A cheap fuel efficient cars has to tick a number of boxes. For one, it has to be – as you might expect – good on fuel. But it also needs to be cheap to run in other areas, such as tax and servicing, to ensure that your total cost of ownership is as low as possible.

A good record of reliability is always a plus point, too, so that you’re not facing off against any major mechanical issues down the road. Ease-of-use is another great thing to have, as you don’t want a car that’ll need a lot of getting used to in order to drive it day-to-day.

As always, it’s a good idea to make sure that you do some thorough background investigation into any car you’re looking at, checking out its MOT history and possibly sorting a more in-depth check available online which can flag any outstanding finance or previous crashes.

The top 10 cheap fuel-efficient used cars to buy

There are plenty of great cheap fuel efficient cars available on the used car market, offering something for all types of buyers. In fact, we’ve got a lot more variety here than you might think, from compact sports cars to ultra-efficient executive saloons. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.

1. Volkswagen Up! (2012-2022) - 64mpg

We absolutely love the Volkswagen Up! here at Motors. It’s got loads of premium touches which makes it feel quite upmarket for a small car, but it’s also practical and easy to live with. The boxy design of the Up! also means that it’s got more than enough space for taller drivers and passengers, which is something you don’t often get in this size of vehicle.

But, most importantly for this list, it’s also superbly fuel efficient. Entry-level versions of the Up! with a non-turbocharged 1.0-litre engine are the cars you’ll get this headline efficiency figure from but even more powerful 1.0-litre turbocharged engines – which add a little extra zip to the Up! – should still deliver well over 50mpg combined.

Best Features

  • Clever design means the Up! has a good amount of space inside.
  • Good to drive and surprisingly refined at motorway speeds.
  • Plenty of examples available in the used market.

Things to consider

  • Not the biggest of cars for families.
  • Strong demand has kept values high.
  • Some interior plastics feel a bit cheap.

2. Toyota Aygo (2005-2014) - 60mpg

The Aygo encapsulates everything you need from a small and fuel-efficient car. Being a Toyota it delivers that must-have reliability that we spoke about earlier, while its compact dimensions make the Aygo an absolute breeze to drive around town and urban areas. Good availability of parts and spares means the Aygo isn’t going to cost the earth to repair if you do have a prang, as well.

Throughout its life, the Aygo has always brought some superb efficiency as well with claimed figures stating fuel consumption of 60mpg. But you shouldn’t have to worry about high servicing costs, either, while relatively low CO2 emissions mean that taxing the Aygo won’t bring a scary bill through the post each month.

Best Features

  • Low overall running costs.
  • Loads of availability in the used market.
  • Low insurance group means premiums won’t be sky-high.

Things to consider

  • Aygos are a popular first car so look out for curbed alloys and scratched panels.
  • Interior plastics aren’t the nicest but they’re robust and hard-wearing.
  • Not the quietest of cars on the motorway.

3. Volkswagen Golf (2013-2020) - 68.9mpg

The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf represented a return to form for this ever-popular hatchback. It was sharper and more agile than the sixth-generation car before it while still retaining that all-rounder ability which has become synonymous with the Golf.

It was also a very efficient option and this remains the case on used models. Volkswagen claims up to 68.9mpg on diesel-powered Golf models of this age, but even petrol versions are still impressively efficient with 1.0- and 1.2-litre versions delivering well over 50mpg. The petrols will be a smarter choice for drivers who do shorter journeys, too, as they’ll be able to bring better efficiency over more compact trips compared to a diesel.

Best Features

  • The MK7 Golf is quite ‘classless’ – it looks good parked anywhere.
  • Variety of specifications means there’s something for everyone.
  • Solid interior build quality ensures used models look good today.

Things to consider

  • Some Golf models with have higher mileage, so checking history is even more important.
  • Some early Golf models had a slightly temperamental automatic gearbox, so check this shifts smoothly if you’re looking at one.
  • Timing chains need to be serviced on-time to avoid possible breakage – make sure this has been sorted.

4. Fiat 500 (2008-present) - 67.3mpg

The Fiat 500 isn’t just a good-looking and smart-to-drive city car, it’s also a superbly efficient cheap used buy. The go-to option for drivers after a quirky way of getting from A-to-B, the 500 has won the hearts of many motorists with its cool aesthetic and retro-inspired interior.

