If you live in the outer London area, be warned: the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is set to expand to cover the whole of greater London (right up to the M25 in some areas) from the end of August this year. If you still have a non-ULEZ compliant car and drive in the London area, you will have to pay a £12.50 daily charge.
To be ULEZ-compliant you need to have a petrol car that has at least Euro 4 standard emissions (generally cars built from 2005 onwards) or a diesel car that has Euro 6 standard emissions (cars from 2015 onwards).
If you don’t have a ULEZ-compliant car and regularly drive in the London area, you will need to think about changing car now well ahead of the 29th August deadline, especially with limited supplies in the new and used car markets at present.
However, for the purposes of this feature, we won’t be looking at brand new options, because all new cars by default will meet the emissions standards required. Primarily focussing on used cars, we’re breaking this up into two budget ranges.
Firstly, up to £2000. This is because the scrappage scheme being introduced for those affected by the ULEZ expansion, will generally pay out £2000. However, only if you meet the requirements, as it’s not accessible to all. For this budget, we only looked at petrol cars as you won’t find ULEZ-compliant diesel cars for this money.
With the cheapest new car currently on the market being the Kia Picanto at just over £13,000, we’ve set the second budget limit at £10,000 to cater for a significant saving on buying a new car.
All of these findings are based not on price guides and theoretical availability but actual cars found for sale in online classifieds. Make sure you run the car registrations through the Transport for London ULEZ checker before buying - https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/check-your-vehicle
Under £2000 (petrol only) – City Cars
It is possible to find a decent modern (BMW-made) Mini for under £2000. They have great personality and are genuinely fun to drive. Searching through forums, apparently some early 2001-onwards Minis were not listed as ULEZ compliant. But using the TFL checker, I searched five 2001 Mini and Mini Coopers and all came up as being ULEZ-compliant.
The Fiesta was Britain’s best-selling car from 2009 to 2020, which means there are plenty around to choose from. Loads of good quality 2005-2007 cars at this budget.
Plenty around, but always in high demand. And it’s harder to find good examples at the money, but these are extremely practical, versatile and reliable cars. Look for 2005-onwards.
Under £2000 (petrol only) – Family Cars
While some earlier Volkswagen Golf models will be ULEZ compliant, stick to petrol versions of the fifth gen Golf from 2004. Solid cars, easy to run, but search hard for the best examples at the money.
Reliable, usable and good to drive, the seventh generation Civic is ULEZ-Compliant. Again, you have to look hard and far to find a good quality car for under £2000, but they are out there.
Going cheap ULEZ doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to compromise on luxury, class and prestige. Consider a Mercedes C-Class from 2003-2005. Ignore the diesel, and always use the ULEZ checker before buying. Beware though, running, repair and maintenance costs can be high.
Under £2000 (petrol only) – SUV
A hugely popular category for families. And many will struggle to step out of newer diesel SUVs that don’t comply into smaller cars that are ULEZ-Compliant. This is a very difficult category. There are SUVs you can find within the budget that will be Euro 4 and above, but these two are the most widely available options that we are happy to recommend.
The second-generation Honda CR-V from 2001 in petrol guise is actually ULEZ-compliant. These are very reliable, extremely versatile and easy to drive. We had one in the family, and it’s much missed. Plenty about, but find the best you can afford.
The first-generation Suzuki SX4 from 2006 is more of a Crossover than a proper SUV, but there’s enough around to choose from, it’s reliable, and Suzuki owners are very loyal and look after their cars.
Under £2000 (petrol only) – Sports Cars
This is a great choice, not just because you can still get decent examples within the budget, and they certainly look the part, but also because the first gen TT and its unique design is starting to become a collectible classic – so something of an investment.
Look for the second-generation Hyundai Coupe from 2004-2006, as there are generally good examples available for the money, plus it’s a sleek-looking coupe.
BMW 3 Series Coupe
Seek out a two-door BMW 3 Series coupe from about 2001-2004, the model generation often referred to as the BMW E46. Very handsome machines, and of course this is the ultimate driving machine!
Under £10,000 – City Cars
You just can’t go wrong with a Toyota Aygo. Reliable, very cheap to run and compact enough to squeeze into any gap. This budget will buy you a fairly newish car up to about 2019.
Find a good Renault Clio from about 2017-2018, it’s a little bigger and more usable than an Aygo, and brings a real sense of style with it.
Plenty of choice of good cars up to 2018 when you select the Suzuki Swift. Reliability is a given, so is good dealer service, but what is often overlooked with these, is just how much fun they are to drive.
Under £10,000 – Family Cars
Fantastic selection or a genuinely fantastic cars widely available. Go for the newest and best quality, privately owned and highest-specced Ford Focus you can find.
Solid and safe family car that will outlast the planet. If you choose a diesel Volvo V70, they will be compliant from 2015 onwards. You will also find some nicely-specced petrol examples within this budget
The VW Sharan is a people carrier. There are loads about, but beware poorly maintained Uber/Minicabs. Choose privately-owned or well-maintained fleet-owned cars. Most are diesel though, make sure you go for 2015-onwards.
Under £10,000 – SUV
It’s one of the world’s best-selling SUVs and with good reason – it will quite simply never fail you. And it has decent off-roading ability. Loads to choose from, but pricey – for petrol cars you’re looking at pre-2010 models. Diesel must be post-2015, but that will limit your choice.
Tons of excellent examples of the Nissan Qashqai around, which gives you a good choice of options. But stick with petrol, as you’ll have to pay more for a compliant diesel.
Why not opt for the King of off-roaders, the ultimate luxury SUV, the Big Daddy Range Rover. Impress the neighbours with this one, and go for a powerful petrol V8 from around 2005 which is ULEZ-friendly believe it or not! Avoid diesel.
Under £10,000 – Sports Cars
The Jaguar XK is a big V8 British muscle car that, from 2005, is not just a ULEZ-compliant but properly glamorous and sexy sports grand tourer, but also another potential classic that’s fast becoming collectible and was always classy.
Ford Focus ST
Go for a mid-2010’s Ford Focus ST, post-2015 if you go for the diesel – yes there are some. Best stick with a petrol though. Simply one of the best hot hatches you can buy.
The Mazda MX-5 is pretty much the default sporty roadster to buy. They are all great, huge fun to peddle, but also reliable and affordable to run. It’s possible to get some very late second generation examples that will be ULEZ-compliant, but it’s probably best to stick to the more modern 2006-onwards third generation. Nothing beats it for smiles-per-miles!