The Ultra Low Emissions Zone – or ULEZ as it’s known – is an area covering central London that older diesel and petrol cars must pay £12.50 to enter. It applies 24/7. The ULEZ currently covers the same area as the London Congestion Charge zone, which has a separate charge of £11.50 that applies to any car producing more than 75g/km of CO2 that enters the city between 7am and 6pm Monday to Friday.
However, come October 2021 the ULEZ will expand to cover the whole area within London’s North and South circular roads. So how can you avoid paying the extra charge?
WHAT ARE THE ULEZ RULES?
First you need to know the rules, which are that any petrol car conforming to Euro 4 emissions standards or later (which became legal requirement on petrol cars built from 2006) are exempt from the ULEZ charge. Diesels, however, have to comply with Euro 6 emissions ratings that were only made obligatory on new cars from September 2015.
There’s also an intriguing loophole where all cars registered in 1972 or earlier go free – and a Sixties 1960s classic would certainly make the London commute more interesting. Another irony is that the Euro 4 and above petrol rules mean you wouldn’t need to pay the ULEZ charge if you were to drive a V8 saloon such as the joyous yet economically disastrous Vauxhall VXR8.
However, if you’re keen to save some money on city taxes, you probably want to save money generally – and that rules out any muscle car that does 15mpg on a good day, or a 1960s British roadster that requires a full-time AA outrider to keep it on the road. For these reasons, we’ll be sticking to the more sensible everyday options with our selections of sensible ULEZ-exempt cars.
You can find out if a car you’re interested in is exempt from the ULEZ charge by checking on the Transport for London website – but first why not check out our list of low maintenance, low fuel cost, ULEZ-free used cars for any budget.
THE LOW BUDGET OPTION:
Audi A2 1.4 SE
Price: £700 – £5,000
The Audi A2 is a gem of a used car. Some might not like the boxy shape, while some rate it a cult design classic, but it was designed to offer maximum interior space in a very compact car – ideal for city commuting. It’s light and precise to drive, super-cheap to buy and cheap to run. The only downside is that bodywork can be expensive to repair if it’s damaged, as the aluminium panels (and aluminium spaceframe that it sits on) aren’t easy to fix.
Search for a used Audi A2 on CarGurus
THE SENSIBLE FAMILY OPTION
Mk6 Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI SE
Price: £4,000 – £8,000
Cars don’t get more ubiquitous than the VW Golf, but its popularity is deserved. It’s a sweet, natural drive with a solid, roomy and pleasant-feeling interior. Fun but comfortable, affordable yet classless, practical yet not dowdy – that’s the Golf. Plus, used ones are everywhere and make brilliant family cars. The Mk6 shown here arrived in 2009 and was replaced in 2013. Our pick would be the 1.4 TSI, which is quiet, frugal, and cheerfully willing whether you go for the manual or dual-clutch ‘DSG’ automatic.
Search for a used Mk6 Volkswagen Golf on CarGurus
THE URBAN SUV
Skoda Yeti 1.2 TSI SE
Price: £8,000 – £12,000
That’s right – it’s a tiny 1.2-litre engine in the moderately chunky Skoda Yeti. But don’t worry; this turbocharged motor is willing and punchy enough to make the boxy and cheerful-looking Yeti feel light on its toes in town traffic, and it’ll move along the motorway happily, too. It’s actually quite good fun, in fact. Put simply, with its small footprint, high body, great visibility and versatile interior, the Yeti is easily one of the best family cars of the last decade.
Search for a used Skoda Yeti on CarGurus
THE LUXURY EXECUTIVE OPTION
Price: £11,000 – £18,000
The Lexus IS300h was something of an also-ran behind the BMW 3 Series and co when it was launched new, but as a used buy it makes a huge amount of sense. It’s cheaper to buy than its German brethren, has a stellar reputation for reliability, looks cool, and is typically better equipped than equivalent executive saloons. The hybrid powertrain can be noisy if you accelerate hard, but the flip side is that it’s way quieter than a diesel at low revs and when it slips into pure electric mode. It’s an ideal cut-price executive urban commuter, and of course it’s ULEZ exempt and better for air quality than similarly aged diesels.
Search for a used Lexus IS300h on CarGurus
THE SPORTY OPTION
Price: £14,000 – £18,000
The BMW M135i does it all. It has a sweet, smooth, turbocharged in-line 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine that delivers rampant sports car pace to make best use of the 1-Series’ rear-wheel drive chassis. Yet it’ll also do 35mpg quite easily, and you can get it with a slick eight-speed auto that makes town driving a doddle. It’ll also accommodate kids and a dog – but most importantly of all it is huge fun to drive. It’s worth trying to find one with the optional adaptive dampers if you want the smoothest ride possible, and make sure that the engine has been scrupulously serviced, as they’re not without foibles. Find a well maintained example and this is a true delight whether you’re a purist after a proper track-to-city all-in-one solution, or if you just like a faster car with a premium finish and room for the family.
Search for a used BMW M135i on CarGurus
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