Best cars with low CO2 emissions: the not-so dirty dozen

No need to go electric to lower your car’s emissions – there are plenty of hybrids and efficient diesel models that keep the CO2 low

BuyaCar team
Apr 29, 2021

Car manufacturers are under ever-increasing pressure to reduce the CO2 emissions of the cars they produce. As a result, and even though most brands are likely to get rid of their petrol and diesel models entirely in the coming years, cars with conventional engines are still becoming more efficient and less polluting – which is definitely a good thing.

But driving a family hatch that emits less than 100g/km of CO2 doesn’t have to be a boring or utilitarian experience. In fact – as the list below proves – you can get behind the wheel of flashy SUVs, smart saloons or stylish small hatchbacks and still be running around in a car producing commendably low emissions.

What’s more, these clean-living cars also offer lower rates of road tax, while their frugal nature helps to reduce your fuel costs. And with many of these used cars being available on BuyaCar from much less than £10,000, or £200 per month on PCP finance, you could be making some serious savings while also feeling much better about your carbon footprint.

So read on for our pick of 12 excellent family-friendly cars with low CO2 emissions.

Best cars with low CO2 emissions

1. DS 3

Best low CO2 car for styling it out on a budget

Our pick DS 3 PureTech 110 S&S Parthenon Cream
Used deals from £5,480
Monthly finance from £103*
CO2 emissions
100g/km
Fuel economy 65.7mpg

It’s easy to miss DS Automobiles, especially for drivers who’ve not heard of the designer-chic offshoot of parent company Citroen. But the company is worth your attention, as its Mini-rivalling DS 3 lets you style it out on a budget and cut CO2 emissions in the process.

That’s because it uses something called the PureTech engine. It’s a three-cylinder petrol engine that sips fuel (up to 65mpg) yet never feels underpowered – partly why it won its category in International Engine of the Year for four years in a row. It sounds nice and pulls enthusiastically from just 1,500rpm, making light work of day-to-day driving.

As for the DS 3, it’s a good-looking car that turns more heads than most in this class. You’ll need to opt for the Parthenon Cream trim level for the optimum blend of stylish design and frugal motoring.

DS 3 BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Ford Fiesta

Best low CO2 car for a terrific all-round package

Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.5 TDCI 85hp
Used deals from £5,000
Monthly finance from £108*
CO2 emissions
82g/km
Fuel economy 74.3mpg

Small cars and diesel engines are an increasingly rare combination. Car makers are slimming down their models ranges, arguing that consumer demand and efficiency improvements in petrol engines mean there’s no longer the need for diesel in small cars. Ford is one of the few to go against the tide, and the numbers speak for themselves.

Pair the Fiesta with the 85hp version of the 1.5-litre diesel engine and it emits just 82g/km of CO2 and can make every forecourt fill-up last further than most, thanks to economy of 74mpg.

The driving experience remains impressive – the Fiesta is one of the most accomplished cars of any size or price. But some rivals, including the Seat Ibiza and VW Polo, are showing Ford how to do it when it comes to making a classy, comfortable interior. But if you can live with a slightly smaller package, the Fiesta won’t disappoint.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Audi A1

Best low CO2 car for a posh badge at an affordable price

Our pick Audi A1 30 TFSI
Used deals from £7,690
Monthly finance from £143*
CO2 emissions
108g/km
Fuel economy 58.9mpg

The second-generation Audi A1 was launched in 2018, and it’s a rather handsome-looking thing. But more significantly, you’re getting an upmarket small car at an affordable price, something neither BMW nor Mercedes can offer.

With the entry-level, 30 TFSI petrol engine fitted, the A1 is one of the cleanest small petrol cars going – especially if you want one that comes with a wow factor. It emits just 108g/km and can achieve nearly 59mpg, and all the while the three-cylinder turbocharged engine pulls eagerly and gives a spritely turn of speed.

Although the Mini Cooper or Ford Fiesta are a little more fun to drive, they can’t match this car’s high-quality feel. The classy and strikingly designed interior is somewhere drivers will be very happy to spend time racking up the miles.