But it’s also incredibly good on fuel. Early models of the 500 were available with a diesel engine and while this might not be the best choice for urban drivers, it’s very efficient with a claimed MPG of 67.3 under older testing regimes. However, opt for a petrol and you’re still going to be visiting the petrol station infrequently; compact 0.9-litre ‘TwinAir’ models can achieve well over 50mpg and won’t cost too much to tax or insure due to the low-capacity engine, too.

Best Features

  • Quirky styling still looks fresh today.
  • Light steering makes it great to drive in the city.
  • All versions are very efficient and cheap to run.

Things to consider

  • Slightly iffy build quality means you really need to give everything a poke and prod to make sure it’s as it should be.
  • Though efficient, the ‘TwinAir’ versions need to be worked hard to get the best performance from them.
  • Ride quality can feel a little jittery at slow speeds.

5. BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (2014-2022) - 74.3mpg

The 2 Series Active Tourer was a completely new thing for BMW. The German firm had traditional shied away from MPVs, but here one was, complete with a front-wheel-drive layout which did away with BMW’s favoured rear-driven setup.

But it also got all of the features that you’d expect from a BMW, including loads of standard equipment and some nice materials. But it’s also spacious and a great option for families due to its roomy interior and good boot size. It’s the diesel-powered 216d that’ll deliver the best efficiency – up to 74.3mpg, in fact – and it also qualifies for zero road tax, so it’s a win-win! Mind you, other more powerful versions – like the diesel 218d and petrol 218i should still be able to return well over 50mpg.

Best Features

  • Very spacious interior is great for families.
  • Good range of engines to choose from.
  • Solid build quality.

Things to consider

  • Will cost more than rival MPVs.
  • Seating options aren’t that flexible.
  • Servicing could be more expensive than others here.

6. Mercedes C-Class (2014-2021) - 70.6mpg

We bet you didn’t expect to see a comfortable executive car on this list, right? Well, the C-Class is exactly that – a relatively large, refined and well-made saloon which can deliver incredible efficiency across the range of engine choices.

Though you’ll have to factor in higher servicing costs that comes with the Mercedes badge, the C-Class is a common sight on the used market and examples of this generation can be picked up for relatively low prices. Remember, too, that there’s the option of an estate for drivers who need a little extra space. It’s the C220d which provides a great combination of efficiency and performance and could return just over 70mpg combined. However, even the petrol C200 can return over 50mpg, if you’re not fancying a diesel-powered model.

Best Features

  • Very comfortable at all speeds.
  • Interior is well made and looks great.
  • All versions get loads of equipment as standard.

Things to consider

  • Costs will be higher when it comes to servicing and repairs.
  • Diesels can sound quite unrefined when cold.
  • Some interior plastics don’t feel up to Mercedes quality.

7. Audi TT (2006-2015) - 53mpg

A sports car doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of cheap fuel efficient cars, but the Audi TT is actually a great option. This second-generation TT represents a very tempting used buy and, because of the inclusion of a diesel-powered model, it’s a car which can deliver both thrills and great efficiency.

Naturally, it’s not going to be a great option for families or larger groups, but if you’re on your own or in a couple then the TT could be a very fun and usable package. If a diesel-powered sports car isn’t your bag, then there are 2.0-litre turbocharged units which can still return a very respectable 35mpg – just avoid V6-powered versions as these will be both thirsty to run and expensive to maintain.

Best Features

  • Good fun to drive.
  • Solid build quality throughout the cabin.
  • All versions get lots of standard equipment.

Things to consider

  • Rear seats are too small for all but small children.
  • Some of the tech is looking a bit old.
  • S-Tronic automatic gearbox has been known to be troublesome at times – make sure it’s shifting smoothly.

8. Mini Hatch (2006-2013) - 72mpg

In a similar vein to the Fiat 500, the Mini Hatch is a car which has always traded on its style and character. This second-generation model built on the look and feel of the first ‘new’ Mini, but added in a few more creature comforts along with a larger footprint which made it ever-so-slightly more practical.

It was also – importantly for this list – now available with a diesel engine, which is the model you’ll find the best fuel efficiency in. Despite being a slightly older car it still does very well in the ‘green’ stakes even by modern standards, while all versions bring low CO2 emissions that’ll mean lower tax bills. Just remember that as a result of their higher-output engines and more costly repairs, you’ll likely pay more to insure a Mini Hatch than other models on this list.

