by Lem Bingley
Drivers who want to avoid paying the London Congestion Charge will soon have their options considerably narrowed. Today, London’s Mayor confirmed anticipated changes that mean far fewer new cars will qualify for exemption from the charge from 1 July this year.
The cutoff for exemption on low-emissions grounds will fall from the current 100g/km limit to just 75g/km. While that may not sound like a huge drop, at a stroke it removes the vast majority of cars that currently qualify.
So, exactly which cars will continue to enjoy a free pass throughout the Congestion Zone, when the new rules are brought in this summer? In short, all have one thing in common – a plug to hook up to the mains.
The list of 12 cars that currently benefit from the government’s Plug-in Car Grant all pass cleanly under the 75g/km limit. They are the Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera; Citroen C-Zero, Mitsubishi i-Miev and Peugeot iOn; Renault Zoe and Fluence ZE; Nissan Leaf; Smart ForTwo ED; Toyota Prius Plug-in; Volvo V60 PHEV; and the Mia EV. A tiny number of cars that ought to qualify for the grant, but which haven’t been included for one reason or another, will slip in without charge as well. I’m mainly thinking of the Tesla Roadster.
Some of these plug-in cars have been around for long enough to become readily obtainable in the used market. So below I’ve listed my top three used-car bets for continuing to avoid the dreaded Congestion Charge. As an extra guide to cost, I’ve sought out competitive car insurance quotes for each model (fully comp, East London location, mid-40s and with lots of no-claims – me, in other words). Your costs will vary.
Toyota Prius Plug-in
Adding a new lithium-ion battery pack and mains charging to the Prius has raised its price – up at least £3,000 even after the government grant – but has trimmed official CO2 from 89g/km to just 49g/km. On a full charge the Prius Plug-in can travel about 15 miles on batteries alone, at speeds of up to 51mph, allowing the Prius Plug-in to cross the London Congestion Zone without ever firing up the engine.
Current price new: from £28,245 after grant
Used price today: from about £21,000 for a 2012 model with 10,000 miles
Insurance costs: from £420
GreenMotor rating:4 out of 5 stars
Unlike the Prius Plug-in, the Ampera was designed as an extended range electric car from the outset. Its engine wasn’t however, being a lightly modified common-or-garden four-cylinder 1.4 petrol. Long-range fuel economy is nothing to shout about as a result, but the Ampera can travel up to 50 miles on a fresh charge without needing to warm up the engine. A couple of laps of the Congestion Zone ought to be feasible with zero emissions.
Current price new: from £29,995 after grant
Used price today: from about £25,000 for a 2012 model with 20,000 miles
Insurance costs: from £345
GreenMotor rating:4 out of 5 stars
Entirely reliant on battery power, the Nissan Leaf can manage up to 109 miles on a full charge. That’s more than ample to chug around Central London all day long – and always with a zero CO2 rating. The latest British-built examples feature a host of improvements including a highly efficient heater, helping to keep range estimates up even in winter, and an improved 124-mile range. Older models on the secondhand market must make do with the old and feeble heater, a bouncy ride and superlight steering, but are great fun to drive nonetheless.
Current price new: from £20,990 after grant, battery included; or from £15,990 plus at least £70 per month battery rental
Used price today: from about £15,000 for a 2012 model with 5,000 miles
Insurance costs: from £395
GreenMotor rating:5 out of 5 stars