Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring

On a budget? Here are South Africa’s cars with the best fuel economy

Trading in your guzzler for a frugal sipper can help you stretch your budget.

With the petrol price set to reach new record highs next month, cash-strapped South Africans are bracing to tighten the belt even further.

Now more than ever, cars’ fuel economy has become of vital importance for motorists. Whatever distance a commuter travels on a daily basis, the fuel expenses for the same car would have almost doubled by July in line with the sharp rise in the petrol price over the last few years.

However, if the motorist isn’t driving a car with a good fuel economy already, opting for a more frugal ride could make a significant difference to the fuel expenses.

It could even be case of saving as much as half or even more on the monthly fuel expenses depending on their current car’s fuel consumption.

Fuel consumption formula

The formula most commonly used to determine fuel consumption is the number of litres a vehicle uses for every 100 km travelled.

This is calculated by multiplying the number of litres used for a trip or tank by 100 and dividing it by the number of kilometres travelled. If that number works out to 7.5, fuel consumption is then indicated as 7.5 L /100 km.

To spare you the trouble of manual calculations, most modern cars have an onboard fuel computer which will indicate the vehicle’s immediate and overall fuel consumption.

It is also compulsory for vehicle manufacturers to indicate a new car’s fuel economy along with its CO2 emissions.

For an average motorist travelling 800 km per month in a vehicle with a fuel consumption of 11 L/100 km, the monthly fuel expenses will be R2 106,72 at the current rate of R23,94 for a litre of 95 octane petrol Inland.

However, if the same motorist uses a car with a fuel economy of 7 L/100 km for daily commuting, the monthly fuel expenses will drop to R1 340,64. The difference works out to a very handy monthly saving of R766,72.

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Fuel efficiency is directly related to a car’s engine size and overall weight. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the powertrain and heavier the overall mass, the higher the fuel consumption number will be. Though there can be exceptions on both sides of the equation.

Fast, heavy SUVs can easily drink in excess of 20 litres for every 100 km travelled. In contrast, some of the smaller, lighter cars can get around consuming three quarters less at 5 L/100 km.

Real world conditions

The methods manufacturers use to determine a car’s fuel consumption are mostly outdated and not a realistic reflection of the car’s fuel consumption in the real world where traffic, driving style and temperature play significant roles.

It is often believed that adding two to a manufacturer’s claimed fuel consumption number will provide a much more accurate estimation, although this assumption doesn’t always hold water. Adding only two might be flattering for thirstier cars, while it can be closer to one for more miserly sippers.

On average the gross majority of new passenger cars have a fuel consumption ranging between seven and 12 litres per 100 km in the real world.

The higher the number rises above seven the poorer it gets, while the further it can drop below seven, the better it gets.

Based on the claimed fuel consumption provided by manufacturers, we have selected the top three new most fuel efficient compact/hatchbacks and SUVs on sale in South Africa.

We worked on a budget cap of R400 000, which excluded any battery electric and hybrid cars.

Out of the six, three run on petrol and three on diesel, while they all have manual transmission.

Here are South Africa’s most fuel-efficient new cars:

Compact/hatchbacks with best fuel consumption

4.0 L/100 km – Fiat 500 TwinAir Cult (R223 900)

Even though this little evergreen Italian three-door city slicker has been around for 15 years, it still outguns its more modern contemporaries in terms of fuel economy, let alone retro styling.

The Fiat 500 can run on fumes.

The Fiat 500’s gem of an 875cc turbocharged petrol engine can run on fumes, but it’s no slouch either.

The two-cylinder mill is good for 63 kW of power and 145 Nm of torque, which is sent to the front wheels via five-speed manual gearbox.

It is capable of reaching speeds of well beyond the national limit, but that is really not conducive of saving at the pumps.

At a fuel consumption of 4.0 L/100 km, Fiat claims the 500 will be able to travel all of 875 km on a single 35-litre tank of petrol.

