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Making the right motoring choice for you

•  Opportunity to consider fuel economy as new plates released
•  EVs can work for many - but you can also make wiser petrol/diesel choices
•  Tool highlights most efficient cars by category

The latest DVLA vehicle licence plates have just been released – but as well as sleek bodywork, shiny paint jobs and attractive interior features, it’s well worth considering your long-term fuel costs if you’re about to buy a car.

We’ve recently been taking a look at when it might be a good idea to consider an electric or hybrid vehicle and how the second-hand market’s shaping up for low-emission cars. 

Tool up and discover best performers

Whether you’re thinking of buying new or used, you can search for the best in class across all vehicle sizes – or check out the performance of the specific vehicle you’re interested in – using our buying a fuel efficient vehicle tool. As well as fuel economy, it includes information on CO2 emissions, fuel costs, tax band and approximate price.

Of course, you can expect to see electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids coming out tops – but while a low emission vehicle is likely to fit with normal driving habits these days, there are some drivers whose needs fall outside average, such as those regularly making long motorway journeys.

Make a better petrol or diesel choice

If you’re one of those people, electric or hybrid might not be the best option. However, you can still make good choices for fuel economy and emissions from the petrol and diesel vehicles on the market. Manufacturers are pushing technology forward in line with tightening emissions standards, and additions like cylinder deactivation, which shuts down combustion in part of an engine when less power is required, can save you fuel.

In general, petrol is cleaner than diesel in terms of emitting pollutants that affect local air quality, though usually petrol vehicles aren’t as economical in real world driving, and consequently have higher CO2 emissions.

Petrol vehicles can, however, be cost-effective for tax and fuel costs if you drive relatively low mileage, If you’re doing lots of miles, and at higher speeds on motorways, diesel could be a better option.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what the tool reveals about the most efficient new vehicles for various needs.

The best city run-arounds

If you’re looking for a small car for short runs in urban areas, pure EVs are excellent options. The tool highlights options like the VW e-Up!, the SMART fortwo coupe and the Citroen C-Zero, which offer some of the lowest refuelling costs, as well as other attractive features.

You’ll find some high-performing petrol models that are in road tax Band A, too. The Suzuki Celerio 1.0 SZ3 Dualjet, for example, brings low fuel costs, good miles to the gallon and a relatively modest up-front cost, while Fiat, VW and others also offer many options worth considering.

Fuel savings for all the family

If you’ve got a growing (or already large) family and you drive a mix of short and longer journeys, there is more to consider. It’s important to get the balance right between economy, comfort, and last but definitely not least, space.

In this category, the top of the table features options like the Hyundai Ioniq, an EV which boasts by far the lowest fuel costs in this section, as well as plug-in hybrids such as the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid 1.8 and the KIA Optima 2.0.

After the hybrids, you’ll find a number of diesel vehicles. The SEAT Toledo 1.6 offers low emissions and up-front cost, while there are also models from Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Mazda.

Once you’ve weighed up the potential long-term savings, you might have to check elsewhere to find out exactly how much boot space they have for storing the essentials needed for long trips with the kids…

Executive decisions

If you’re thinking high-end, with a significant focus on style and comfort as well as performance, the tool also throws up the top options in executive vehicles. Here you’ll find a familiar name. Tesla’s Model S is the pure electric option – but it’s also the vehicle with the highest price tag, at just over £70,000.

By way of comparison, the BMW 3 Series Saloon is the cheapest executive plug-in hybrid choice, while Jaguar’s XE 2.0 and the Audi A4 Saloon 2.0 will give you the best fuel costs from among the diesels.

These are just a sample of the vehicle sizes and models rated for performance and emissions through the buying a fuel efficient vehicle tool. It’s certainly a useful first port of call when weighing up your next car purchase with long-term savings and sustainability in mind.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.