As the cost of living continues to rise uncomfortably high, you may be looking to buy one of the most economical cars that’s as affordable as possible to run. An electric car is surely the obvious answer, right? Well, not necessarily. You see, there are still a lot of internal combustion cars that return very high fuel economy and are well worth considering. Not only do these cars cost little to run, even compared to an electric car, they cost quite a lot less to buy in the first place.
Here, we’re going to look at the top ten most efficient cars available to buy new in the UK right now. The list is based on the best average MPG a car can return, as measured on the WLTP cycle. We’re using ‘best case’ figures that don’t take account of any effect optional extras like different wheels have on MPG.
The list is dominated by self-charging hybrids and diesels, proving there’s still some life left in the black pump. We haven’t included plug-in hybrids or electric cars because their efficiency is measured differently. Hatchbacks of various sizes are more numerous than other bodystyles, though a single MPV makes the list. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no SUVs made the cut.
We also have a list of the most economical small vans you can buy that you may want to check out.
Top 10 most economical cars 2023
1. Peugeot 308 1.5 BlueHDi 130: 65.4mpg
Distinctive midsize hatchback offers very long range
✅ Sharp looks
✅ Premium interior
✅ Big boot
❌ Awkward driving position
❌ Handling lacks sparkle
The Peugeot 308 is the first of three Stellantis products to appear on this list of the most economical cars. It’s fitted with the most powerful, 130hp version of the widely used 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel engine. In the 308, it comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a good motorway cruiser that can deliver a range of over 700 miles on a full tank of fuel.
The 308’s driving position won’t suit everyone, but it should be fine if you’re under six feet tall. The seats are pleasantly supportive on a long drive. Lots of infotainment and connectivity options to keep you entertained, as well. Every 308 trim level, and both hatchback and estate bodies are available with the BlueHDi engine.
Read our full Peugeot 308 review
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2. SEAT Leon 2.0 TDI 115PS: 65.7mpg
Good-looking hatchback that’s satisfying to spend time with
✅ Very good diesel engine
✅ Sharp handling
✅ Smooth ride
❌ SE trim level lacks tech
❌ Boot could be bigger
There are no less than four Volkswagen Group cars on this list, all of which use versions of the 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine. It’s a really good unit that’s smooth, quiet and feels more muscular than its modest power figures suggest. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard.
The engine pairs well with the Leon. It rides smoothly yet feels light on its feet in corners. The seats are comfortable and supportive, a long motorway drive shouldn’t induce any aches or pains. The interior is user-friendly and solidly built. The 115hp diesel is available with the SE and SE Dynamic trims, it’s more efficient in the former.
Read our full SEAT Leon review
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3. Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 115PS: 67.3mpg
The go-to midsize hatchback works well with diesel
✅ Quiet and refined cruiser
✅ Poised handling
❌ Only entry-level trim achieves this mpg
❌ Should be more user-friendly
Volkswagen pioneered diesel engines in small cars with the original Mk1 Golf over 40 years ago and the benchmark midsize hatchback still upholds that tradition. The engine that makes it one of the most economical cars is exactly the same as that fitted to the SEAT Leon discussed above and integrates into the refined Golf really well. Choose between six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch DSG gearboxes.
Reservations about the Golf’s fiddly touchpad heater controls and glitchy infotainment system persist. That aside, it’s a comfortable and hassle-free means of going about your business. Looks good, too. The hatchback in Life trim with a manual ‘box is most efficient, other trim levels and the estate body are also available with this engine.
Read our full Volkswagen Golf review
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4. Skoda Octavia: 68.3mpg
The most family-friendly midsize hatchback
✅ Long journey comfort
✅ Huge space
✅ Top-notch build quality
❌ Single trim level for this engine
❌ Not fast
Seems curious that the biggest midsize hatchback to use Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre diesel is the most efficient. But the Skoda Octavia is more aerodynamic than the others listed here and that’s why it returns the best economy. It’s heavier, so doesn’t feel as spritely as its counterparts, but it still lopes along motorways perfectly happily.
Efficiency aside, vast space and practicality remain key to the Octavia’s appeal. No other car this size seats five adults so comfortably and its boot is more capacious than many estates. It’s oh so comfortable to travel in and its interpretation of VW’s latest infotainment system is more user-friendly. The 116hp engine is only available with SE Technology trim, hatchback with manual ‘box achieves best economy.
Read our full Skoda Octavia review
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5. Ford Tourneo Connect 2.0 EcoBlue: 68.9mpg
Hugely impressive economy for an MPV
✅ Van-like space
✅ Sliding back doors
✅ Surprisingly nimble
❌ Huge, heavy tailgate
❌ Costs more than VW counterpart
We’re counting the Ford Tourneo Connect as the fourth VW Group car on this list because it’s actually a rebadged Volkswagen Caddy – a unique front bumper creates its Ford identity. It’s remarkable that an MPV makes the list most economical cars. You don’t trade efficiency for performance, either – the 122hp engine hauls the Connect pretty effortlessly. It’s a bit noisy in the box-shaped body, though.