Best Features

  • The second-generation Mini still looks modern and current today.
  • There are plenty of engine choices and all are efficient – bar performance-orientated Cooper S versions.
  • Build quality is excellent.

Things to consider

  • Insurance premiums will be higher than other cars due to more powerful engines.
  • Repairs will be slightly costlier.
  • Make sure that any Mini you’re looking at has been well maintained – poorly looked-after examples can cause a lot of headaches down the road.

9. Suzuki Swift (2010-2017) - 72mpg

Suzuki is a carmaker that knows its target market better than most. Take the Swift. It’s a car which is well-priced, cheap-to-run and notoriously reliable, which makes it a great buy for drivers who want a car that’ll never let them down and not cost them too much.

We’re a big fan of the second-generation Swift, which didn’t bring too much extra cost over the first-generation car but adds a whole lot more features and much-improved refinement. It’s also a really good car to opt for if you want great fuel economy, as it was capable of returning up to 72mpg. There’s also a diesel version available if you’re frequently doing longer journeys, where this unit will be able to deliver better efficiency compared with the smaller petrol engines.

Best Features

  • Low cost of ownership thanks to cheap repairs and parts.
  • Good reputation for reliability.
  • Great fun to drive and particularly keen through the bends.

Things to consider

  • There have been a number of recalls for the Swift – make sure they’ve been sorted.
  • Not quite as refined on the motorway as others on this list.
  • Boot isn’t the largest.

10. Ford Fiesta (2008-2017) - 76.3mpg

It wouldn’t be a cheap, fuel efficient car list without the Ford Fiesta. One of the most-loved cars in the UK, the little Fiesta has proven the right fit for countless owners across the nation. There’s good reason for that, too, as it’s good to drive, pleasant to look at and practical inside.

Most importantly, it’s great on fuel. There are diesel versions available that’ll get that best-possible fuel efficiency but for most people the standard petrols will be more than frugal enough and should return around 50mpg. Regardless of which version you go for, plentiful replacement parts mean that fixing and maintaining the Fiesta won’t prove too scary. Regular servicing shouldn’t cost the earth, too.

Best Features

  • Huge popularity means there are loads of options on the used market.
  • Plenty of trims allow you to find the right car for you easily.
  • Good reliability record.

Things to consider

  • As another popular first car the Fiesta can be prone to light damage and scraped wheels.
  • Interior plastics feel a bit cheap.
  • Rear-seat legroom isn’t the most plentiful.

What to consider when buying a cheap fuel efficient car

Obviously, if you’re looking at a cheap fuel efficient car then the top priority is that efficiency, However, any car won’t run at its cleanest if it isn’t properly maintained, which is why a car that is mechanically sound will really make things less of a hassle.

Service history

A car is only at its most efficient when it’s been serviced regularly, so make sure that any car you’re looking at has been properly looked after. Ask to see receipts for work done previously and check MOT histories online. You might want to do a more in-depth background check which are inexpensive and can flag a variety of issues with a car that might not be immediately obvious.

Scratches and dings

Many of the cars that we’re looking at are ideal for first time drivers, which is why we’d make sure to do a through look-round of the entire vehicle and keep a keen eye for damaged wheels or scraped panels. Plus, make sure the clutch operates properly and isn’t too long in travel – if you press the pedal and it takes too long to ‘bite’, it might be worn out and require a replacement.

Replacement parts

If you’re looking at a cheap car then obviously budget is a primary concern. However, we’d try and bundle up other costs related to driving – such as tax, insurance and maintenance – into one cost, so that there aren’t any big surprises further down the line. The good news is that many of the car’s we’ve looked at today won’t cost much to keep well maintained.

Tips for finding and buying a cheap fuel efficient car

As we’ve seen, there’s some really good variety in the cheap, fuel efficient used car segment. From sports cars to hatchbacks, there’s something for everyone and a model that can meet a variety of budgets.

But a good way of finding and buying a cheap, fuel efficient car is to do as much research as possible into your vehicle of choice, looking at online reviews and features – we’ve got many to choose from on Motors – so that you’re well equipped with plenty of knowledge before you’ve even turned the key. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller or retailer about their time with the car, too, as they’ll be able to give you a little bit of an insight into what it’s been like living with a particular model.