPG 49.4mpg | Town MPG 68.1mpg

The sister car to the Suzuki Swace we saw earlier, this Corolla Touring Sports features a 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor, with the latter able to take most of the strain if you stick to urban roads.

The Corolla isn't just a good green choice, though, it's also a good estate car. There's more legroom for rear passengers than you'd find in the gargantuan Skoda Octavia Estate, and while choosing the 2.0-litre engine over the smaller 1.8-litre option does reduce boot space slightly, there's still 581 litres on offer – enough for your holiday luggage or a big trip to the tip.

Read our full Toyota Corolla Touring Sports review or see our latest Toyota Corolla Touring Sports deals

10. Hyundai Kona 1.6 GDi Hybrid

Hyundai Kona Hybrid front three quarters

True MPG 47.4mpg | Town MPG 63.7mpg

The Kona is a good choice if you want a small SUV that's also frugal, and it impresses with a generous amount of standard kit and a decent infotainment system. This hybrid version is powered by a 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor.

It won't win any awards for outright acceleration – the 0-62mph sprint takes 11.2sec – but in the real world it's plenty quick enough.

Read our full Hyundai Kona review or see our latest Hyundai Kona deals

And the least efficient cars for town driving

Those are the models that will cost you the least in fuel bills if you mainly drive in town, but what about those cars which are hideously expensive to run? Next, we'll take you through the models that performed the worst in our real-world tests.

3. Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet S500

2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S500 review - price, specs and release date

True MPG 25.2mpg | Town MPG 14.6mpg

This version of the Mercedes S-Class mixes luxury with performance. While it gives you the same gorgeous interior and supreme comfort as other S-Class models, it's powered by a storming 4.7-litre V8 petrol engine. The result is a car that feels fast no matter what sort of road you're on, but the downside is that it'll be expensive to run on any road, too.

Read our used Mercedes S-Class buying guide

2. Lexus LC500 Convertible

Lexus LC 500 Convertible 2020

True MPG 24.2mpg | Town MPG 14.4mpg

If you're the kind of driver who wants wind-in-your-hair thrills and an explosive V8-engined soundtrack to accompany every journey, then the Lexus LC Convertible deserves a spot on your new car shortlist. In the right circumstances, it is sensational to drive. However, most of those circumstances won't arise around town, where the LC will be far costlier to run than most other sports cars.

Read our full Lexus LC Convertible review or see our latest Lexus LC Convertible deals

1. Audi S8

Audi S8 front cornering

True MPG 21.7mpg | Town MPG 13.5mpg

There's lots to like about this go-faster version of the Audi A8 luxury saloon. Its long-distance comfort, for example, or its sumptuous interior. Even the pace from its 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The downside to that, however, is ruinous fuel economy – not just in town, but everywhere else, too. So make sure you can afford to run one if you decide to buy.

Read our full Audi S8 review or see our latest Audi S8 deals

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