Best Congestion Charge-exempt cars

Dodge the fees to drive in central London with a Congestion Charge-exempt car

John Evans
Jun 7, 2017

If you drive into central London on weekdays, then the Congestion Charge is likely to land you with hefty bills.

Costing £11.50 a day (or £10.50 if you set up an Auto Pay account), it adds up to more than £50 a week, or around £2,500 in a working year.

That makes Congestion-Charge exempt cars enormously attractive if you’re commuting into the capital Monday to Friday between 7am and 6pm when charging operates. All of the cars below are petrol-powered, so you don't have to worry about any future diesel surcharges or London's forthcoming T-Charge.

To get a car that can be driven into central London free of charge, you’ll need to opt for one of the cleanest models on the road, which are mainly made up of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which can run on battery power for several miles, but also have a petrol or diesel engine for longer journeys.

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Here’s what you need to qualify for Congestion Charge exemption, which is known as the 100% Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED).

  • An electric car
  • OR an vehicle with an official carbon dioxide emission figure less than 75g/km
  • OR a plug-in hybrid that’s classified as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle). Most of these have emissions of under 75g/km CO2, so are likely to qualify anyway
  • AND your car must meet recent emissions standards (either Euro 5 or Euro 6), which includes every car registered since 2011.


  • You’ll also need to register for the discount with Transport for London, which manages the scheme, otherwise you’ll be fined for driving in central London.
  • A £10 fee, which is payable annually.

Most Congestion-Charge exempt cars will also qualify for a government plug-in car grant towards their cost if you’re buying new. This is worth £4,500 for most electric cars and £2,500 for many plug-in hybrids.

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Best Congestion Charge-exempt cars

Best Congestion Charge-exempt electric car

Renault Zoe

Our pick Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav Quick Charge  CO2 emissions 0g/km

The Renault Zoe could have been built for London. It’s compact, smooth over speed bumps, and - as long as you avoid the entry-level car - has a range of at least 100 miles on a single battery charge, which will get you most of the way round the M25. Picking the fast-charge option makes longer journeys more feasible.

It’s been designed from the start as an electric car, so the interior has been designed around its flat battery pack, making it spacious and airy. Renault’s also been restrained with the design, so it doesn’t shout “eco-warrior” as you glide quietly through the streets.

Models that are more than a year-old won’t have the same range, but their batteries are more than enough for city driving. Just ensure that you factor in the cost of renting the car’s batteries, which starts at around £50 a month.
Read more in the Renault Zoe buying guide

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Best Congestion Charge-exempt estate car

Volkswagen Passat Estate

Our pick VW Passat Estate GTE DSG  CO2 emissions 39g/km

With CO2 emissions of just 39g/km, Volkswagen’s Passat will be close to the top of the list if you’re looking for a company car and regularly drive into central London. Those low emissions put the Passat plug-in hybrid into the lowest company car tax band, and also exempt from the Congestion Charge.

But it also makes an excellent family motor because the Passat is one of the few Congestion Charge-exempt estate cars, with an enormous boot.

It looks little different to the standard Passat, but is much smoother when accelerating, thanks to its electric power.

However, you will have to put up with a bumpier ride at low speeds, which isn’t helped by the Passat’s heavy batteries. And long-distance drivers won’t reap many fuel economy benefits. After 20 miles-or-so of electric driving, the batteries are close to empty and the petrol engine is needed to provide power.

It’s expensive too - with an official price of around £35,000 even when the government grant of £2,500 is taken into account. That’s why a nearly-new VW Passat GTE may make more sense, with prices below £30,000.
Read the VW Passat buying guide

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Best Congestion Charge-exempt SUV

Mitsubishi Outlander

Our pick Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2.0 GX3h auto  CO2 emissions 42g/km

There aren’t many affordable sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that can claim Congestion Charge-free status, which is why the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) has been such a hit for Mitsubishi.

With low CO2 emissions that put it into the lowest company car tax bracket, it’s ideal for business users, but you’ll have to put up with the loss of two of the seven seats that are available with the rest of the Outlander range: the car’s extra batteries only leave enough space for five.

As with other vehicles of this type, fuel economy is best on shorter journeys where the electric motor is used for the majority of the time. Relying on petrol power for long-distance journeys means the Outlander can be thirsty.

Read the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV buying guide

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Best Congestion Charge-exempt family saloon car

BMW 3 Series

Our pick BMW 330e SE auto  CO2 emissions 44g/km

Combining the performance of a mid-range BMW 3 Series with a efficiency of a plug-in hybrid car has resulted in the BMW 330e.

It’s got all of the style of the standard 3 Series, and has the same well-designed interior, with the best dashboard software on the market, that’s easy to use without getting distracted.

The 330e is in the lowest company car tax bracket and qualifies for a £2,500 grant towards the cost of the brand new price, but the cost is still more than £30,000.

You’ll also have to live with an electric-only range barely more than ten miles in normal driving. And the extra weight also makes the car feel more cumbersome than other models in the range.

But if you’re looking for an upmarket car of this size, then the BMW is still best of the bunch - particularly if you look at cars that are a year or two old, which are several thousands of pounds cheaper than new models.
Read the BMW 3 Series buying guide

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Best Congestion Charge-exempt executive car

Mercedes E-class

Our pick Mercedes E 350e SE saloon  CO2 emissions 49g/km

The plug-in hybrid version of the Mercedes E-Class is probably the most comfortable Congestion-Charge exempt car you can buy, thanks to its ability to remain steady over the most potholed streets.

The new price, which starts at more than £40,000 isn’t cheap, but it is helped by scraping in (by 1g/km CO2) to the lowest company car tax band, not to mention the Congestion Charge exemption.

In fact, the car is proving popular in its limited market, which means that used prices are high, although you can get a higher specification nearly-new car for the price of a basic brand new one.
Read the Mercedes E Class buying guide

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