Why fuel bills for cars have barely risen since heyday of the Cortina

Drivers are forking out only slightly more for fuel than 30 years ago because cars have become more economical, according to new research.

The average annual fuel bill for a current Ford Mondeo is 2,081, while the fuel bill in 1980 for a similar-sized Ford Cortina would have been 1,889 in today's money, Which? magazine reports today.

The improved fuel economy of the Mondeo over 1980's best-selling car nearly outweighs petrol prices rocketing from 28p to 133p a litre over three decades.

Which? compared 2.0-litre models, with the Mondeo averaging 34.9mpg, compared with 27mpg for the Cortina. The fuel costs, adjusted for inflation, were based on an average mileage of 12,000 miles a year.

However, Which? also found fuel costs dipped significantly in the intervening period, to 1,408 in 1990 and 1,634 in 2000.

The 1990 comparison was with a Ford Sierra, averaging 31mpg, when petrol was 47p a litre. Ten years later, a Mondeo 1.8 averaged 34.9mpg when petrol was 84p a litre.

Which? said the 2011 Mondeo model used - the Estate EcoBoost with powershift automatic transmission - is not as economical as many large cars, so its fuel bill was "something of a worst-case scenario".

Motoring groups cautioned about such comparisons because wider motoring costs should be considered, and said car dependency had risen since the 1980s.

Neil Greig, the Scottish-based policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "Most drivers will be stunned to learn that filling the car with fuel costs much the same as 30 years ago.

"While insurance costs have risen, less frequent servicing and more reliable cars mean that most drivers are getting a better deal these days.

"If you can shop around for fuel, control your right foot on the accelerator and buy a car with zero car tax, then motoring on a budget is still within reach."

Automobile Association president Edmund King said: "With builders sleeping in the back of their vans to save trips to work, and two-thirds of AA members saying they are cutting back on car use, other spending or both, it certainly doesn't feel like drivers are marginally worse off.

"In the 1980s, regular use of the car was becoming much more common among lower-income groups. It is clear the reverse is happening now with record fuel prices - hardly the sign of progress in the 21st century."Adrian Tink, motoring strategist for the RAC, said: "While the figures make interesting reading, you always have to be careful comparing across different eras.

"There are similarities between now and 1980 - high oil prices and a degree of economic uncertainty - but levels of car ownership, car usage and most importantly car dependency are very different today.

"The car today is much more a necessity than it ever has been, so the higher prices today affect people's lives far more than they did in 1980."