Best Congestion Charge-exempt cars

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

John Evans James Wilson
Apr 15, 2019

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 hybrid or electric, so you don't have to worry about any future diesel surcharges.

You also don't have to worry about the T-Charge anymore. The T-Charge was Britain’s first low emissions zone for vehicles, and came into force on October 23 2017. It only affected London, and only applied to you if you drove an old, more polluting vehicle.

It was superseded at the beginning of April 2019 by the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone). Due to the rules governing the ULEZ, cars exempt from the Congestion Charge will also be exempt from the ULEZ.

The ULEZ toll comes on top of the Congestion Charge, meaning that a trip to London could cost £24 in fees alone.

Here’s what you need to qualify for Congestion Charge exemption, which is known as the Cleaner Vehicle Discount.

  • 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.

Electric cars also qualify for a government electric car grant, worth £3,500.


Best Congestion Charge-exempt cars

1. Renault Zoe

Renault Zoe front

Claimed electric range 186 miles CO2 emissions 0g/km
Renault Zoe deals from £7,800
Finance from £152 per month

Compact, comfortable and nimble, the Renault Zoe was made for London’s congested and broken roads.

It benefits from an 80kW motor intended to boost the car’s overtaking performance over the previous, less powerful one. More importantly for city drivers, the facelifted Zoe still boasts an impressive 186-mile real-world driving range, which despite being behind that of the Nissan Leaf e+ (a considerably more expensive car) is pretty good by mainstream electric car standards.

But just remember that some versions require you to lease the battery separately. Depending on your mileage and how long you plan to keep the car, it might be better to pay more and buy a Zoe with the battery included.
Renault Zoe buying guide

2. Volvo V90 T8

Claimed electric range 24 miles CO2 emissions 49g/km
Volvo V90 T8 from £38,780
Finance from £508 per month

The Volvo V90 T8 hybrid doesn’t have much in the way of competition. While hybrid hatchbacks and saloons are becoming more common, the upmarket hybrid estate sector is still quite niche.

With prices for the hybrid starting around the £60,000 mark, the Volvo isn't quite "affordable", but low company car tax and not having to stump up the cost of Congestion Charge helps offset this.

In line with other hybrid Volvos, its all-electric range sits just under the 30-mile mark. Also in line with other Volvos is a comfy driving experience, stylish looks and decent performance. Let’s not forget, of course, this is a Volvo, so comes packed with technology to keep you safe - helping explain the five star Euro NCAP rating.
Volvo V90 buying guide

3. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Claimed electric range 28 miles CO2 emissions 42g/km
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV deals from £11,590
Finance from £177 per month

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 PHEVs, 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.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV buying guide    

4. Nissan Leaf

Claimed electric range 186 miles (236 miles for e+ models) CO2 emissions 0g/km
Nissan Leaf deals from £19,795
Finance from £283 per month

This second-generation Nissan Leaf is a big improvement on its predecessor and just about makes the case for electric cars. Like the smaller Renault Zoe, being 100% electric and costing less than £40,000 means the Leaf qualifies for every type of financial assistance going: zero road tax, the lowest rate of company car tax and, of course, free entry to the Congestion Charge zone.

Once there, it can do a claimed 186 miles between charges, although real-world experience suggests it's more like 150 miles. So, as with the Zoe, it’s perfect for the driver on a typical London commute from the Home Counties with only home charging available to them at night. There is also the more expensive Leaf e+ which packs a claimed range of 236 miles.

The standard car’s 148bhp motor offers a decent turn of speed, but it’s in the city that the Leaf comes into its own. Not only is it quiet and comfortable riding, but it also has an e-Pedal that almost dispenses with the need for a traditional brake pedal by automatically braking the car smoothly as you lift off the accelerator.
Nissan Leaf buying guide

5. BMW 330e

Claimed electric range 25 miles CO2 emissions 44g/km
BMW 330e deals from £16,995
Finance from £242 per month

The BMW 330e is that rare thing: a sporty premium saloon that will save you money. It has all the hallmarks of a standard 3 Series; a beautifully made and designed interior, strong performance with engaging handling and one of the best entertainment systems on the market.

But it also has an electric motor and batteries that help reduce its CO2 emissions to 44g/km, while giving a potential electric-only range of 25 miles on a full charge, although expect that to be nearer 10 miles in real-world driving.
BMW 3 Series buying guide

6. Mercedes E-Class

Claimed electric range 30 miles CO2 emissions 46g/km
Mercedes E-Class E350e deals from £31,990
Finance from £401 per month

The plug-in hybrid version of the Mercedes E-Class was recently updated and 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 price new, which starts at more than £45,000 isn’t cheap, but it is helped by sitting in the second lowest company car tax band (1-50g/km of CO2). 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.
Mercedes E-Class buying guide

7. Jaguar I Pace

Claimed electric range 292 miles CO2 emissions 0g/km
Jaguar I Pace deals from £49,780
Finance from £635 per month

With a claimed range of 292 miles, 0g/km of CO2 emissions and a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds the I Pace blurs the lines between mind-blowing performance car and environmentally-friendly family car.

As the I Pace is all electric, you won’t pay Congestion Charge until 2025, when all cars will have to pay. You will also make savings on company car tax, but thanks to the starting price of close to £65,000, drivers will have to pay the higher road tax rate.
Jaguar I Pace buying guide

8. Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Claimed electric range 32 miles CO2 emissions 26g/km
Hyundai Ioniq hybrid deals from £12,499
Finance from £187 per month

The Hyundai Ioniq PHEV comfortably meets the requirements for a Congestion Charge-exempt car. The real world range will still be down on the claimed 32 miles, but a lot of motorists will still be able to do the bulk of their commute using electric mode only.

All Ioniq PHEVs come well specced for the price which in present company seems positively affordable. Add to that the frugal 1.6-litre petrol engine and relatively low insurance group, and the Ioniq should cost peanuts to run before you make savings on the Congestion Charge.

Thanks to a well built interior and smooth automatic transmission, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV is a relaxing way to cover miles as well, especially if you make use of the adaptive cruise control.
Hyundai Ioniq buying guide


9. Volvo XC90 T8

Claimed electric range 28 miles CO2 emissions 49g/km
Volvo XC90 T8 deals from £33,990
Finance from £434 per month

The Volvo XC90 is the only plug-in hybrid SUV with seven seats. If you don’t need seven seats, then perhaps that’s rather academic, but a major part of the appeal of a large SUV is its versatility, and the XC90 has it in spades.

With CO2 emissions of 49g/km, the T8 can enter the Congestion Charge zone for free. While there, and assuming it’s fully charged, it can drive a claimed 28 miles using only electricity. In reality that figure is nearer the 20-mile mark.

Downsides? It costs more than £60,000 so isn’t going to be the next car of the people. The price tag also means owners have to pay higher car tax when it is new, an additional £310 to be exact.
Volvo XC90 buying guide


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