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The most fuel efficient cars detailed

​The definitive guide to the most fuel efficient cars on sale in Australia
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist
CarsGuide

28 Nov 2017 • 6 min read

The most economical car argument is still a valid one, despite the fact that oil prices have stabilised around the world.

Even though the fears of two-dollars-a-litre petrol from a few years ago have proven unfounded, the price of a tank of fuel – and just how far it can get you – is still front of mind for… well, pretty much all of us, and best fuel economy cars are a big part of the buying experience.

While the efficiency of a modern petrol engine has never been better, it still pays to cast an eye around to determine what the most fuel efficient cars are. Smaller cars, of course, use less juice, but you might be surprised how well some larger cars perform.

And you might be a little shocked at just how much fuel others consume…

While diesel is still the fuel type of choice for ultimate economy, the increased cost of ownership both from an initial purchase and ongoing maintenance standpoint means petrol still gets a look-in. 

As well, the ever increasing numbers of petrol-electric hybrids bring consumption numbers down – but the entry cost to such technology is still high.

We’ve rounded up the most fuel efficient cars in Australia in their respective size categories to give you a snapshot of how you can drive your dollar further.

How we calculated our figures

To make it easy to compare costs we've included the claimed average fuel consumption of each vehicle and calculated the price of fuel over 15,000km (an average year's driving).

We selected automatic transmission-equipped cars, as it's the most popular choice in Australia by far.

(Prices are based on the type of fuel required, with pump prices ranging from $1.30 for 91 octane and $1.35 for 95 octane regular unleaded to $1.50 for 98 octane premium unleaded petrol, and $1.31 for diesel (figures from November 2017 averaged across all fuel brands in NSW, www.fuelcheck.nsw.gov.au) All car prices are before on-road costs, and all fuel figures quoted are manufacturer-supplied combined fuel economy figures. Prices will vary in other states in territories; this is only a guide)

City cars

  • Resist the calls from brand-fan kids for something with a prestige badge. Resist the calls from brand-fan kids for something with a prestige badge.
  • 2017 Suzuki Ignis GLX. 2017 Suzuki Ignis GLX.
  • 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo hatch. 2017 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo hatch.

It’s not rocket surgery; lightweight cars require less motive force to move, and therefore use less fuel. Of course, that small size comes at the cost of practicality for luggage and people, but on the whole, the most fuel efficient city cars are actually pretty useful.

Small-capacity petrol engines rule the roost in the battle for the most economical small cars on the market; diesel engines are by and large too heavy for such small cars, while petrol-electric and full electric cars price themselves out of contention.

Audi A1
Price: From $28,900
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 4.4L/100km
Fuel cost: $891

Suzuki Ignis
Price: From $15,990
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 4.7L/100km
Fuel cost: $916

Skoda Fabia
Price: From $16,890
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 4.8L/100km
Fuel cost: $972

Small cars

  • The third-generation Swift is 45kg lighter than the previous model. (image credit: Dan Pugh) The third-generation Swift is 45kg lighter than the previous model. (image credit: Dan Pugh)
  • The Polo enters its sixth generation. The Polo enters its sixth generation.
  • 2017 Kia Picanto. 2017 Kia Picanto.

When you’re looking for the most economical small car on the market, it’s hard to go past modern small-capacity diesels for sheer numbers. 

However, factor in the higher purchase and servicing costs of a small diesel, not to mention their relative dislike of stop-start traffic (their particulate filters need regular freeway bursts to clean themselves), and petrol power comes out ahead on price and practicality.

Suzuki Swift
Price: From $15,990
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 4.6L/100km
Fuel cost: $897

Volkswagen Polo 66TSI
Price: $17,490
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 4.8L/100km
Fuel cost: $972

Kia Picanto
Price: From $14,190
Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 5.3L/100km
Fuel cost: $1033

Small SUVs

  • 2016 Citroen Cactus 2016 Citroen Cactus
  • 2017 most efficient small suvs | body gallery | 2017 most efficient small suvs | body gallery |
  • The Maxx occupies the second rung on the CX-3 ladder, above the price-led Neo and below the sTouring and top-spec Akari. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton) The Maxx occupies the second rung on the CX-3 ladder, above the price-led Neo and below the sTouring and top-spec Akari. (Image credit: Andrew Chesterton)

This exploding sector reveals some surprisingly frugal fuel sippers in the European brands, like the quirky Citroen Cactus

By way of comparison, the petrol-powered, class-leading Mazda CX-3 isn’t too far away from the average, meaning these cars could well be the most economical family car you can buy.

