Top 10 Budget-busting carsCars to keep you quids-in after the 2012 Budget

22 March 2012

With a fuel tax hike and rises in car tax announced in the Budget, you may be starting to wonder if driving is simply becoming too expensive. In order to help cut your costs, we’ve dipped into our car test info chest to reveal the top 10 Budget-beating cars. As well as qualifying for zero-rated or very low car tax, all these cars performed strongly in our stringent real-world fuel economy tests.  
Toyota Prius plug in 2

1 Toyota Prius Plug-in petrol hybrid

Tested mpg 83.1; car tax £0

This new version of the Prius can be plugged into the mains electricity supply, giving it extra range in electric-only mode, plus much better claimed fuel economy and emissions than the standard Pruis hybrid (72mpg overall officially). While the new Plug-In Hybrid doesn't quite match the bold 134.5mpg fuel economy claim, our tests still returned the best figure we've ever recorded.

volkswagen polo 3

2 VW Polo 1.2 TDI BlueMotion diesel

Tested mpg 74.3; car tax £0

The new and larger Polo launched in 2009 looks and feels like a shrunken VW Golf, and it’s a very well-rounded small hatch as a result. The 1.2 TDI is the least swift Polo you can buy – 0-62mph takes 11.5 seconds – but at least that gives you time to think about all the fuel you’re saving. That said, our tested mpg figure doesn’t match VW’s 80.7mpg claim.

Smart Fortwo 1

3 Smart ForTwo Coupé 0.8 CDI diesel

Tested mpg 70.6; car tax £0

There is no car quite like the Smart. Produced by a division of Mercedes-Benz, it’s one of the world’s best-recognised city cars. It’s tiny, yet it offers lots of space in its two seats thanks to a small rear-mounted engine that takes up very little room. And it’s seriously cheap to live with, although you shouldn’t expect to achieve Smart’s official fuel economy figure of 85.6mpg.

VW Golf Estate 1

4 VW Golf Estate 1.6 TDI 105 BlueMotion diesel

Tested mpg 68.9; car tax £0  

Here’s a car that does exactly what you'd expect - it drives well, is solidly put together and can carry plenty of luggage. Just don’t be fooled by its modern looks - although it has been given front-end styling to match the latest Mk6 Golf, it’s still a Mk5 under the skin. But if you’re after a practical and frugal family car, it’s still hard to beat. Our tested mpg wasn’t too far off the official claim of 74.3mpg.


5 Audi A1 1.6 TDI diesel

Tested mpg 67.3; car tax £20

Audi’s first serious foray into the small car sector in some years is an upmarket alternative to the Mini and Fiat 500. Not only does it boast best-in-class refinement and cabin quality, this diesel version beats most rivals on fuel economy too. We couldn’t match Audi’s claimed 74.3mpg, but our test figure makes it the second-cheapest supermini to live with.

Audi A3

6 Audi A3 1.6 TDI diesel

Tested mpg 67.3; car tax £0

The evergreen A3 retains its upmarket feel in spite of its advancing years. It helps that it’s still one of the best mid-sized cars to drive. With an all-new A3 arriving later this year, this version is looking like a great bargain buy. Although the 1.6 TDI doesn’t have the voracious acceleration of the hot S3 model – it took 7.1 seconds to go from 37 to 62mph (60-100kph) - it is impressively cheap to run. Our tested figure is some way off the official 74.3mpg.

volvo c30 2010

7 Volvo C30 Drive (115) diesel

Tested mpg 65.7; car tax £0

Another oldie but a goodie – the C30 looks slick, drives well and has a stylish cabin. It’s only available as a three-door hatch though, so is not the most practical proposition. The Drive range of eco-conscious diesels was introduced in 2010 and, although they’re not the fastest on offer, they have significantly improved fuel economy. Volvo’s claimed 74.3mpg is optimistic, however.

Peugeot 207 1

8 Peugeot 207 1.6 HDi diesel

Tested mpg 65.7; car tax £0

It may be getting old – it’s about to be replaced by the 208 – but the 207 is still a roomy, practical hatchback. It follows in a tradition of small Peugeots that deliver a safe and secure drive, with confident roadholding yet comfortable ride quality. Peugeot’s claimed mpg for the 1.6 HDi is 74.3, a lot higher than our tested figure. It’ll be interesting to see if the new 208 really is lighter, roomier and more efficient than the 207, as Peugeot says.

Citroen DS3 1

9 Citroën DS3 1.6 e-HDi 90 Airdream diesel

Tested mpg 64.2; car tax £0

The first of a new generation of Citroën models, the DS3 focusses more on style and originality than overt practicality. And its futuristic looks are the first thing that draw your attention. So it’s a pleasant surprise that it has a decent-sized boot and good fuel economy. That said, our measured mpg is a long way short of Citroen’s 74.3 claim for the 1.6 e-HDi.  

Toyota Auris HSD 1

10 Toyota Auris 1.8 petrol hybrid  

Tested mpg 64.2; car tax £0

Toyota has taken its hybrid know-how from the Prius and applied it to its medium hatchback, the Auris. Unsurprisingly, the Auris is very Prius-like to drive, with the same automatic gearbox and 1.8 petrol hybrid engine. However, it has more subtle styling than the Prius, which is known as the Pious in some quarters. It’s a real shame that the real-life mpg doesn’t come close to Toyota’s 74.3mpg claim.



More on this:

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Learn how to cut your car running costs with our greener motoring guide