Which fuel suits you best?

  • We look at which fuel would be best suited to your lifestyle
  • How many miles do you need to travel for diesel to make sense?
  • Which fuel makes the most financial sense?

Ten years ago many of us were not really aware of CO2 emissions and we certainly did not choose a car based on them. How times have changed.

With the government continuing to push towards greener motoring and raising costs for those that opt for higher emitting cars, manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to source out new ways to make cars cleaner, including the development in alternative fuels.

Car buyers now have a lot more choice. We not only need to decide on the right body style and brand, but also what fuel will be best suited to our lifestyles and importantly choosing which makes the most financial sense.

It can be a daunting and confusing task but Parkers is here to help.

Diesel is best for... Regular motorway travellers

Diesel engines are renowned for fuel economy and that is still very much the case, but also, thanks to some major developments from manufacturers, they are a great deal cleaner now too so tax bills are kept low.

But there almost always is a list price premium to pay. In most cases diesel engines cost thousands of pounds more than a petrol engine and then there is the increase in fuel price at the pumps to consider too. 

So when is the tipping point where diesel saves you money?

The general consensus is that if you travel over 10,000 miles a year a diesel is usually the most cost effective option over a three year period; especially if your journeys involve a lot of motorway travel. If you travel less miles, then it will take longer to recoup the cost.

Our top pick - Volkswagen Golf 1.6TDI Bluemotion

With an official fuel economy figure of 88mpg and CO2 emissions of 85g/km, the Golf Bluemotion is a pretty impressive package.

As with all official fuel economy figures, they are best used as a benchmark to compare against other cars rather than an indicator of the fuel economy that will actually be achieved.  For more information on this, click here.

Click here to read our road test of the Volkswagen Golf 1.6TDI Bluemotion.

Petrol is best for... higher mileage city dwellers  

Petrol-fuelled cars are the most popular choice for car buyers and the benefits include a lower list price and cheaper fuel.

The gap between petrol and diesel for fuel economy has in the past been quite wide, but recent engine developments have helped to close the gap, as the Audi below proves.

It all depends on mileage and how and where you drive the car for petrol to make financial sense. If your journeys are usually made up of frequent short trips around the town and some long distance rural travel, petrol could be the right choice for you.

Our top pick - Audi A3 1.4 TSI

With a combined fuel economy of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km, this petrol Audi is only marginally behind the more expensive the 2.0 litre diesel A3 saloon which has an official figure of 60.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 107g/km.

Click here to read our road test of the Audi A3 Saloon 1.4 TSI

Electric is best for… City living and an ideal second car choice

First thing to note is that electric cars are still a new technology and the level that they are advancing and improving is mind-boggling.

They are pretty expensive though and you will need to run the car for a good five to eight years to offset the high price from the savings made on tax and fuel . If you live in London then you can also save on the congestion charge which electric cars are exempt from paying.

At the moment charging an electric car through the national grid offers substantial savings over visiting a fuel station. The Energy Savings Trust estimates that running an electric car will cost around 20 percent of the cost of running a conventional diesel.

You need to be able to charge it though which could be virtually impossible if you have only on-road parking at home.

And then there is the issue of range. A 100-mile range for real world driving is generally achievable for the most recent cars but only if you use the car as a city run-around. Use an electric car on the motorway and you will see the range rapidly disappear.

Visiting the shops, dropping the kids off at school and travelling a small commute are ideal because unless you have easy access to a rapid charger, that one battery charge is pretty much your mileage limit for the day as they take a long time to charge back up again.  

Our top pick - The BMW i3

The BMW is as impressive to look at as it is on paper. This excellent car, although pricey, has a lot going for it and achieved a full five-star rating from us when we tested it for the first time late last year.

Click here to read the full BMW i3 review.

Hybrids are best for… City commuters who travel at weekends

Described as the ‘best of both worlds’ there are many variations of hybrid cars available to buy.

Essentially a hybrid car combines an electric battery with a combustion engine. It is how that battery power is used that differs among cars. In some the battery works with the engine to provide more power, making use of regenerative braking - where the electric motor helps to slow the car down in addition to the brakes and helps to charge the batteries as it does so.

Then there are plug-in hybrids and range-extenders - the cars we will be focusing on in this article. These can run on electric power alone for a number of miles before switching to the combustion engine when you run out of charge.

Firstly, like electric cars, they are expensive and to get the most out of the car you need to be use the electric battery as much as possible.

Ideally you need to have a commute that the battery range can deal with - even better if there are charging facilities at your place of work - then only use the petrol or diesel engines for those long distance trips at weekends that the battery life will not cover.

Our top pick - The Vauxhall Ampera

The Ampera has recently had a price cut helping to make it far more affordable, and with a 50-mile range for battery power alone, the Ampera should cover most commutes.

The petrol engine is not very economical though and if you travel quite a few long journeys, the savings start to slip away.

Click here to read our full review on the Vauxhall Ampera.