The van-based Connect is enormously spacious and practical. Five adults fit easily and Ford claims over 1000 litres of boot space. Sliding back doors make so much sense on a family car. It drives neatly, rides smoothly, there’s a panoramic view out. Automatic gearboxes and seven-seat Grand Tourneo Connect are less efficient.
Read our full Ford Tourneo Connect review
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6. Toyota Yaris: 68.9mpg
The masters of hybrid deliver a very efficient supermini
✅ Excellent dealer support
✅ Good to drive
✅ Industry-leading warranty
❌ Uninspiring interior
❌ Sub-par practicality
The latest Toyota Yaris is only available with self-charging hybrid power and the efficiency it achieves is a big factor in it being Toyota’s best-selling car in the UK. It only has a fairly short battery-powered range but it’s sufficient to cover a large portion of urban journeys, it can even stay in EV mode up to motorway speeds. The electric motor can assist the engine when needed, providing usefully nippy acceleration. It’s a doddle to drive, too.
The Yaris still looks fresh and funky despite its growing familiarity. The interior isn’t up to the same mark but it’s user-friendly, built solidly and you get plenty of tech. Back seat and boot space aren’t especially generous, though.
Read our full Toyota Yaris review
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7. Renault Clio E-Tech: 68.9mpg
Hybrid supermini impresses with refinement and performance
✅ Punchy acceleration
✅ Great interior
❌ Gearbox can be lethargic
❌ Not the sharpest handler
In E-Tech form, the Renault Clio is one of the better self-charging hybrids. Its 145hp translates to zippy acceleration around town and it has a usefully long EV range. The gearbox takes a couple of beats to wake up if you clog the accelerator, but when it gets going it feels rather punchy. It’s comfortable and refined enough to drive across France in a day, too.
The Clio’s interior is first-rate, perhaps a little dull-looking but logically laid out and very well made with high quality materials. Passenger space is sufficient rather than generous, the batteries eat into the E-Tech’s boot but it’s still pretty big for a supermini. All trim levels are available in E-Tech form.
Read our full Renault Clio review
8. Citroen C3 1.5 BlueHDi 100: 70.6mpg
Distinctively-styled runaround with space and comfort
✅ Comfortable, inviting interior
✅ Lots of personalisation options
✅ Fantastic value
❌ Annoying touchscreen
❌ Lacks rear room
Unlike many other superminis, the Citroen C3 has no pretensions of sportiness whatsoever and we really like that. Comfort is the name of the game and the C3 has among the softest suspension in the business. Mix that with high economy from the BlueHDi diesel engine and you’ve got a small car that you’ll have no qualms about doing many hundreds of motorway miles in.
The diesel is only available with the top-grade Shine Plus trim level which comes with every bell and whistle available on the C3, including a comprehensive suite of driver assistance systems. Yet it costs less than £20,000. Back seat and boot space are lacking but there are loads of storage compartments up front.
Read our full Citroen C3 review
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9. Peugeot 208 1.5 BlueHDi 100: 73.6mpg
Brilliant, high-tech interior enhances this wallet-friendly hatchback
✅ Stylish and desirable
✅ Very refined on the motorway
✅ Good to drive
❌ Rear legroom is tight
❌ Infotainment can be fiddly
The third of three entries on this list of the most economical cars to use the Stellantis 1.5-litre diesel engine, the Peugeot 208 is impressively quiet, especially when traveling at motorway speeds. It’s not the most responsive engine, though, and it blunts the 208’s handling somewhat. But the ride is smooth and the six-speed manual gearbox is slick.
The 208’s interior really impresses. It’s the technological tour de force of the supermini class with a 3D digital display that shows vital stats like speed in front of the windscreen. It looks brilliant and is easy to read. But the split-level dashboard creates a driving position that can be awkward. The diesel is available with the top-tier trim levels.
Read our full Peugeot 208 review
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10. Mazda 2 Hybrid 1.5i: 74.3mpg
Toyota-based self-charging supermini is the efficiency champion
✅ It’ll cost very little to run
✅ Should be as reliable as Toyota counterpart
✅ And as easy to drive
❌ Lacks its own identity
❌ Not especially practical
No, we haven’t repeated the entry for the Toyota Yaris, however the Mazda 2 Hybrid is basically the same car. There are only minor differences between the two – badges, wheels, equipment packages – and yet somehow Mazda has managed to make the 2 Hybrid go another 5.4 miles on a gallon of fuel.
We haven’t actually had the opportunity to test the car, so we can’t say definitively what it’s like. However, it’s a solid bet that everything we’ve said about the Yaris applies here. The Mazda even costs about the same as the Toyota, but it has a smaller range of trim levels.
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