The cheapest cars to run

For years, Japanese cars have dominated best-value charts for running costs. But that's no longer the case…

The Ford Fiesta is one of the cheapest cars to run

Costing out a car is far more complicated than simply gazing at a price tag.

It may be the main outlay, but with fuel costs soaring and insurance premiums rising, the amount you pay for the vehicle is just the start of an expensive journey.

What Car? magazine has put together a chart of the best-value cars to run over three years. Let's see what comes out on top...

Best value cars

The magazine picked out the best value car across ten categories by crunching the data for servicing, insurance, road tax, fuel and depreciation.

This figure was then coupled with a ‘What Car? target purchase price’ – this is the achievable discounted price the magazine has haggled on every car. If a dealer won’t match this target price, What Car? will put the buyer in touch with someone who will.

Historically, Japanese car models have dominated this chart. However the latest data shows that German makes now offer the best three-year value for a majority of car categories, with Volkswagen and BMW featuring prominently.

Here’s how the figures break down:

Car category


What Car? target price

Three-year cost

Total cost (after three years)

City car

Hyundai i10 1.2 Classic





Ford Fiesta 1.25i Edge 3dr




Small family car

Skoda Octavia 1.4S




Family car

VW Passat 1.6 TDI 105 S




Executive car

BMW 5 Series 520d SE




Estate car

VW Golf Estate 1.6 TDI 90 S





Renault Grand Scenic





BMW X3 2.0d SE





VW Scirocco 1.4 TSI 122





Mini One Convertible 1.6




Source: What Car? Magazine

As you can see, five of the top ten cars are from German manufacturers with VW winning the best-value family car, estate and coupe and BMW emerging top in the best-value executive car and SUV.

What Car? said that while VW’s winning family car, the Passat, had a hefty initial price tag, in the long-run the model’s good fuel economy and low road tax meant it costs less than many rivals. For a smaller family car, the magazine pointed to the Skoda Octavia. The vehicle is over £7,000 cheaper initially than the Passat at £11,222 and had a three year cost of £13,428.

The winning BMW SUV, the X3, also triumphed at the 2012 What Car Awards. The magazine praised its frugal engine and classy cabin interior.

The Hyundai i10 – winner in the city car category – is the cheapest car in the table, both for the initial price tag and running costs. What Car? said the model had accurate steering, was quick around town and had reasonable insurance, good road tax and high fuel economy.

The Ford Fiesta Edge came out top in the Supermini category. What Car? said there were “few superminis that rival the Fiesta” and praised the model’s great performance, practicality and sub-£10,000 price-tag.

Cheap and not-so cheerful

What Car? also advised car buyers to be wary of some cars which have a low price tag, but a hefty three-year cost. They singled out the Perouda Myvi 1.3 SXI as a model with a low target price of £6,999 but a high level of depreciation – the car loses 75% of its value over three years.

The magazine also said the Proton Satria Neo 1.6 GSX may cost less than a Fiesta initially - it has a target price of £7,867 – but over a three-year term, will cost the same as the Ford.

In the MPV category, What Car? said the Kia Sedona would cost more than £2,000 more over three years than the Seat Alahambra. Initially, the Kia is just under £2,500 cheaper than the Seat. A cheaper MPV again is What Car?’s best-value winner: the Renault Grand Scenic. The model has a target price of £16,646 and a three year cost of £15,857.

Cutting motoring costs

Outside of picking the correct car, here a few more ways to cut the cost of motoring:

  • Shop around for fuel: Make sure you sniff out the cheapest petrol prices when filling up your tank. Check to pinpoint the best value stations. Try not to fill up at motorway service stations. Prices here are far more expensive than regular forecourts.
  • Loyalty cards and offers: Take advantage of as many promotions and loyalty deals as possible. Supermarkets will often give away money-off vouchers for petrol when you spend a certain amount in-store. Alternatively, if you regularly fill up at a specific station, get hold of a loyalty card.
  • Cashback or reward cards: Another useful bit of plastic for any driver to have in their wallet is a cashback credit card. These deals will pay you a percentage back of whatever you spend. But if you do get hold of one of these cards, make sure you clear off the bill in full every month, as if you miss a payment, you’ll quickly find interest charges eating into your accrued cashback. American Express and Capital One currently have two of the best deals on the market with cards offering 5% cashback on purchases across the first three months.
  • Car pooling: If you regularly drive to work on your own and have colleagues that live nearby, forming a car pool and sharing the trips could drastically cut petrol costs and reduce wear and tear on your car. Check around the office for other lone-travellers or get onto a website like Liftshare.
  • Stamp out bad driving habits: Accelerating quickly, braking suddenly, changing gear too late and failing to keep your tyres properly inflated will all increase your fuel consumption. Keeping unnecessary items in your car will also impact on the amount of petrol you use.
  • Car insurance: The key way to cut your spend on car insurance is to keep shopping around every year and never let your policy renew automatically. Loyalty doesn’t pay in the world of motor cover.

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