London is notoriously expensive to drive into. For a start, there’s the congestion charge (also sometimes called the C-Charge). This runs from 7am to 6pm from Monday to Friday all year round, and costs £11.50 for any car that emits more than 75g/km. Finding a used car that has free entry can make driving into the city far less hassle.
On top of that, in the same central London area there is also the ULEZ charge. This applies 24/7 and adds a further £12.50 for older petrol or diesel cars.
In the meantime, here’s our guide to the best used cars you can buy to get into London all smug and without paying either tax. Just bear in mind that the rules are changing as of October 2021. Currently, plug-in hybrids are automatically exempt from the congestion charge as long as they conform to Euro 6 emissions regulations. But, from October 2021 only pure electric vehicles will be exempt, and in 2025 that electric car exemption will also be withdrawn as London pushes for fewer cars altogether on its roads.
This all makes for pretty grim reading if you commute into the capital regularly and want to save some cash. But don’t panic, there are some great used cars that will keep your costs down.
Renault Zoe (2013 onwards)
Price: £6500 – £20,000
The Renault Zoe is one of the cheapest and best pure electric cars you can buy new or used. It’s about the same size as a Renault Clio and is great to drive, well equipped in any trim and is practical enough for a small family to get by easily. However, buying one can be a bit more complicated than your average used hatchback.
The Zoe is offered with the option to lease or buy the batteries when you buy new, and this means that there are used examples with battery lease contracts, too. Any used car should be clearly advertised as coming with a lease, but don’t hesitate to ask the seller if you’re unsure. To make it simpler, those Zoe models that have their batteries included and aren’t subject to a lease are called the Zoe-i, and they were offered from 2015 onwards.
The battery lease contracts vary in price from around £50 up to £90, and while the battery lease cars are much cheaper to buy, even if you’re buying used you are obligated to carry on a lease with Renault – who own the batteries in the car. You can speak to Renault and choose what contract you’d like on your Zoe, though, since the terms dictate what mileage you can do each year – more expensive contracts have higher mileage limits or even unlimited limits, while the cheapest have mileage limits of as low as 4500 miles per year.
These contracts essentially mean that Renault owns the batteries, which has the advantage of meaning that they’ll repair or replace them if there are any problems, or even if the range of the car drops below 75% of what it was when new – which in the case of 2013 cars was around 90 miles in real-world driving (the 130-mile official claimed range is very unrealistic).
2015 also saw a more efficient motor introduced which extended the real-world range to around 110 miles, and 2017 saw the ZE40 model go on sale, which gets a much bigger battery and an official range of over 200 miles, although around 180 miles is more realistic.
Basically, if you do longer journeys occasionally then it’s well worth going for the ZE40 model, but the early Zoe models make for great, super-cheap school run or about town cars for anyone, and especially for those who live or commute into London.
Charging will take around 7 hours from a [link to charging article]7kW home charging wallbox[link], or if you plug into one of the fast chargers you find in motorway service stations, you can expect it to take an hour to add about 100 miles of range.
Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid (2017 onwards)
Price: £19,000 – £25,000
Yup, we know that you’ve probably never even heard of the Ioniq, but this hybrid petrol-electric hatchback is basically Hyundai’s take on the fabled Toyota Prius. The Ioniq is available as a full hybrid, which only runs on electric power for short distances and can’t be plugged in, the plug-in hybrid that we’re focussing on here, and also a pure electric version.
The Ioniq plug-in hybrid is cheaper than comparable used versions of the Prius, is comfortable, easy to drive, spacious, very efficient and comes with loads of kit including a touchscreen nav system. With a full battery (a charge only takes six hours from a normal three-pin domestic socket) you’ll get around 25 miles of pure electric power, which is enough for most people’s commutes.
After that, the 1.6-litre petrol engine kicks in and you can drive it just as freely as you can any petrol car. It’s also a great used buy, with a bulletproof reliability record and a five-year warranty from new that means even the older used cars still enjoy plenty of manufacturer warranty. It’s not exciting, but there’s common sense in every inch of the Ioniq and it’s perfect for short commutes or long journeys so it also suits one-car households no matter your lifestyle.
BMW i3 (2014 onwards)
Price: £12,500 – £32,000
The BMW i3 is the greenest car you can buy, and you can read all about why right here. That’s only one of the reasons that it’s great for elbowing your way through central London, though. This compact, upright hatch has great visibility, feels wieldy in tight roads or car parks and is seriously nippy for those rapid traffic-light getaways.
It’s available as a range-extender, which is just like a plug-in hybrid but has a longer electric range with a smaller petrol engine and fuel tank. Unless you’re worried about longer journeys, go for the pure electric one. It’ll do 80 miles or so to a charge if you go for an early car, while a facelift and bigger battery in 2016 upped that to more like 120 miles (our pick of the used versions for value and driving range), and another update introduced in 2019 has increased the range still further to some 160 miles in the real world. It’s just brilliant to drive, easy to live with, feels like a high-tech, boutique hotel room inside and is absolutely a premium product as you’d expect. For the money, you don’t get a better electric car.