Fuel Efficiency of Cars Over Time

James McCay

Apr 28, 2023

In general, technological advancements are meant to make things better and more efficient, and few things exemplify this as clearly as cars. Automobiles of the past could not drive as fast (sports cars and supercars aside) or go as far as modern cars can.

With a big focus on making cars use less fuel as the world transitions to electric vehicles (EVs), the car experts at Compare the Market sourced data and crunched the numbers for some of the most popular car models in Australia and North America from the past 10 years to find out how fuel efficiency has improved, and what this means to commuters today.

New cars could save over $400 a year in petrol compared to older cars

We looked at 28 different car models from 13 different brands in 2012 and 2022 and crunched the numbers on their fuel economy to estimate the cost of driving them for a year, and how much money newer models save compared to their older counterparts.

On average, modern cars save 1.5 litres of petrol per 100km. Assuming the cars are driven 15,000km in a year, that’s an average saving of AU$437 (US$310) per year.

Using an example of driving 12,000kms per year, on average these 28 different cars could save AU$357 (US$254) a year. In other words, the further you drive per year, the more money you could save by driving a modern car compared to an older version. In an example where the car drives 18,000km a year, the average saving on petrol is AU$538 (US$382).

Some of the vehicles with the biggest improvements in fuel economy from 2012 to 2022 were the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Ford F150 and the Toyota Sienna. On an annual kilometre total of 15,000kms, the 2022 Dodge Grand Caravan could save AU$2,520 (US$1789) a year compared to the 2012 model, while the Ford F150 saves AU$1,400 (US$994) a year and the Toyota Sienna saves an estimated AU$960 (US$682) a year.

In contrast, the Hyundai Elantra became less efficient and required more fuel to go the same distance. This is most likely because the engine size increased. The 2012 model was a 1.8L engine, compared to the 2022 model’s 2L engine.

The top three most efficient cars of 2022 are all hatchbacks

Out of the list of 28 cars, the top three most fuel-efficient models are all hatchbacks, and overall, all hatchbacks on the list performed well in comparison to the sedans, SUVs and minivans. The number one most efficient car is the Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid that uses 3.4L/100km, and it was the only hybrid on the list. Second place was taken by the Volkswagen Golf at 5.8L/100km, and third place was claimed by the Toyota Corolla hatchback, which consumes 6L/100km.

However, while SUVs in general were the least fuel-efficient types of car on our list, fourth place was a tie between two SUVs, the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. Both 2022 models have a fuel consumption of 6.1L/100km, beating out the Honda Civic.

Fuel economy difference estimates

The chart below shows the annual fuel cost difference between the 2012 version and 2022 version of the same car model for different distances covered in a year (assuming a cost of AU$2/L for fuel)*.

How modern safety features can help you save money on premiums

Compare the Market’s General Manager of General Insurance, Adrian Taylor, notes that a car’s safety capabilities can impact car insurance costs.

“New cars are not only more economical than older vehicles, but they are also safer because they have better, modern safety tech,” Taylor explains. “However, this is only one factor that influences insurance premiums. Given newer cars are typically more valuable than their older models, they might still be more expensive to insure, despite being safer.”

“The older a car gets, the less likely an insurance provider will offer to cover it. Some insurers have made the decision to only insure cars built after a certain year like 2012, and only if they have a high ANCAP safety rating. Given how insurance companies calculate risk, if there were two cars that were exactly the same in every other aspect, apart from safety features, the safer car could be cheaper to insure.”


We gathered data on fuel consumption for each of the 28 different cars for models produced in 2012 and 2022. Using three different annual kilometre scenarios – 12,000kms, 15,000kms and 18,000kms a year – we calculated the number of fill ups required for each vehicle (rounded up to whole numbers). To make the calculations simpler, each type of vehicle used the same size fuel tank: 40L for hatchbacks, 60L for sedans and minivans, and 70L for SUVs, as these figures are representative of these types of passenger car, though specific models will differ slightly.

Using these fuel tank figures and the number of fill ups, we calculated how much the total number of car refills would cost, using a fuel price of $2/L.

The fuel economy figures for each car model are listed below, as well as the difference in fuel consumption between 2012 and 2022 for each car.