Citroen Cactus
Price: From $26,990
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Fuel type: diesel
Thirst: 3.6L/100km
Fuel cost: $707

Renault Captur
Price: From $21,990
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol 
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 5.5L/100km
Fuel cost: $1114

Mazda CX-3 Maxx
Price: $24,890
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 6.1L/100km
Fuel cost: $1189

Medium cars

  • 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid pictured. 2018 Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid pictured.
  • 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. 2017 Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
  • 2018 Hyundai Sonata Active pictured. 2018 Hyundai Sonata Active pictured.

The passenger sedan segment continues to shrink quickly, but the Toyota Camry Hybrid – renewed in 2018 with a Japanese-sourced version replacing the Aussie-made car – still tops the charts.

It’s easy to see, though, as weights, size and performance increase, so do the fuel bills.

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Price: From $29,990
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol/electric hybrid
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 4.2L/100km
Fuel cost: $819

Mercedes-Benz C200
Price: From $61,900
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 6.0L/100km
Fuel cost: $1215

Hyundai Sonata Active
Price: $30,990
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 8.3L/100km
Fuel cost: $1618

Medium SUVs

  • 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed. (Image credit: Dan Pugh) 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed. (Image credit: Dan Pugh)
  • 2017  most efficient medium suv | body gallery | 2017 most efficient medium suv | body gallery |
  • The Escape's ride is a standout, coming mighty close to matching the Australian-tuned suspension of the Hyundai Tucson. (image credit: Peter Anderson) The Escape's ride is a standout, coming mighty close to matching the Australian-tuned suspension of the Hyundai Tucson. (image credit: Peter Anderson)

There are a couple of best fuel economy SUV options among one of the most popular segments in the current new car market, including the quietly clever Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and the brand new Peugeot 3008 GT.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Price: $50,490
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol/plug-in hybrid
Fuel type: 91 RON
Thirst: 1.9L/100km
Fuel cost: $370

Peugeot 3008 GT
Price: $49,490
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Fuel type: diesel
Thirst: 4.8L/100km
Fuel cost: $943.20

Ford Escape
Price: From $28,490
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Fuel type: diesel
Thirst: 5.5L/100km
Fuel cost: $1080

Sports cars

  • 2017 Lotus Elise. 2017 Lotus Elise.
  • 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster. 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster.
  • The 86, more common to see on the road than a Mustang. (image credit: Tim Robson) The 86, more common to see on the road than a Mustang. (image credit: Tim Robson)
 

Even though ‘fuel efficient sports car’ sounds like an oxymoron, it’s possible to have performance and half-decent fuel economy.

Smaller, lighter cars will always perform more frugally, like the Toyota Corolla-engined Lotus Elise.

Lotus Elise
Price: From $74,990
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder 
Fuel type: 95 RON
Thirst: 6.3L/100km
Fuel cost: $1275

Porsche Boxster
Price: $118,100
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Fuel type: 98 RON
Thirst: 7.0L/100km
Fuel cost: $1417

Toyota 86
Price: From $30,790
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Fuel type: 98 RON
Thirst: 8.4L/100km
Fuel cost: $1701

Luxury cars

  • 2017 Audi Q7 e-tron 2017 Audi Q7 e-tron
  • The new in-line six-cylinder diesel has over 2100kg to deal with, but is able to hustle the S400d along in refined style. (image credit: Tim Robson) The new in-line six-cylinder diesel has over 2100kg to deal with, but is able to hustle the S400d along in refined style. (image credit: Tim Robson)
  • 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.

When it comes to fuel efficient luxury cars, hybrids are the way to go, and the best is the inbound Audi Q7 e-tron luxury SUV. Using a combination of diesel and electricity, it’s actually the cheapest car in our entire comparison for fuel spend.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class hybrid and Porsche Panamera hybrid also point the way to a greener, leaner future. Of course, you pay a heck of a premium to save that amount of fuel…

Audi Q7 e-tron
Price: $140,000 (est)
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel/electric hybrid
Fuel type: diesel
Thirst: 1.8L/100km (est)
Fuel cost: $353

Mercedes-Benz S500e
Price: $310,000
Engine: 3.0-litre V6/electric hybrid
Fuel type: 98 RON
Thirst: 2.8L/100km
Fuel cost: $567

Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid
Price: $460,100
Engine: 4.0-litre V8/electric hybrid
Fuel type: 98 RON
Thirst: 2.9L/100km
Fuel cost: $587

How important is fuel economy in your purchasing decision? Tell us in the comments below.