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The Top 10 London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

nissan leaf congestion charge exempt car The new London Congestion Charge starts on 4th January 2011 and these are our Top 10 Cars that you’ll be able to drive in London free of charge from that date.

Boris’s new emissions-based system, where cars emitting 100 g/km CO2 or less will be exempt – as long as they meet Euro 5 air quality standards – will replace the current ‘technology-based’ approach, meaning that hybrids will no longer necessarily be exempt from the charge – unless they comply with the criteria above.

The outcome is likely to be that lots of diesel-engined cars will replace the popularity of cars such as the previous-generation Toyota Prius, which emitted 104 g/km CO2 and which will soon have to pay to drive in central London.

But although many of the new crop of diesels may be sub-100 g/km in terms of CO2, and they will all help to save money on increasing fuel prices, they still have emissions that are in most cases worse for local air quality than petrol and certainly petrol-electric hybrid cars. And local air quality is a huge problem in London.??

Electric cars will be appearing from mainstream manufacturers from early 2011, and with zero tailpipe emissions they will provide a much better solution to help with clean air in central London. However they will be treated no differently in terms of Congestion Charge exemption than a diesel car emitting 99 g/km CO2.

Transport for London has said it will monitor developments and another review will be conducted in 2012, when it will decide whether or not to reduce the 100% discount threshold to vehicles emitting under 80 g/km CO2.??

As well as the new criteria for exemption, the Congestion Charge for other vehicles will also be increasing in cost, from £8 to £10 per day – if paid in advance or on the day of travel. This will increase to £12 if the charge isn’t paid until the following charging day.??

The cost will be £9 if registered for the new Congestion Charging auto pay system (charged in arrears) or the fleet scheme (where payment is upfront).??

The West London Extension is also being removed.

So here’s our top 10 recommendations for cars that will be exempt from the Congestion Charge from January 2011 onwards .

1. Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: LEAF EV
Fuel: Electric
Fuel economy combined: N/A
CO2 emissions: Potentially 0 g/km (if recharged from renewable energy)
Price: £23,990 (after the £5,000 government electric car grant)

The Nissan LEAF is the world’s first mass-produced all-electric five-seat hatchback. Not only does it emit less than 100 g/km CO2, it actually has zero tailpipe emissions. This makes it very attractive from a local air quality point of view in London. It’s also great for the driver, as you will sit in silence in the many traffic jams in London, thanks to the electric motor and battery. It’s very refined to drive, can reach 90 mph, has a range of 100 miles, and the electricity to cover this distance costs just £2. It’s also recently won the European Car of the Year award . You can order the LEAF now and deliveries start in March 2011 in the UK. It just makes complete sense for driving in London. There’s also the smaller Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is also very refined to drive, and the same price, but there’s more chance that the average car buyer can get hold of a LEAF.

Read the Nissan LEAF road test

2. Mini Cooper One D

Mini Cooper One D London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: One D
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 74.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 99 g/km
Price: £14,175

OK so the MINI Cooper One D may be an old-fashioned internal combustion-engined car compared to the all-electric LEAF, but it doesn’t have the range limitations of the Nissan, so you can drive around London and then drive to Scotland if you want. The MINI is just great fun to drive – it really does have go-kart-like handling, which can come in useful in London – it looks good inside and out, and it’s got a cool image. Thanks to recent engine upgrades this model now also has sub-100 g/km CO2 emissions and 70+mpg.

3. Fiat 500 TwinAir

Fiat 500 TwinAir London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: 500 Pop TwinAir
Fuel: Petrol
Fuel economy combined: 68.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 95 g/km
Price: £10,665

A petrol-engined car with 95 g/km CO2 emissions? Surely not? Yes, it’s true – this is the new Fiat 500 TwinAir. It has an engine with just two-cylinders, which sounds like a potential recipe for disaster, but it seems to work. It has good performance and it’s smooth and quiet. You can’t argue with the successful styling of the 500, and it has excellent packaging. It’s even fun to drive, is affordable and has low running costs. A definite option to consider for London.

Read the Fiat 500 TwinAir road test

4. Toyota iQ

Toyota iQ London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: 1.0 VVTi
Fuel: Petrol
Fuel economy combined: 65.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 99 g/km
Price: £10,229

The iQ is an exercise by Toyota to see how much of a grown-up car it can squeeze into the smallest possible size. And we’re pleased to report that the company has achieved its goal. As the name suggests, this is an intelligent car for modern city driving . And as with anything well-thought out, you should expect to pay a price premium. However you should save money on running costs, as this is another petrol car with sub-100 g/km CO2 emissions, and fuel economy of 65.7 mpg. If you want to make a statement that you drive an innovative environmentally-conscious city car, then the iQ has to be at the top of your short list.