AUDI A1 BUYERS' GUIDE

 

4. Toyota Yaris

Best low CO2 car for best-in class emissions

Our pick Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Used deals from £7,290
Monthly finance from £143*
CO2 emissions
84g/km
Fuel economy 76.3mpg

With emissions of just 84g/km, the hybrid-powered Toyota Yaris is the car to turn to if all you care about is having a petrol-powered run around with the lowest possible emissions.

And with a hard-earned reputation for reliability, Toyota’s hybrid system shouldn’t be dismissed by those who have never owned this type of car. It’s straightforward to drive and doesn’t require anything from the driver; you simply drive as normal and the car takes care of everything, from recharging the battery (used to drive the electric motor) to deciding when to use the petrol engine or the electric motor or combine the two.

A plus point is that the Japanese car maker provides a five-year, 100,000 mile warranty as standard. But given the hybrid system’s reputation for reliability, hopefully owners won't have to call it on it.

TOYOTA YARIS BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Audi A4

Best low CO2 car for a soothing journey

Our pick Audi A4 2.0 TDI ultra
Used deals from £9,345
Monthly finance from £177*
CO2 emissions
99g/km
Fuel economy 74.3mpg

Want a car that will make you feel relaxed? The Audi A4 represents the German brand at its best, creating wonderfully quiet and comfortable cars that can make a 1,000-mile journey seem like a quick trip to the shops.

The engines are barely audible, the noise of the tyres and roar of the wind hardly make it inside, and the seats do a first class job of keeping aches and pains at bay.

Choose the 2.0-litre diesel model in ‘ultra’ specification and the 17-inch alloy wheels and this large, comfortable car will also prove surprisingly frugal and clean. Its CO2 emissions of just 99g/km make it a favourite with company car drivers, and the rest of the package is just the icing on the cake.

AUDI A4 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Ford Focus Estate

Best low CO2 car for carrying cargo

Our pick Ford Focus Estate 1.5 EcoBlue 95hp
Used deals from £9,780
Monthly finance from £163*
CO2 emissions 96g/km
Fuel economy 78.5mpg

When it comes to carrying cargo, it’s hard to beat a good old-fashioned estate car. They are lower to the ground than an SUV, which means putting in the pet pooch or loading up luggage in the boot is less of a workout. And with 575 litres of space, or 1,620 litres when the seats are lowered, the Ford Focus estate is more than capable of making light work of family life.

To achieve the lowest level of emissions with this estate, however, you’ll be needing to choose the smallest and least powerful version of the Ford EcoBlue diesel engine. And if we’re being honest, it’s no ball of fire – 0-62mph takes nearly 12 seconds, and that’s before all the seats are filled with passengers and the boot’s bursting with luggage.

Still, if those who are happy to make slow but steady progress can enjoy the other attributes of the latest Focus. Good to drive, packed with useful technology and safe, it’s a good all-rounder that gives the Volkswagen Golf a run for its money.

FORD FOCUS BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Hyundai Ioniq

Best low CO2 car for a competitively priced hybrid

Our pick Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Used deals from £11,899
Monthly finance from £164*
CO2 emissions
79g/km
Fuel economy 83.1mpg

Think hybrid car and the chances are you’ll think of the Toyota Prius. But since 2016, Hyundai has been muscling in on the Japanese giant’s patch, with the Ioniq. Available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric car, the least fancy-pants hybrid is actually a jolly good starting point at a jolly competitive price.

Its eco credentials speak for themselves: CO2 emissions are 79g/km, when you choose a version with 17-inch alloy wheels, and there is the potential for 83mpg. In other words, it’s game-on with the Prius.

Unlike its main rival, however, the Ioniq looks relatively normal and has a smarter interior. And when you factor in the price, which will save you several thousands of pounds, the Korean contender looks like a smart buy.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

8.Mercedes-Benz A-Class

Best low CO2 car for ice-cool interior and tech

Our pick Mercedes A180d SE
Used deals from £12,350
Monthly finance from £184*
CO2 emissions
108g/km
Fuel economy 68.9mpg

These days, it’s often said that there’s no such thing as a bad car. Which may well explain why Mercedes went to town on the interior design and technology of the A-Class. The designers and engineers figured that this is where customers could really appreciate a difference between the A-Class and, say, a VW Golf or Audi A3.

