Car buyers looking to avoid high running costs have never had it so good. Manufacturers are constantly launching new models that incorporate the latest energy-saving technology, and help motorists drive down their fuel consumption.

The compact hatchback class is at the cutting edge of this charge to boost efficiency, and now Mercedes has introduced a new low-CO2 A-Class into the fray. The A180 CDI ECO is based on the standard A180 CDI, but uses tricks such as lowered suspension, skinny tyres and long gearing to reduce emissions to 92g/km and boost fuel economy to a claimed 78.5mpg.

• Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion review

Against it we’ve set a pioneer among eco hatches: the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion. This was one of the first low emissions family cars, and the latest third generation promises strong emissions and economy figures of 85g/km and 88.3mpg respectively.

On paper, the Golf looks the better bet – it’s cheaper, too – but which of these eco-friendly models makes more sense in reality? Click the links above to read each review, and then read on for our road test verdict.

Head-to-head

Eco tweaks

These eco models benefit from lowered suspension in an attempt to reduce aerodynamic drag, plus designers have also tweaked the bodywork to smooth airflow.

The Golf features a distinctive gloss black grille panel and lower side sills, while the A180 has received a more subtle update, with a body-coloured grille. At the back, both cars have extended spoilers with special side vanes that help to channel airflow.

Economy log

These cars also come fitted with comprehensive trip computers that help you to keep an eye on your mpg. The Mercedes has a bar graph that gives live info minute by minute (below); the Golf can show fuel usage for a single trip, from when you last filled the tank or even for the lifetime of the car.

Options

look at the standard kit lists, and these models are pretty basic, but on options the Mercedes edges slightly ahead, with sat-nav and climate control on offer. VW’s extras are a little bit cheaper, and more packs are available.

Verdict

1st place: Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion

The Golf BlueMotion couldn’t quite match the Mercedes’ economy, but it’s a better car to use on a daily basis. It performs just like a regular version of the hatch and is beautifully built, while the six-speed gearbox makes it well worth the £280 extra over a standard 1.6 TDI.

2nd place: Mercedes A180 CDI ECO

The A180 CDI ECO gave excellent economy on test, but it feels like the engine’s been strangled to reduce emissions. A vague gearbox and firm ride take the edge off a package that is otherwise appealing, thanks to its equipment list, style and upmarket image.

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