The 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...

The official MPG figures published in sales brochures can tempt you into buying a particular car, but those results are often misleading.

City traffic - True MPG

Fortunately, What Car?'s True MPG tests reveal what sort of fuel economy you can expect in the real world.

To ensure accuracy and repeatability, we use strictly controlled laboratory conditions, but the tests are based on a real-world route that takes in town, rural and motorway driving.

The results reflect what's achievable if you’re driving gently and sticking to speed limits but aren’t resorting to any unrealistically slow acceleration or special 'hypermiling' techniques.

Here we're looking at the cars that perform best in town. And while hybrids dominate, there also a diesel family SUV and even some petrol-powered models. And of course right now, many people are looking at an efficient drive that allows them to avoid public transport. These, then, are the cars to look out for:

The 10 most efficient cars for driving in towns or cities:

Volkswagen Up 2020 RHD front tracking

10. Volkswagen Up 1.0 75

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The Up is fundamentally the same car underneath as the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo but adds an extra dash of luxury inside.

Volkswagen Up (cont.)

Volkswagen Up 2020 RHD dashboard

It's also the only one of the trio that's still available with a conventional petrol engine instead of being offered only in fully electric form.

Town True MPG 47.9mpg

Overall True MPG 55.9mpg

Read our full Volkswagen Up review >>

9. Kia Niro 1.6 GDi Hybrid

Kia Niro front three quarters

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The electric Kia e-Niro was our 2019 Car of the Year, but this hybrid model mixes petrol and electric power, so it makes sense if you can't rely solely on electricity. The engine and motor work together seamlessly, switching power sources so smoothly that it's almost imperceptible.

Kia Niro (cont.)

2019 Kia Niro 1.6 GDi Hybrid 2 DCT Auto - interior

Town True MPG 49.0mpg

Overall True MPG 50.1mpg

The Niro also has a spacious interior and Kia's market-leading seven-year warranty, although the hybrid isn't as enjoyable to drive as the electric car.

Read our full Kia Niro review >>

8. Renault Kadjar 1.5 dCi 110

Renault Kadjar front

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Renault's family SUV is spacious, generously equipped and cheap to buy – as well as run, thanks to excellent fuel economy from its 1.5-litre diesel engine.

Renault Kadjar (cont.)

Renault Kadjar - interior

Town True MPG 50.0mpg

Overall True MPG 55.2mpg

While it may average 50mpg in town, though, it's quite difficult to drive smoothly in this environment, due to grabby brakes.

Read our full Renault Kadjar review >>

7. Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SHVS

Suzuki Ignis 2019 front

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Don't be fooled by the Ignis's small size, because it's one seriously impressive SUV. It's deceptively spacious, offers a generous amount of equipment and is very cheap to buy and run.

Suzuki Ignis (cont.)

Suzuki Ignis 2019 interior

Town True MPG 50.6mpg

Overall True MPG 59.6mpg

In fact, as well as posting a great result for town driving, the Ignis is the most frugal car we've ever put through our True MPG test overall.

Read our full Suzuki Ignis review >>

6. Lexus ES 300h

Lexus ES front - 68 plate

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There’s an awful lot to like about the Lexus ES, because for the most part it’s comfortable, quiet and spacious. What's more, the running costs for company car drivers are far below those of diesel rivals.

Lexus ES (cont.)

Lexus ES dashboard - 68 plate

Town True MPG 51.6mpg

Overall True MPG 44.7mpg

In fact, this big, luxurious saloon can top 51mpg in town is seriously impressive. It's just a pity that engine sounds coarse when you accelerate hard, and the infotainment system is a faff to use.

Read our full Lexus ES review >>

5. Toyota RAV4 2.5 Hybrid

Toyota RAV4 2.5

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This may be the old version of the RAV4, but it's still the fifth most efficient town car we've ever tested. Its 2.5-litre petrol-electric set-up switches between petrol and electric power smoothly.

Toyota RAV4 (cont.)

Toyota RAV4 2.5 Hybrid - interior

Town True MPG 53.3mpg

Overall True MPG 37.1mpg

There's plenty of space inside for both passengers and luggage, and it should be a very reliable choice.

Read our full used Toyota RAV4 review >>

4. Toyota Prius 1.8 VVTi

Toyota Prius 2020 RHD front cornering

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The Prius is one of the founding fathers of hybrid motoring, so it should come as no surprise to see it towards the top end of this list.

Toyota Prius (cont.)

Toyota Prius 2020 RHD dashboard

Town True MPG 60.3mpg

Overall True MPG 50.5mpg

Driving primarily in town will allow you to make the most of its limited electric-only range, plus it offers decent ride and handling, and good interior space.

Read our full Toyota Prius review >>

3. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2.0 VVT-i Hybrid

Toyota Corolla Touring Sport 2020 RHD left panning

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Like the Prius, this estate version of our reigning Hybrid Car of the Year is at its most efficient in town, although it's also pretty damn frugal everywhere else.

Toyota Corolla Touring Sports (cont.)

Toyota Corolla Touring Sport 2020 RHD dashboard

Town True MPG 68.1mpg

Overall True MPG 49.4mpg

Other strengths include strong resale values and plenty of standard equipment, and while the boot isn't quite as large as those found in conventional rivals, it’s not far off.

Read our full Toyota Corolla Touring Sports review >>

2. Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

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The runner-up spot goes to Toyota's Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa rival, which combines 80mpg in town with a comfortable ride and a generous standard spec.

Toyota Yaris (cont.)

Toyota Yaris Hybrid - interior

Town True MPG 80.0mpg

Overall True MPG 49.2mpg

As a result, it won its price point at this year's What Car? Car of the Year Awards, although it's worth remembering that an all-new Yaris has recently been introduced that's much nicer to drive and is even more efficient.

Read our full used Toyota Yaris review >>

1. Toyota RAV4 2.5 VVT-i Hybrid 2WD

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

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It's safe to say Toyota knows how to build an efficient town car, because it's behind the top five models on this list (top six if you also include the ES from its Lexus luxury brand).

Toyota RAV4 (cont.)

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Design 2.5 AWD Automatic - interior

Town True MPG 91.9mpg

Overall True MPG 49.0mpg

Most efficient of the lot is the latest RAV4 SUV, which managed an incredible 91.9mpg during the low-speed, stop-start section of our True MPG test. Plenty of rivals are better to drive and the infotainment system is a pain to use, but that sensational fuel economy makes the RAV4's shortcomings easier to forgive.

Read our full Toyota RAV4 review >>

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