These days when buying a car it’s not just the initial purchase price, insurance and tax you have to worry about. If you actually want to go anywhere you need to put fuel in. While most cheap diesels are not the most fun cars to drive they can get some epic MPG figures to go further for you mullah.
SEAT Arosa/Volkswagen Lupo
The Volkswagen Lupo and its SEAT Arosa sister combine two magical things when it comes to getting the best MPG. Firstly they are around the size of a small shoe and secondly they can be attained with a couple of pretty decent diesel engines. The 1.7 SDI is shockingly slow with a 0-60 time of 16.8 seconds but the official combined figure is 64.2 MPG. The 1.4 TDi will be much nicer to live with thanks to the addition of a turbo. It still attains similar MPG figures but will get to 60 in a much more respectable 12.3 seconds. Decent build quality means reliability should be good, the only thing to bear in mind is the space. Or complete lack thereof.
Citroen Saxo/Peugeot 106
This is probably the cheapest car on the list and you can even pick these up for <£1000 these days. The 1.5 diesel engine is not the last word in refinement but the engine does have a tank-like build quality and should see you well. All that diesel clatter does have a negative effect in that it will part disassemble the interior trim as you drive it. It might be a bit tinny but the space inside the Saxo/106 is pretty good and they still look pretty decent today. Official combined figure is 54.3mpg and that twinned with cheap parts and initial purchase price makes it mega for the frugal buyer.
One of the best engines to come out of the VW group is the 1.9 diesel and the reason why the engine is so popular with minicab drivers all over Europe is that it’s massively frugal and capable of completing uber mileages. The MK1 Fabia is now in a price bracket that makes this engine available with a practical but compact body. The engine is available both with and without a turbo in SDI and TDI variants. The TDI is much nicer to drive and is pretty punchy while the SDI is really very slow. However for a low cost option including purchase price and insurance the SDI is also likely to be more reliable long term than a turbo model but other than this it offers no other real benefits over the turbo.
The Corsa has always been a popular car because it’s always been a very ‘Ronseal’ car. It’s never particularly excelled massively over any rivals in any one department but it just does most things well and for some people that’s exactly what they want. When it comes to cheap and frugal the 1.3 CDTi is the one to go for with a decent combination of performance and economy. An official combined figure of 64.2 MPG impresses and as they shifted quite a few while it was on sale there should be plenty to choose from.
Is there a more luxurious diesel for the same price as the Rover 75? I don’t think so. While the K-series engines in the popular 1.8 petrol models had a great reputation for lunching their head gaskets the 2.0 diesel developed with BMW faired a lot better. Pushing out 116hp the 75 diesel was not the fastest motor out there and some models gained 136hp mapping but to drive a 75 like a hooligan would be to miss the point entirely. Official figures put the 75 at 48.8mpg and being able to waft around in a pretty solid British barge for around a grand is pretty tempting. For those that reckon it looks a bit too ‘Grandad’ check out the MG ZT variant which even had a bit more poke.
The Peugeot 306 can be regarded highly as setting off a trend of hot (ok, warm) diesel hatchbacks thanks to the introduction of the 1.9 DTurbo model. While these are getting a bit long in the tooth now you can pick up one of the later 306 HDi diesels for less than a grand. Later models also came loaded with kit such as rain sensitive wipers, four airbags, heater mirrors, air con, 6 speaker stereo, leather and crucially the bodykit and cyclone wheels taken from the GTI6 model. This engine can easily attain in excess of 60mpg which will make trips to the pumps pretty infrequent. The 2.0 HDi engine has proven its reliability with taxi drivers around the world so if it’s been looked after it should do you well.
I think that Mitsubishi were having a bit of an ironic laugh when they named the Carisma. Fear not though as while it might be one of the dullest cars to look at, to sit in and to drive it is one of the most reliable. The 1.9DiD engine was shared with Volvo and has a reputation to just keep going and going and going while attaining over 50mpg. As the Carisma has a reputation for being phenomenally boring the demand is not high meaning prices have remained low. So, if you think about buying a new car in the same way that you think about replacing your fridge then the Carisma could be the ideal car for you.
Back in the early naughties Fiat decided it wanted to take on the likes of the Golf. It failed spectacularly. What came out of it though was actually an OK car in the form of the Stilo. The styling was not the most exciting but it came with the decent and modern 1.9 JTD engine. MPG is pretty impressive as the Stilo averages according to official figures 52.3mpg. Fiat threw lots of kit at the Stilo too in a desperate attempt to get people to buy the thing. Not many were sold and it’s a pretty forgettable car so many people won’t even have heard of it. Use this to your advantage and you could bag a bargain.
Alfa Romeo 156 2.4
This has to be one of my favourite cheap diesels because it’s one of the few diesels that actually drives like a petrol with loads of torque. The 5-cylinder unit also sounds pretty decent at higher revs which is almost unheard of aside from some of the modern BMW units. The 156 looks pretty swish too and in Turismo (estate) spec it might just be one of the best looking cars of its time. Sadly it’s not the most frugal car on the list as you can’t always have your cake and eat it. A combined 42.8mpg is still pretty impressive given the performance on offer. You could of course just buy it with the 1.9 JTD but that’s boring.
The older 1.8 diesel engine in Fords is probably one of the least refined diesels ever made and is the reason people suffering from astmah have to stay as far as possible from an old Escort ‘55’ van. However much like many diesels of the time it was pretty solid and when Ford stuck a turbo on it later in life it actually became drivable with a combined figure of 53.3mpg. Unlike the modern TDCi engine which are all complicated and have flywheel, injector and turbo problems these old Ford units can take a beating. Just make sure you get a turbo model if you actually want to outrun anything faster than a snail. A zombie snail.