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Fuel For Thought: How To Buy A More Economical Car

From Electric Vehicles to plug-in hybrid, everything to know about buying a fuel-efficient car.

So, you’d like to buy a car that will help save the planet by producing fewer emissions, and, as an added bonus, save you on fuel. That’s all well and good, but where to even start?

Terms like “carbon footprint” and “litres per 100km” can be as enticing as eating Weet-Bix with no milk – dry, yet wise. Which is why we’re here to help with our easy guide to buying a fuel-efficient car.

Everything to know about Electric Vehicles

A Nissan Leaf – an excellent option for a fuel-efficient car – should cost as little as $3.25 to travel 100km. Image: newspress Australia

When it comes to lowering your use of fossil fuels, and your petrol bills, you can’t go much lower than zero, which is what an Electric Vehicle gives you.

Nothing comes out the tailpipe, because there isn’t one, and the only fuel going in comes from a power socket, which charges up the batteries to run your whisper-quiet car of the future. And running your car on electricity can be super cheap (and green friendly, if you have solar panels at home), with the easiest point of reference being that they cost about as much to run as your fridge.

Specifically, a Nissan Leaf – the latest and funkiest EV city car on the market, which will arrive locally in the next few months, at a price around $55,000 – should cost as little as $3.25 to travel 100km.

The average petrol car in Australia uses 11.1 litres of fuel to travel 100km, which works out at $16.65 (at $1.50 a litre).

While EVs were, initially, small city buzzabouts like the Leaf, you now have much more choice, with super sporty cars like Tesla’s Model S (from $105,000) or highly stylish, and cool, SUV-sized vehicles like Jaguar’s impressive new I-Pace (starting at $110,000).

And plenty of other companies, including Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Renault are also pouring into this market segment because it is, in the minds of many experts, the future of mobility.

Plug-in hybrids: essentially EVs with petrol engines

A popular budget choice is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – a mid-sized SUV. Image: newspresse Australia

What you might call the bridge to the electric-vehicle future are the plug-in hybrids. These vehicles can run off batteries, that you can charge at home, just like a full EV, but they also have petrol engines, which means you don’t have to worry about the dreaded ‘range anxiety’, the fear of your electric car running out of juice and having nowhere to charge it.

Because they combine the best of both worlds, hybrids can offer super low fuel economy and peace of mind.

Plug-in hybrids (or PHEVs) are far more common than EVs, so far, so you can really choose a brand and a style to suit your budget, with BMW offering 3-Series, 5-Series and X5 plug-ins and Mercedes-Benz doing the same with C-Class, E-Class and GLE.

A popular budget choice is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which is a mid-sized SUV, while Volvo also offers its XC90 and XC60 soft-roaders as PHEVs.

At the very top end you can have a Porsche Cayenne or a Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid, which uses its batteries for more power and speed, when you want it to. It can cost as much as $466,400, but it can hit 100km/h in 3.4 seconds and uses less fuel than a Toyota Corolla, at just 2.9 litres per 100km (remember the average Aussie car uses 11.0 litres per 100km).

By comparison, the Outlander PHEV uses just 1.7L/100km. which is very little fuel indeed.

Not all petrol cars are equal

Mazda is launching a new Mazda3 that will slash its small-car economy by 30 per cent. Image: newspress Australia

When it comes to modern petrol engines, leaps in technology, driven by commuter demand, and higher oil prices, have seen fuel-economy figures dropping to previously unimagined levels.

What you’ll want to find, though, is a car that runs on standard unleaded rather than the premium stuff, which is far more expensive. Being able to use what’s technically known as 91RON fuel (rather than Premium’s 95 or 98RON) can save you as much as $400 a year, or more, on your fuel bills.

Mazda is launching a new Mazda3 shortly that will slash its already impressive small-car economy by 30 per cent, which should see its figures drop to 4L/100km, or lower.

If you look at a list of the top-10 most fuel-efficient cars in Australia, the top 10 are all hybrids, but you can find some attractive metal that runs lean on good old petrol, like the very cool-looking Citroen Cactus (3.6L/100km) or the Mazda CX-3 (6.1).

In premium terms, you can get a Mercedes-Benz C200 that users just 6L/100km, which is very impressive.

When it comes to petrol cars, you really need to keep in mind that size and weight are going to cost you. The bigger and heavier the car, and the more powerful the engine, the more it’s going to gouge you in the long run.

The upside to diesel cars

Even something as big as a Range Rover Evoque TDI can use as little as 4.8L/100km with a diesel engine. Image: newspress Australia

Now, if you are one of those people worried about the environment, you probably won’t even consider a diesel car, because they are famously more polluting than other forms of propulsion.

So much so that large cities including Paris and London are planning to ban them.

Diesels are, however, more efficient than petrol engines, which is one of the reasons they’re often found in huge and heavy SUVs, and virtually all trucks and vans. They can move big loads cheaply but at an environmental cost.

A Mini Cooper D is a hugely fun car, however, and uses just 3.7L/100km. And even something as big, and beautiful as a Range Rover Evoque TDI can use as little as 4.8L/100km with a diesel engine.

So, which car is for you?

If you live in the city and mainly use your car for commuting – and you have a garage or a charging station at work – then an EV makes a lot of sense and will make even more as time goes on.

For now, though, you might want to stick with a more traditional petrol car, or perhaps go halfway to the future with a hybrid.

Remember to always check the fuel sticker in the showroom, which will show you what the car company claims its car can return at the bowser. But be aware that your real-world figure will always be higher.

Happy shopping.

(Lead image: Mazda 3 Astina Sedan / image: newspress Australia)

Published 01 March, 2019