With petrol prices set to hit new record highs next month, South Africans with tight cash prices are bracing to tighten the belt even further.
Now more than ever, fuel economy of cars has become vital for motorists. Whatever distance a commuter travels each day, fuel costs for the same car are expected to nearly double by July, in line with the sharp rise in gasoline prices in recent years.
However, if the driver is not already driving a car with low fuel consumption, opting for a more fuel-efficient ride can make a significant difference in fuel costs.
Depending on the fuel economy of their current car, they can save half or more on monthly fuel costs.
Fuel Economy Formula
The formula most commonly used to determine fuel economy is the number of liters a vehicle consumes per 100 km traveled.
This is calculated by multiplying the number of liters consumed for a trip or tank by 100 and dividing by the number of kilometers travelled. If that number is 7.5, the fuel consumption is indicated at 7.5 L/100 km.
To save you the trouble of manual calculations, most modern cars have an onboard fuel computer that indicates the vehicle’s immediate and overall fuel economy.
It is also mandatory for car manufacturers to declare a new car’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
For an average motorist driving 800 km per month in a vehicle with a fuel consumption of 11 l/100 km, the monthly fuel cost is R2 106.72 at the current rate of R23.94 for a liter of 95-octane petrol domestically.
However, if the same driver uses a car with a fuel consumption of 7 L/100 km for a daily commute, the monthly fuel cost drops to R1 340.64. The difference adds up to a very handy monthly savings of R766.72.
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Fuel efficiency is directly related to the size of the engine and the overall weight of a car. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the drivetrain and heavier the total mass, the higher the fuel economy will be. Although there can be exceptions on both sides of the equation.
Fast, heavy SUVs can easily drink more than 20 liters per 100 km traveled. In contrast, some of the smaller, lighter cars can consume around three quarters less at 5 l/100 km.
Real world conditions
The methods manufacturers use to determine a car’s fuel economy are usually outdated and not a realistic representation of the car’s fuel economy in the real world where traffic, driving style and temperature play a major role.
It is often believed that adding two to the manufacturer’s stated fuel economy yields a much more accurate estimate, although this assumption is not always correct. Adding just two can be flattering to thirsty cars, while closer to one can be for more stingy sippers.
On average, the gross majority of new passenger cars have a fuel consumption of between seven and 12 liters per 100 km in the real world.
The higher the number goes above seven, the poorer it gets, while the further it can go below seven, the better it gets.
Based on fuel consumption reported by manufacturers, we’ve selected the top three new, most fuel-efficient compact/hatchbacks and SUVs for sale in South Africa.
We have been working on a budget cap of R400 000, which excludes battery electric and hybrid cars.
Of the six, three run on petrol and three on diesel, while all are manual.
These are South Africa’s most fuel-efficient new cars:
Best fuel economy compact/hatchbacks
4.0 l/100 km – Fiat 500 TwinAir Cult (R223 900)
Although this small evergreen Italian three-door city car has been around for 15 years, it still outperforms its more modern contemporaries in terms of fuel economy, let alone retro styling.
The Fiat 500’s gem, a turbocharged 875cc petrol engine, can run on fumes, but it’s no slouch either.
The two-cylinder mill produces 63 kW of power and 145 Nm of torque, which is sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
It can reach speeds well above the national limit, but that really doesn’t help the savings at the pumps.
With a fuel consumption of 4.0 l/100 km, Fiat claims that the 500 can cover all 875 km on a single tank of 35 liters of petrol.
Everyday usability will certainly be an issue if more than two adults need to be transported as it is only available in a three-door configuration with a 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 has a premium of R78 000 over its cheapest petrol brother, the KUV100 Nxt 1.2 G80 K2+.
But with a claimed fuel economy of 4.3 l/100 km, it offers 1.6 l/100 km – or 27% – better fuel economy than the petrol version.
The diesel version of the KUV100 is powered by a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo diesel engine that sends 47 kW of power and a very healthy 190 Nm of torque to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
Based on claimed consumption, the oil burner can cover 817 km on its 35 liter tank.
The Indian automaker refers to the KUV100 as a compact crossover, but you’d be forgiven for thinking of it as a five-door hatchback. It can carry four adults and offers a luggage space of 243 liters.
For more information about the Mahindra KUV100, please visit: manufacturer’s website.
4.4 l/100 km – Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GA (R174 900)
The Japanese carmaker has many compact cars with excellent fuel economy – the S-Presso, Swift and DZire, to name a few, all have a rating of 4.9 l/100 km. But the least thirsty Suzuki offering 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 a five-speed manual transmission.
If Suzuki’s claim of 4.4 l/100 km can be met, 727 km are possible on a single tank of 32 liters of petrol.
The Celerio seats four adults and offers a luggage space of 295 liters.
Compact SUVs with the best fuel economy
4.6 l/100 km – Ford EcoSport 1.5 TDCi Ambiente (R322 500)
Diesel-powered passenger cars are a dying breed, especially on the smaller end of the scale. But the breed hasn’t died out yet, and a few automakers still offer oil burners alongside gasoline, albeit at a premium.
One of these manufacturers is Ford with its ever-popular compact SUV, the EcoSport. With a 52-litre tank, the diesel EcoSport 1 can cover 130 km on a single fill-up if it can match the claimed fuel consumption of 4.6 l/100 km.
It is powered by a 1.5-litre turbo diesel engine that sends 74 kW/205 Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
Spacious enough for four adults, the EcoSport offers 333 liters of luggage space, accessible through a tailgate in the stable door.
For more information on the Ford EcoSport, please visit: manufacturer’s website.
4.8 l/100 km – VW T-Cross 1.0 TSI 70 kW Comfortline (R368 900)
Of the three most economical SUVs from Mzansi, the only one with a petrol engine is also the most expensive. But in saying that, a petrol engine that competes so fiercely with its diesel rivals is a testament to modern technology.
The T-Cross’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharger produces 70 kW of power and 175 Nm of torque. It is mated to a five-speed manual transmission, which sends spin to the front wheels.
If the vehicle can live up to its claimed fuel economy, it can cover a distance of 833 km on its 40 liter fuel tank.
The T-Cross seats four adults and offers 377 liters of luggage space.
5.1 l/100 km – Renault Duster 1.5 dCi Zen (R 342 900)
Of Mzansi’s three most fuel-efficient SUVs, the Duster’s 478 trunk is by far the largest.
It is powered by a four-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo diesel mill and sends 66 kW/210 Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
A range of 980 km is possible on its 50 liter fuel tank if Renault’s claim of 5.1 l/100 km can be met.
For more information on the Renault Duster, visit the manufacturer’s website.