Best diesel cars for London

Want an economical diesel car but not daily emissions charges? Here are the best ULEZ-exempt diesel cars for London’s clean air zone

Sam Naylor
Apr 27, 2022

The London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was extended in 2021 and now covers most of the capital, including many residential areas - and if you live in or near the city and are looking to change your car, then chances are that you’ll want something that avoids the daily charge for driving in the zone.

The ULEZ charge kicked off in 2019, but it only applied to central London. The scheme was mainly aimed at preventing the most polluting diesel models that don’t meet the latest 'Euro 6' emissions standards driving in the area, although some older petrol cars are also subject to the £12.50 daily charge.

If you live in London or regularly driving in the area, you’ll want a car that avoids this penalty, as otherwise you'll have to pay a daily charge - each time you enter any of the zone. Petrol and electrified (hybrid and electric) cars are typically best for driving in the city, but there are plenty of routes through the zone, and London more generally, that are still perfectly suited to diesel cars.

Diesels are at their most economical at a steady speed on motorways and main roads, and if you do this regularly and chalk up a lot of miles then they can be far cheaper to run than a petrol equivalent. That means that for plenty of people, a diesel car can make sense to use in and around London - so we’ve picked out eight of our favourite diesel cars that cover two requirements: first, they’re all Euro 6-approved, so aren't subject to the ULEZ charge, and second, they’re great cars that are worth considering in their own right.

That selling points for each of the cars we've featured differ across the models we picked out, since they’re great for a number of reasons. Some of the cars below are fantastic because they’re comfortable and easy to drive, others are practical and well equipped for the money.

If you’re looking for a diesel car to use in London, read on to find out more about each of our top picks. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you can check out our article on all ULEZ-compliant cars or simply search for used diesel cars with Euro 6 engines.

Best diesel cars for driving in London

1. Renault Clio

Best diesel car for value for money

Our pick Renault Clio 1.5 dCi
Used deals from £6,230
Monthly finance from £0*

The Renault Clio is an ideal diesel car for driving in London. Its most impressive feature is its low price, as it’s cheaper than some other small cars but has just as much equipment as standard. It’s also comfortable and easy to drive, so it’s perfect for short commutes in the city.

The 1.5-litre diesel engine isn’t the quietest motor around but it’s really economical, and official figures suggest that around 67mpg is possible, although it will be less than that if you mainly drive around town. The engine is quite punchy in the lightweight Clio, so performance is pretty good too.

The Renault is cheap to maintain from the perspective of consumables like tyres and servicing, plus its small size means it’s nice and easy to park in London’s tight parking bays and side streets. There’s even a good amount of room inside, so it’s suitable for a small family as well.

RENAULT CLIO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Mini Hatchback

Best diesel car for style and fun

Our pick Mini Cooper D
Used deals from £7,380
Monthly finance from £0*

The Mini Cooper is a stylish car that will fit in anywhere in London, from Brixton to Mayfair, and if you’re after a diesel car for the capital then you’re in luck because it’s available in One D, Cooper D and Cooper SD forms. The mid-spec Cooper D is the best of the bunch, with a lower entry cost than the more powerful Cooper SD, more equipment than the base spec and an incredibly impressive official fuel economy figure of more than 72mpg.

The Cooper D is also just as much fun to drive as the petrol versions of the Mini Hatchback, as it shares the same sharp steering, sporty driving position and strong performance. It’s small and easily able to nip in between traffic and width restrictors, but still feels upmarket inside and it’s quiet and comfortable.

When buying a used example, you should check which option packs have been added because most of the essential equipment was included in these rather than on the car as standard. More recent models are better equipped as standard, but you should always check a potential purchase has the kit you want fitted.

MINI HATCHBACK BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Mercedes A-Class

Best diesel car for luxury in a small car

Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Our pick Mercedes A180d
Used deals from £10,090
Monthly finance from £231*

If you’re looking for a car that’s upmarket and luxurious but don’t want to drive around a congested city in a large saloon car, you could consider the Mercedes A-Class. It’s widely available in diesel form and the A180d model is a good option for London because you’ll rarely need to use the extra performance of the A200d model.

The A180d uses a 2.0-litre diesel motor with 115hp and it returns just under 60mpg according to the official figures. That’s pretty impressive, especially as the A-Class is a smooth and quiet car to drive. It could be a bit more comfortable over potholes but it’s good enough for most roads.

The interior is roomy enough to carry a family, and the comfy seats, high-quality materials and high-tech equipment included mean that it feels just as luxurious as a bigger C-Class saloon car but without the larger size, so it’s easier to park and cheaper to run.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Seat Arona

Best diesel car for small SUV fans

Our pick Seat Arona 1.6 TDI
Used deals from £10,500
Monthly finance from £0*

SUVs are hugely popular and while they don’t make much sense for driving in the city, if you have your heart set on this type of car then you can always consider a small SUV such as the Seat Arona. It’s available as a diesel, with a 1.6-litre engine that returns around 60mpg.

