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...
The official MPG figures published in sales brochures can tempt you into buying a particular car, but those results are often misleading. 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.
The 10 most efficient cars for driving in towns or cities:
10. Volkswagen Up 1.0 75
Town True MPG 47.9mpg, Overall True MPG 55.9mpg
The Up is fundamentally the same car underneath as the Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo but adds an extra dash of luxury inside. 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.
9. Kia Niro 1.6 GDi Hybrid
Town True MPG 49.0mpg, Overall True MPG 50.1mpg
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. 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.
8. Renault Kadjar 1.5 dCi 110
Town True MPG 50.0mpg, Overall True MPG 55.2mpg
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. While it may average 50mpg in town, though, it's quite difficult to drive smoothly in this environment, due to grabby brakes.
7. Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SHVS
Town True MPG 50.6mpg, Overall True MPG 59.6mpg
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. 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.
Town True MPG 51.6mpg, Overall True MPG 44.7mpg
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, and the 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.
5. Toyota RAV4 2.5 Hybrid
Town True MPG 53.3mpg, Overall True MPG 37.1mpg
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, while there's plenty of space inside for both passengers and luggage, and it should be a very reliable choice.
4. Toyota Prius 1.8 VVTi
Town True MPG 60.3mpg, Overall True MPG 50.5mpg
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. 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.
3. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports 2.0 VVT-i Hybrid
Town True MPG 68.1mpg, Overall True MPG 49.4mpg
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. 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.
2. Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid
Town True MPG 80.0mpg, Overall True MPG 49.2mpg
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. 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 that promises to be better to drive and even more efficient will go on sale later this year.
1. Toyota RAV4 2.5 VVT-i Hybrid 2WD
Town True MPG 91.9mpg, Overall True MPG 49.0mpg
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). 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.
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