Read more about the Toyota iQ

Read the Toyota iQ road test

5. Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta Econetic London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: Econetic 1.6 TDCi DPF 3dr
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 76.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 98 g/km
Price: £13,495

The Ford Fiesta is great to drive, with sharp dynamics, yet in Econetic form it can manage 76.3 mpg, and its 98 g/km CO2 ensures that it’s exempt from the payment of the Congestion Charge . It’s a diesel so it’s ultimately not as clean as a petrol engine from a local air quality perspective, but it promises excellent levels of economy if you decide to escape from the city. It also looks modern both inside and out. It’s just a shame that the standard wheels on the Econetic model are a bit dull.

Read more about the
Ford Fiesta Econetic

Read the Ford Fiesta Econetic road test

6. Toyota Auris HSD

Toyota Auris HSD London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: 1.8 VVT-i Hybrid T4 89g
Fuel: Petrol-electric hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 74.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 89 g/km
Price: £19,139

The Toyota Auris HSD is basically the same as a Prius in terms of its petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, but it’s more compact – which is ideal for the city. If you drive it carefully, it’s economical – and it’s smoother and quieter than a diesel. The CVT gearbox is ideal for London driving as there’s no clutch, and no gearchanges are required. Even the Auris’s light steering plays in its favour in the urban environment. With its clever technology, the Auris HSD has the ability to significantly move forward the fuel-efficiency of this class of car if driven carefully. If you like the Prius, but want a smaller version and one that doesn’t shout its eco-credentials quite as loudly, then the Auris HSD could be for you.

Read more about the Toyota Auris HSD

Read the Toyota Auris HSD road test

7. Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: 1.8 VVT-I T3
Fuel: Petrol-electric hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 72.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 89 g/km
Price: £20,265

Apart from the all-electric Nissan LEAF, there’s no lower emission way to transport five people around London in comfort than the Prius. The new Prius improves on the best bits of the previous model. It also addresses most of the weaknesses of the old car. It’s comfortable, quiet, reliable, and especially with the 17-inch alloy wheels – which raise the emissions slightly to 92 g/km – it looks good. And it comes with the sort of technology that you would only have found on a spacecraft a few years ago.?? We would suggest that the Prius offers good value for a car that is so ahead of the competition in the areas of economy, emissions and technology – whilst also being a good-sized five-seater hatchback.?? Lexus’s version of the Prius, the CT 200h, with 94 g/km CO2 emissions , will be here in March 2011.

Read more about the
Toyota Prius

Read the
Toyota Prius road test

8. smart fortwo cdi

smart fortwo cdi London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: cdi 799cc pulse
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 85.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 86 g/km
Price: £9,540

We’re not great fans of how the smart fortwo drives, with its slow gearbox and brakes that don’t inspire confidence, but you can’t argue with its compact size and low emissions . In diesel form it can manage 85.6 mpg and 86 g/km CO2. It really comes into its own in London, where its size means you can weave through traffic and stand a much better chance of parking it somewhere. It looks stylish, it’s just a shame that smart can’t improve on its gearbox and brakes.

Read more about the
smart fortwo cdi

9. Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion TDI

Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion TDI London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: BlueMotion TDI
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 74.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 99 g/km
Price: £18,100

A diesel may not be as suited to the city as a cleaner electric or hybrid car, but the Golf is such a class act for a 99 g/km CO2 car that it deserves inclusion. OK so you could get a Polo BlueMotion but it’s smaller, much noisier, less refined, and offers no financial advantage in terms of the Congestion Charge . The thing is, there’s no catch to this Golf – it has no serious drawbacks. It’s incredibly refined to drive, yet is also amazingly economical: it has no sacrifices in driveability. The Golf BlueMotion is a 99 g/km CO2 car that you can drive without being aware that you’re driving a 99 g/km CO2 car, which is exactly what you want.

Read more about the
Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion

Read the
Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion road test


10. Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe S Start/Stop

Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe S Start/Stop London Congestion Charge Exempt Cars

Model/Engine size: 1.6D DRIVe S Start/Stop
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 74 mpg
CO2 emissions: 99 g/km
Price: £21,945

Volvo does deserve a mention here – you can get a C30 hatchback or an S40 saloon – but you can even get a 99 g/km CO2 V50 estate that is Congestion Charge exempt . If you want a car that doubles up as a practical load-carrier in London then this is the car for you. Achieving 74 mpg is amazing for an estate car of this size and just a few years ago would have been thought to be impossible. Therefore Volvo should be applauded for bringing such a car to market, and we’d recommend the estate over the saloon because of its added practicality. If you want a car offering this amount of space with the promise of 70 mpg, with no significant drawbacks, this is the car to choose.

Read more about the
Volvo V50

Read the
Volvo V50 road test