More economic and efficient four-cylinder cars are steadily pushing big cars off the vehicle popularity lists.

Higher petrol prices and more fuel-efficient engines have prompted Kiwis to ditch big gas guzzlers in favour of smaller vehicles, industry experts say.

New data from the Motor Trade Association (MTA) shows the top-selling cars between 2009 and 2013 were predominantly four-cylinder models.

The results of a previous review, in 2011, showed a much wider spread in the most popular types of vehicles.

The Toyota Corolla continues to dominate the new and used market, but traditional favourites - such as the Subaru Legacy and Holden Commodore, the only car with more than four cylinders in the top 10 - have slipped in popularity.


MTA spokesman Ian Stronach said the price of 91 octane petrol in 2009 was $1.63 a litre but by the end of 2013 it was close to $2.20 a litre.

"With petrol costs increasing around 35 per cent in that time, it was entirely predictable that there would be a swing to smaller-engined cars."

AA motoring affairs manager Andrew Bayliss said people had been turning away from bigger-engined cars in recent years.

"They're looking for something more fuel-efficient and obviously small four-cylinder are cars are very much in vogue. But also, so are SUVs - they suit the Kiwi lifestyle, but you can also have quite economic diesel engines in some of them as well."

Environmental decision-making had played a part in the shift.

"But I think the reality is people are being hit in the pocket with fuel costs. So why buy a car that does 14 litres per 100km when you can buy one that does 7 litres?"

Mr Bayliss said the Australian-made Commodore and Ford Falcon had historically been two of New Zealand's best-selling cars.

The eighth placed Falcon has dropped off the list while the Commodore is hanging in at 10th place, down from third, "probably largely due to the police fleet". Other familiar names have dropped out of the top 10 altogether, including BMW's 3 Series.

Giltrap Group joint managing director Michael Giltrap said: "The pure performance levels that a four-cylinder can deliver has increased so much more in the last five [to] 10 years, so the requirement for big engines is not so great." APNZ