Diesel isn’t having an easy time of it at the moment. With the ULEZ zone in central London now costing any pre-Euro 6 diesel an extra £12.50 per day on top of the £11.50 congestion charge, and with company car costs no longer favouring diesel, it’s not hard to see why sales of new diesel cars have suffered in the last few years.
But, d’you know what? We don’t all live or work in London, and for many people diesel still remains the more economical, cost effective fuel. And there are plenty of us who want to save money at the pumps, which is why sales of used diesel cars have actually been very consistent. According to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, around 0.3% more second-hand diesel cars sold on the used market in 2018 than in 2017.
PENNY PINCHING ECONOMY FOR ONLY £600
What’s even better is that there are cars out there that do proper penny-pinching economy yet also cost loose change to buy. Make no mistake, these are unlikely to be glamorous or exciting, but thanks to the effects of depreciation you can now get 60mpg cars for as little as £600 – and that’s the sort of hilariously affordable motoring that we all like the idea of.
So, if you’re beyond the high-rise skylines and tax zones of the major cities and you’re after cheap wheels and miserly fuel bills, perhaps you should consider giving one of these budget fuel-savers a try.
Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI (2002 – 2009)
Price range: £500 – £1,500
Official combined economy: 61.4mpg
Estimated real-world economy: 60mpg
This three-cylinder 1.4-litre turbodiesel is a well-known engine that featured in various economy heroes including the Audi A2, Volkswagen Lupo and Seat Arosa – the latter of which was the most economical car on sale when it was launched. However, the Audi tends to be rather more expensive thanks to its cult following and posh badge (still a favourite of ours, mind) while the Lupo and Arosa are great used buys that can be had for £600 – if you can find them. They’re seriously rare these days, which is why the Polo is our pick of the used cars you can buy with this famously frugal motor. Owners have reported seeing well over 60mpg if driven sedately, and even driven with less care you’ll struggle to get it below 50mpg.
Search for a used Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI on CarGurus
Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D (1999 – 2005)
Price range: £600 – £2,000
Official combined economy: 64.2mpg
Est. real-world economy: 60mpg
The Yaris has a resounding reputation for reliability. It won the 2002 JD Power customer satisfaction survey and has stayed near the top of every reliability survey since, and this first-generation model is also impressively practical for such a diminutive car. On top of all that, owners report mega economy, with some returning close to the official combined figure of 64.2mpg, and even more than that on easy motorway miles. The Yaris is cute, good to drive, super-frugal, costs buttons and you’ll struggle to find an owner with a bad thing to say about it.
Search for a used Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D on CarGurus
Honda Civic 1.7 CDTi (2000 – 2005)
Price range: £500 – £2,500
Official combined economy: 56.5mpg
Est. real-world economy: 55mpg
Okay, so it’s not quite the 60mpg we promised, but it’s pretty close, and that’s despite this being a spacious and reliable family motor. Plus, owners report getting very close to the official economy without trying too hard, so 60mpg is achievable if you go carefully. Go for SE trim and you’ll have air-con, electrically-adjustable heated wing mirrors, alloy wheels, an alarm and Isofix fittings in the back seats, which is outright luxury at this budget. It’s also a quieter engine than you’ll find in alternatives like the diesel Ford Focus and Peugeot 307s of the same vintage. Speaking of which…
Search for a used Honda Civic 1.7 CDTi on CarGurus
Peugeot 307 2.0 HDi 90 (2001 – 2007)
Price range: £500 – £2,000
Official combined economy: 54.0mpg
Est. real-world economy: 52mpg
The Peugeot 307 is a straightforward, sensible car. On balance it actually has a fair reputation for reliability, but there are also some horror stories out there with owners reporting multiple electrical glitches, and dodgy glow plugs and fuel injectors among other issues. Still, there are also owners who’ve covered galactic mileages with no problems to report, so be picky about finding a car that feels solid and has decent service history. Thankfully, there are good examples available for very little cash, some even with relatively low mileages (by the standards of our leggy economy cars) and a year’s MOT. At such low prices it’s arguably worth the risk – especially since a lot of owners report getting 60mpg on the motorway.
Search for a used Peugeot 307 2.0 HDi 90 on CarGurus
Renault Clio 1.5 dCi (2005 – 2012)
Price range: £400 – £8,000
Official combined economy: 64.2mpg
Est. real-world economy: 62mpg
The Renault Clio is best known for its achingly brilliant chassis, made famous of course by the excellent Renaultsport models. But the cooking variants of the Clio are still great to drive, and that includes this 1.5-litre diesel model. It was offered in a few different power outputs, but at this price we’d be willing to take any of them as long as the car is in solid condition – they all feel nippy enough around town, and will keep up just fine on the motorway. Check for white smoke from the exhaust as this can indicate a turbo on its way out, and also check that the air-con works properly. Electrical gremlins are common, too, so keep an eye out for warning lights.
Search for a used Renault Clio 1.5 dCi on CarGurus
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