Rising inflation and unpredictable fuel prices means that economy tops any wish list when it comes to buying a new or used car.
What makes a car economical?
An economical car is one that is inexpensive to buy and affordable to maintain. But what makes a car economical to run?
Size matters! Smaller cars carry less weight and have more compact, efficient engines, making them more cost effective than larger vehicles. The most economical cars on the market also have low road tax, low insurance costs, and high fuel efficiency.
Economical cars tend to produce fewer CO2 and other pollutants and use less fuel, making them less damaging to the environment than larger models. As a result, they may be eligible for tax relief, exempt from congestion charges and qualify for other financial incentives.
Maintenance costs comprise a large chunk of any car’s running costs. These costs include routine repairs such as oil changes and tyre replacement, as well as repairs that may be needed over time. Choosing a car or manufacturer with a reputation for reliability, such as Toyota, Honda or Volkswagen, is one way of minimising maintenance costs.
Read more about car running costs and how to reduce them
Fuel efficiency just means how well a car uses fuel. Cars with high fuel efficiency need less fuel to travel the same distance as those with low fuel efficiency. The most reliable indicator of a car’s fuel efficiency is miles per gallon (mpg), which we’ll come to in a moment. But there are several factors that influence the fuel efficiency of your car, including the kind of journeys you make, the way you drive, and even how often you use the air con.
You can improve the fuel efficiency of your car with some simple steps:
Drive sensibly, avoiding sudden braking or accelerating
Try and consolidate your journeys where possible
Don’t carry excess weight in the car
Be frugal with the heating and the aircon!
MPG stands for miles per gallon and tells you how far a car can travel on a gallon (4.55 litres) of fuel. Today, the average ‘miles per gallon’ for UK cars is 38.8 mpg, with diesel cars averaging 43 mpg and petrol cars 36 mpg. In general:
Anything over 60 mpg is considered extremely efficient
Over 50 mpg is very good, and assuming that above average is seen as good....
....anything over 36 mpg (petrol) or 43 mpg (diesel) is reasonable
Most economical petrol cars
There are lots of good reasons to buy a petrol car. They are usually cheaper to fuel at the pumps, they can be smoother to drive and are often cheaper to purchase than diesels. Here are our top economical petrol cars:
One of the most economical small cars on the market, it’s very low C02 emissions mean that it’s exempt from some emissions charges and will be inexpensive to tax. The 1.5 litre petrol can return up to 47.8 mpg, while the hybrid offers fuel economy of 57.3-68.9 mpg.
This classic supermini is as appealing now as it ever was and is also available as a mild hybrid or fully electric car. But the petrol 500 boasts the most affordable purchase price and therefore steals the show when it comes to all round great value (41.5-61.4 mpg).
Compact yet pleasingly spacious on the inside and practical for families, it’s great for city driving and is credited with an impressive 65.7 mpg.
This good-looking car is smooth to drive and oh-so-efficient, with a fuel economy of between 58.9 and 60.1 mpg.
Most economical diesel cars
A family favourite, it has a spacious, comfy interior and an enormous boot, making it ideal for ferrying the kids around and/or lots of luggage. A lovely smooth drive, it offers great value (65.7mpg).
Gorgeous looking, this car is on the petite side but roomy enough for a small family, offering an eye-catching 71.4 mpg.
A beloved family car that’s sadly going out of production in 2025 (don’t worry there’ll be plenty of pre-loved models available for a good while yet), the Focus offers a smooth yet powerful drive, and a comfortable, family friendly interior (56.5 mpg).
Most economical electric and hybrid cars
Toyota Yaris Hybrid and Toyota Yaris Cross
These lightweight, small-bodied cars return an efficient 69 mpg and 65 mpg respectively. The Hybrid has a sporty aesthetic and is fun to drive; the Yaris Cross is a compact SUV with a great big boot and is extremely economical for an SUV.
Kira Niro Hybrid
This stylish SUV (newer models come in striking, two-tone bodywork) is a high-performance family car returning a respectable 59.8 mpg.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to fuel costs completely then the Nissan Leaf is a great electric car to switch to. One of the first widely adopted electric cars, its popularity hasn’t dwindled. While compact it has a roomy boot and excellent safety features, making it an ideal little family car.