Buyers' Guide: Choosing an economical car
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It’s a bit of an old wives’ tale that smaller cars are always more economical. In fact, fuel economy is a combination of several factors and it depends how you use your vehicle.
A car that has a larger engine isn’t always less economical. For example, earlier models of the Toyota Prius Hybrid initially had 1.5-litre engines, but now they’re fitted with a 1.8-litre engine which is more economical than the previous model thanks to its improved technology.
Vehicles continue to improve with innovative design — and the technology behind cars plays a large part in determining how economical it is.
Nowadays, manufacturers create a vehicle to meet the needs of a specific market, so it’s important to understand what you are buying. Smaller vehicles with engines between 1 and 1.3 litres are designed for getting about town (Mitsubishi Mirage, Holden Spark, Mazda 2 etc). They often have one-speed CVT transmissions, perfect for economical city running and are lightweight which gives good acceleration.
However, on open roads these pocket rockets often have to work the engine fairly hard to maintain 100km/h, meaning heavy fuel consumption. There’s little power in reserve particularly when loaded, for maintaining hill-climbing speeds or passing in overtaking lanes.
Small vehicles also tend to have smaller braking systems which incorporate simpler drum brake systems on the rear, and sometimes simplified suspension.
Though this is well-suited for city driving, these systems are pushed on the open road. If used for an extended time, this can lead to increased service costs for brakes and overall wear. So, unless you’re an urban driver, this car wouldn’t make the cut as an economical vehicle choice.
For those of us who drive in and out of the city, and for those who only have one car, a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, or VW Golf (medium-sized cars) are economical choices.
These models have good levels of power, safety and reliability, meaning they are more suited to all types of driving. The engines run at a relatively lower rpm than the small Japanese imports and their gear boxes are good for open road and city use.
If you want to go to the next level of fuel savings, think about moving into the hybrid world with the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Camry and even the latest Corolla is available as a hybrid option.
Though larger cars aren’t the most practical within cities, they are great for the open road.
Generally, they have good safety features and provide comfort, but inevitably the engines tend to be quite large, increasing the overall weight of the vehicle.
If you spend more of your time in urban driving environments than on the open road, having a large car will end up costing you. Uunless you require a car with a bit of extra space, there’s no point in owning a bigger vehicle.
The servicing bills can also be slightly higher for large cars as sometimes they have six cylinders rather than the traditional four.
When choosing an economical car for use on New Zealand roads, it’s always a good idea to determine what you will be using the car for. Once the purpose is determined, consider other factors during your search such as servicing costs.
If you’ve found a European car that’s economical, remember servicing costs will generally be higher due to the expertise required to work on one.
You might save costs on fuel but you could spend more on the maintenance of the car than if you were to buy a Japanese vehicle.