And what a difference. The interior of the Mercedes A-Class stands out from its peers, with a seven-inch digital instrument display that extends to the centre of the dashboard via a seven-inch touchscreen. This is livened up with neat touches such as air vents that are illuminated and can change colour at the touch of a button, while the tech includes Mercedes' voice-controlled virtual assistant, called MBUX, which means you can keep your eyes on the road.

Stick to the entry-level A180d version and the emissions are low; however, if you can stretch to the A200d, give it some thought as it’s barely any less efficient but offers notably more performance.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

 

9. Nissan Qashqai

Best low CO2 car for value for money

Our pick Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi 115
Used deals from £7,290
Monthly finance from £147*
CO2 emissions
100g/km
Fuel economy 74.3mpg

SUV are all the rage and when it comes to getting good value for money, the Nissan Qashqai is hard to beat. It's a solid all-rounder, with used prices on BuyaCar starting from £147 per month for the most clean and economical 1.5-litre diesel, which is pretty competitive pricing.

Putting your finger on the ‘value’ element requires a bit more than looking at the price and specs. Drive the Qashqai and you’ll be pleased to find it’s well polished, with little engine or road noise, while the suspension gives a smooth ride.

The interior may not be the most stylish or original, but there’s lots of space for a family, especially in the back seats. The boot could be bigger and there’s no longer the option of extra seats in the back but Nissan has an answer, in the form of the X-Trail SUV.

NISSAN QASHQAI BUYERS' GUIDE

10. Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer 

Best low CO2 SUV for a seven seat family car

Our pick Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer BlueHDI 130 S&S EAT8 auto
Used deals from £13,970
Monthly finance from £203*
CO2 emissions
105g/km
Fuel economy 70.6mpg

The original C4 Picasso was no oil painting, but the third-generation model came good – ironically just as Citroen stopped using the Picasso name and switched to ‘C4 SpaceTourer’.

It’s one of the most comfortable people carriers going, and even if you pile seven people aboard, it will cope admirably. If there are just five of you, then the boot holds up to 630-litres worth of shopping and pushchairs, or a holiday’s load of luggage.

With the 130-horsepower diesel engine fitted, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox, you can sit back and relax as the car takes the strain and makes effortless progress, while the emissions are exceptionally low for a seven-seat diesel car of this size. A comfortable ride from the suspension is an added bonus.

CITROEN GRAND C4 PICASSO BUYERS' GUIDE

11. Skoda Superb Estate

Best low CO2 car for those who think bigger is better

Our pick Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI 150 SCR
Used deals from £9,124
Monthly finance from £197*
CO2 emissions
115g/km
Fuel economy 64.2mpg

It’s risky business naming a car Superb, but this one’s good enough to pull it off without being ridiculed. The clever thing about Skoda’s largest hatchback and estate range is that although it is quite a large car, it never feels unwieldy. The driving experience is responsive, the ride is exceptionally comfortable and refinement is impressive.

When you carry passengers, you can expect to be paid compliments about the comfort of the back seats and space in which to stretch out; this is a vast car with as much room in the back as models from a category above. And if you have children, it means they won’t be elbowing one another and bickering over seat space.

The company recently dropped the 1.6-litre diesel engine from its Superb range, which is a great shame as it was especially clean and frugal. However, the 2-litre diesel is still a good buy, and with emissions of 115g/km from one of the most spacious estate cars on the road, it’s still a great package.

SKODA SUPERB ESTATE BUYERS' GUIDE

12. Toyota C-HR 

Best low CO2 car for those that want a hybrid SUV

Our pick Toyota C-HR Hybrid
Used deals from £12,726
Monthly finance from £176*
CO2 emissions
86g/km
Fuel economy 74.3mpg

If you dare to be different, then the Toyota C-HR has a lot to offer. It stands out of the crowd with edgy design and under the bonnet is a hybrid system that’s still a rarity in the SUV sector.

The combination of a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and battery-powered electric motor is well proven by Toyota; it has sold more than 10 million Toyota and Lexus hybrids to date. The silent running of the electric motor gives this car an appealing smug-factor, while the combined power of the engine and motor match a diesel for performance.

The emissions are impressively low, and there are far fewer associated pollutants if you choose this over a diesel. And in our experience, it should match the fuel economy of a comparably sized, diesel SUV.

TOYOTA C-HR 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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