Most economical family cars to buy in 2020

Hybrid power and efficient engines mean low running costs for the most economical family cars on sale now

Simon Ostler
Sep 16, 2020

A family car is not just something you can fit your family in, although that helps, it needs to be more than that. A family car needs to be practical, it needs to be manageable to drive around town, it needs to be cost effective and it needs to be fuel-efficient. Most cars nowadays, whether it's larger hatchbacks, saloons, estate cars or SUVs are all capable of taking a family of four or five on a 50-mile journey from A to B, but there are much less of them that do so while also offering genuinely affordable running costs.

Mainstream manufacturers like Ford, Honda and Volkswagen are busy developing clever hybrid power units that work to decrease a car's dependency on fuel and also reduce their output of emissions. While these hybrid cars are hugely expensive to buy in the first place, savings can be made further along the line when it comes to road tax and fuel costs.

Most efficient of these new hybrid models are plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), with large battery packs that can be charged up to power the car, either alongside the standard petrol engine or exclusively with electricity. In both instances, this will reduce the pressure on the combustion engine and greatly improve fuel economy (mpg) and therefore reduce the amount of money you spend on the burnable stuff. Their act of reducing exhaust emissions is also hugely beneficial to your wallet, as a lower g/km of CO2 figure will also substantially reduce the cost of road tax.

That said, there are still plenty of conventional family cars with excellent fuel economy and decent emissions figures that are crucially much cheaper to buy in the first place, so these may well be of interest to younger families. The most efficient of these will be powered by diesel engines, but they have been rather scapegoated for their emissions in recent time so the cost of tax alongside additional charges for diesel cars will negatively affect their running costs.

All the models we have listed below are current, so they comply with the latest and toughest emissions standards. This means that they will avoid future inner-city emission charges, and they should prove to be very economical cars indeed. Read on to find out more about some of the most economical family cars you can buy.

Most economical family cars

1. Hyundai Ioniq

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi Premium
Latest deals from £11,690
Monthly finance from £148
Fuel economy
 74.3mpg
CO2 Emissions 84g/km

With a hybrid petrol engine, the Hyundai Ioniq should be a very economical family car and, to some extent, it is. While it's certainly more economical than a standard petrol engine, the Ioniq is not quite up to the same level as its main rival, the Toyota Prius (see below) in the fuel efficiency stakes.

As a family car though, the Ioniq is spacious, well equipped and feels very high-quality inside. Families of four will travel in comfort, with plenty of cup holders and storage space on offer along with a pretty sizable 443-litre boot as well.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Toyota Prius

Our pick Toyota Prius 1.8 VVT-i Active Auto
Fuel economy 94.2mpg
CO2 emissions 70g/km

When you talk about hybrid family cars, the Toyota Prius is the primary contender. After 20 years on sale in Europe the Prius has long been the market against which all other hybrids of this size have been measured.

This current fourth-generation model is the best of the bunch, it's both more economical and more spacious than the majority of the competition, but the Hyundai Ioniq does feel like a more upmarket option. The CVT gearbox in the Prius is also something of an acquired taste.

TOYOTA PRIUS BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Ford Focus

Our pick Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue 120hp Titanium 
Latest deals from £7,899
Monthly finance from £133
Fuel economy 80.7mpg
CO2 emissions 93g/km

Here we have a more traditional choice. The Ford Focus with its ultra-frugal EcoBlue engine might surprise you with just how economical it is. It's not very powerful, so you will be getting a heavily watered down experience compared to the more spritely petrol alternatives, but it will be the cheapest way of running a Focus.

A lack of hybrid tech also means the price of this car is around £5,000 lower than that of the Toyota Prius, along with that saving you're getting a very popular and practical car that is also much more enjoyable to drive thanks to its smooth manual gearbox.

FORD FOCUS BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Honda Civic

Our pick Honda Civic Saloon 1.6 120hp i-DTEC SE
Fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2 emissions 93g/km

Another diesel, but not quite as economical as the Ford Focus. This 1.6-litre unit is more powerful though and feels a lot more refined than many rivals including the Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane

The Civic also has its distinctive styling to set itself apart from the rest, while still offering a sensible amount of space to keep most of the family happy, as long as they don't grow too tall in the back.

HONDA CIVIC BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Kia Niro

Our pick Kia Niro 1.6 GDi 1.56kWh 141hp 6-speed DCT 2
Latest deals from £13,750
Monthly finance from £192
Fuel economy 76.3mpg
CO2 emissions 86g/km

The first of the SUVs on this list, the Kia Niro was one of the new generation of cars from Kia that have helped to move it towards more mainstream markets. The Niro's hybrid engine brings a good amount of power and strong economy, while the interior brings about an upmarket and comfortable experience for you and your family.

It's light and roomy inside and packed with technology including an eight-inch touchscreen media system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the Kia Niro does a great job of catering for everyone on board.

KIA NIRO BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Mitsubishi Outlander

Our pick Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2.0 Juro Leather Auto
Latest deals from £11,499
Monthly finance from £212
Fuel economy 156.9mpg
CO2 emissions 40g/km

Now we're getting to the next level on fuel economy with the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid. Taking the electrical influence on the petrol engine one step further, the Outlander PHEV is capable of driving purely on electric power for up to 31 miles. This will have a huge impact on reducing your fuel usage if you rarely travel long distances. 

To make the most of this you will need the capability to charge the batteries regularly though, so bare in mind the additional investment if you want to take full advantage. Practicality is a strength of the Outlander thanks to its electric tailgate and the size of the boot, don't discount how useful this car could be.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Volvo XC60

Our pick Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine Inscription
Latest deals from £43,000
Monthly finance from £604
Fuel economy 94.2-122.8mpg
CO2 emissions 52g/km

First things first, the Volvo XC60 T8 is much more expensive than anything else on this list. But, that said, it's also probably the best car on this list as well. It's a plug-in hybrid version of Volvo's mid-sized SUV, and it's both hugely powerful and economical.

Much like with the Outlander, keeping those batteries charged will be the difference between 60mpg and 100+mpg, so bare that in mind. But, just as importantly, you'll be getting a very high-quality and extremely family car with an excellent amount of safety tech.

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Mini Countryman

Our pick Mini Countryman PHEV ALL4 Cooper S E
Fuel economy 141.2mpg
CO2 emissions 43g/km

When it comes to the compact SUV segment, there are cars coming from all directions, so picking out the best one often comes down to taste as much as anything else.

The Mini Countryman plug-in hybrid though is not only the best version of the Clubman in a number of ways; it's also one of the better plug-in hybrids out there. Producing plenty of power to go with strong fuel economy is one thing, but it succeeds where many other hybrids fail - it's still a lot of fun to drive.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

 

Latest best cars & vans

  1. Luxury car finance deals

  2. Seven-seater plug-in cars

  3. Best nearly new car deals

What our customers say