Daily practicality will definitely be an issue if it needs to move more than two adults as it is only available in three-door configuration with limited boot space of 185 litres.

4.3 L/100 km – Mahindra KUV100 K6+ Diesel (R240 999)

South Africa’s most affordable diesel passenger car comes in at a R78 000 premium over its cheapest petrol sibling, the KUV100 Nxt 1.2 G80 K2+.

But boasting claimed fuel consumption of 4.3 L/100 km, it offers 1.6 L/100 km – or 27% – better fuel economy than the petrol derivative.

The diesel version of the KUV100 is powered by a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre turbodiesel engine that sends 47 kW of power and a very healthy 190 Nm of torque to the front wheels via five-speed manual transmission.

Mahindra KUV100 fuel economy
The KUV100 K6+ Diesel is the cheapest passenger oil-burner in Mzansi.

Based on its claimed consumption, the oil-burner is capable of covering 817 km on its 35-litre tank.
The Indian carmaker refers to the KUV100 as a compact crossover, but you’d be forgiven to think of it as a five-door hatchback. It is capable of carrying four adults and offers boot space of 243 litres.

For more information on the Mahindra KUV100, visit the manufacturer’s website.

4.4 L/100 km – Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GA (R174 900)

The Japanese carmaker has many compact offerings with excellent fuel economy – the S-Presso, Swift and DZire, to name but a few, all boast a number of 4.9 L/100 km. But Suzuki’s offering with the smallest thirst is the new Celerio.

The Celerio’s naturally aspirated, three-cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine produces 49 kW/89 Nm which is sent to the front wheels via five-speed manual gearbox.

If Suzuki’s claim of 4.4 L/100 km can be achieved, 727 km is possible on a single 32-litre tank of petrol.
The Celerio seats four adults, while offering boot space of 295 litres.

Compact SUVs with best fuel consumption

4.6 L/100 km – Ford EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Ambiente (R322 500)

Diesel-powered passenger cars are a dying breed, especially at the smaller end of the scale. But the breed is not extinct yet and a few carmakers still offer oil-burners alongside petrol options, albeit at a premium.

One of these manufacturers is Ford with its ever-popular compact SUV the EcoSport. Boasting a 52-litre tank, the diesel EcoSport is capable of travelling 1 130 km on a single fill if it can match the claimed fuel economy of 4.6 L/100 km.

Ford EcoSport fuel economy
The Ford EcoSport diesel offering has a claimed fuel consumption of 4.6 L/100 km.

It is powered by a 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine which sends 74 kW/205 Nm to the front wheels via five-speed manual gearbox.

The EcoSport is spacious enough for four adults and offers 333-litres with boot space which is accessed via a barn door tailgate.

For more information on the Ford EcoSport, visit the manufacturer’s website.

4.8 L/100 km – VW T-Cross 1.0 TSI 70 kW Comfortline (R368 900)

Out of Mzansi’s three most fuel-efficient SUVs, the only petrol-powered is also the most expensive. But in saying that, a petrol engine competing so fiercely with its diesel rivals is testament of modern-day technology.

The T-Cross’ three-cylinder, 1.0-litre turbocharger mill produces 70 kW of power and 175 Nm of torque. It is mated to five-speed manual transmission, which sends the twist to the front wheels.

If the vehicle can live up to the claimed fuel economy, it will be able to travel a distance of 833 km on its 40-litre fuel tank.

The T-Cross will keep four adults comfortable and offers 377 litres of boot space.

5.1 L/100 km – Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Zen (R 342 900)

Out of Mzansi’s top three most fuel-efficient SUVs, the Duster’s 478-boot is by far the biggest.
Powered by a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre turbodiesel mill, its sends 66 kW/210 Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.

A range of 980 km is possible on its 50-litre fuel tank if Renault’s claim of 5.1 L/100 km can be achieved.

For more information on the Renault Duster, visit the manufacturer’s website.