The 1.6-litre engine is pretty noisy - so the 1.0-litre petrol makes more sense for most people as it’s quieter and nearly as efficient - but if you do lots of trips out of the city or around the ring roads, it could be a worthy option in the stylish, comfortable and good-to-drive Arona.

This Seat is also really good value, with loads of standard kit including an excellent media system with smartphone connectivity. It’s roomy too, with enough space for a family and lots of light in the airy cabin. The boot is a decent size for a small car, and since you sit higher up than an equivalent supermini, you get a good view out over the road ahead.

SEAT ARONA BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Volvo S90

Best diesel car for commuting

Our pick Volvo S90 D4
Used deals from £17,995
Monthly finance from £305*

The A-Class above might offer big-car luxury without the inconvenience of driving a larger car in the city, but if you want even more plushness and comfort in a larger car for your commute in London, try a Volvo S90.

The main reason we’ve picked this out is that it’s fantastic value for money; you’ll be able to buy a D4 model, which has a 2.0-litre diesel engine and returns around 64mpg - impressive for this size of car - for the price of a family car. It’s cheaper to purchase than an equivalent BMW or Mercedes, yet it’s even more comfortable and upmarket than those cars.

It’s also great value because it brings lots of equipment for the money, super-comfortable seats, a smooth automatic gearbox and a quiet, efficient engine. It’s a brilliant all-round car, and while it’s not as good to drive on twisty roads as some similar models, for driving in London it’s hard to beat the S90 for value and comfort - as long as you don’t mind its large size.

VOLVO S90 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Skoda Octavia Estate

Best diesel car for practicality

Our pick Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDI
Used deals from £10,500
Monthly finance from £487*

The Skoda Octavia Estate is one of the most practical family cars around, and it’s readily available in diesel form with Euro 6 compliance. The 2.0-litre engine is economical, as it can return up to 70mpg according to official figures, and it’s punchy as well - performance is strong and it’s good for towing, too.

The primary reason to choose the Octavia is the amount of space inside, although it’s great in many other ways. It has a boot with 640 litres of space with the seats up - which is very large for a car of this size - and 1,700 litres with the seats folded down. That’s larger than almost any other car at a similar price, and there’s loads of room for passengers as well.

Up front there’s a great media system with sat-nav and smartphone connectivity available for finding your way around London’s many streets, and the seats are comfortable. The Skoda is smooth over potholes and bumps, plus the light steering and good visibility mean it’s really easy to drive.

SKODA OCTAVIA ESTATE BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Volkswagen Polo

Best diesel car for comfort and economy

Volkswagen Polo front three quarters view

Our pick Volkswagen Polo TDI Bluemotion
Used deals from £9,000
Monthly finance from £0*

If you want a small but practical car then the Volkswagen Polo is a top choice, as it’s easy to drive, has enough room inside for a small family, is well equipped and good value. The newest model is great in petrol form but if you go for one that’s a bit older, you can get a Euro 6-certified diesel version.

The Bluemotion trim was focused heavily on low emissions and high fuel economy, and most you’ll find have a 1.4-litre 'TDI' engine. It’s incredibly efficient, as official figures suggest that it’s capable of 91mpg - though we expect it to be tough to reach that level in real-world driving, especially in London.

The Polo isn’t just ultra-efficient though, as it’s smart inside, comfortable to drive and easy to park. Prices are a bit higher than for an equivalent Ford Fiesta but if you’re after a diesel car then the Polo is a better choice, as the engine is more efficient and it’s quieter inside the cabin.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Audi Q3

Best diesel car for SUV luxury

Our pick Audi Q3 35 TDI
Used deals from £11,295
Monthly finance from £318*

Driving a large, polluting SUV in London is exactly what the ULEZ charge is supposed to discourage, but there are plenty of high-riding models that have Euro 6 certification and can drive there with no extra charge. One of the best is this, the Audi Q3 35 TDI.

The 2018-on Audi Q3 is one of the best mid-size luxury SUVs around. It brings a really upmarket and comfortable interior with lots of standard kit and tech, plus it’s roomy inside as well. There’s a big boot, plenty of space for a family and visibility is good, so parking is nice and easy.

The light steering also helps make it easy to drive in the city, and the Q3 is comfortable, too. It deals with potholes well and settles nicely on the motorway, where it’s at its best in diesel form. Official figures suggest that over 60mpg should be possible in the right conditions. It’s quiet and smooth at high speed, so if you do a lot of trips out of the city then the Q3 is a top choice.

AUDI Q3 BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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