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The five most efficient petrol-powered family cars

Although diesels tend to grab the headline figures for fuel economy, there are many compelling reasons to buy petrol instead.

For a start, petrol engines tend to weigh less than an equivalent diesel which improves handling. Although they generally aren’t quite as economical as diesels, they are nearly always cheaper to buy in the first place. Not only that, but the fuel itself is cheaper at the pumps too. There is also the more recent consideration that thanks to higher emissions of particulate matter and Nitrogen Dioxide, diesels may soon be subject to restrictions or pollution charges in busy cities.

Bearing all of that in mind, we’ve taken a look at five of our favourite economical family cars that are filled from the green pump.

Mazda 3 1.5 (from £16,995)

Mazda has taken a different approach than some rivals in order to achieve fuel efficiency. Rather than going down the turbocharged engine route, the Mazda 3 is fitted with an efficient 1.5-litre petrol engine, which combines with a low kerb weight and aerodynamic body shape to return an impressive 55mpg. Unlike some competitors, this figure is quite realistically achievable if the 3 is driven delicately. Throw in an excellent ride/handling balance and sharp styling and the Mazda 3 is one of the most exciting choices in the family-car market.

Renault Captur 0.9 TCe (from £14,195)

At the slightly smaller end of our scale, we have the Renault Captur. Based on the Renault Clio, the Captur is shorter and narrower than the other family cars on our list, but the tall crossover body shape means that there is very little compromise in terms of practicality.

The upshot is that it is one of the lightest cars in our list, and as a result the tiny three-cylinder engine that powers it helps the Renault to return a very pleasing 56mpg on the combined cycle. Despite displacing less than one litre, a turbo helps to keep the Captur feeling sprightly, while the French manufacturer’s excellent reputation for safety makes it a sensible choice, too.

Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost (from £18,795 for the 125hp version)

Ford’s tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine was developed to produce similar performance to a 1.6 while offering the fuel economy and emissions of a much smaller engine. This witchcraft is achieved through the use of a turbocharger, which depending on spec produces either 100 or 125 horsepower in the big selling Focus.

It’s a smooth and quiet engine, which only makes its presence felt under hard acceleration – you won’t mind too much though because it makes quite a characterful noise, and not the unpleasant racket you might be used to from small engines. We’d recommend going for the more powerful 125hp version, because the extra ratio of its six-speed gearbox will help to get much closer to the fuel economy Ford claims, particularly at motorway speeds. Opt for the lower-powered version and you’ll only get five gears.

Those looking for a smaller car can choose the same engine in the Fiesta, where the lower weight makes it feel more sprightly – the Focus can feel just a little sluggish at times while you wait for the turbo to kick in, whereas even the 100hp version propels the Fiesta at a decent speed.

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI (from £18,945)

Thanks to the use of some clever tech, the 1.4-litre turbocharged unit found in the Volkswagen Golf blends an impressive mix of performance and efficiency. With a total power output of 148hp, it’ll crack the 0-62mph dash in a highly respectable 8.2 seconds, on its way to a 134mph top speed. However, thanks to cylinder-on-demand and stop/start technology, VW claims it’ll still manage 60.1mpg. With it comes the usual Golf virtues of solid build quality and class-leading refinement.

The 1.4 TSI is a brilliant all-rounder, but if the Golf isn’t for you then don’t despair: the same engine is fitted to both the Audi A3 and Seat Leon, while a slightly less powerful version is available in the Skoda Octavia.

Peugeot 308 1.2 e-THP (from £17,945)

Peugeot seems to have managed to hit a sweet spot with the latest 308. After its rather bloated predecessor, the new model weighs less than 1,100 kilos when fitted with the efficient 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol unit. Not only does this allow sprightly performance – the 0-60mph dash takes 10.7 seconds – but it benefits fuel economy too.

An official figure of 61.4mpg is among the best petrol units in the class, while CO2 emissions of 105g/km means that road tax costs only £20 per year. One of the finest interiors in the segment and a smooth ride add to the overall appeal.

Now, about those prices…

The prices we’ve quoted for the pick of petrol-powered models are RRPs. There’s a good chance that you can get a better deal by configuring your ideal car in carwow’s configurator. Simply say what car you want, pop in your postcode and email address and the UK’s best and most trusted dealers will get in touch with their best prices.

Ford Focus (2011-2017)

A family hatchback that's fun to drive
£20,140 - £31,680
Read review Compare offers

Volkswagen Golf

A practical family car with high-tech features and a smart interior
£18,340 - £27,910
Read review Compare offers
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