Best cars for London

From a tiny city car that can turn on a dime, to a Volvo that can drive itself, here are eight cars that are perfect in our capital

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Sep 17, 2020

It’s not easy owning a car in London, or even just driving through the centre of it. Traffic, low-emission zones, congestion charges and the cost of parking are just some of the issues drivers face in the capital. Then there’s the takeaway delivery drivers coming at you from all angles and the seemingly endless number of Uber cars jostling for a gap in the traffic that doesn't appear to exist to our eyes.

Little wonder, then, that so many people choose to use public transport instead of joining the melee, even if the costs will leave a big dent in the household budget. But if you’re one of the brave souls who insist on driving a car in London, what are your best options?

You’re probably going to want something that’s exempt from the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), so you don't have to worry about hefty charges every time you head into central London. This generally means a petrol car registered after 2005 or a diesel car registered after 2015.

You’ll also want something that’s easy to drive, a doddle to park and cheap to run. It’s for these reasons we’ve focused on hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars, along with a couple of low-emission small cars that are perfect for London life.

Best cars for driving in London

1. Renault Twingo

Used deals from £4,690
Monthly finance from £95

On the face of it, the Renault Twingo might look like any of the other small cars you can buy, albeit with funky French styling. But the Twingo is hiding a secret. Its engine is at the back, so it’s like a sort of fun-size Porsche 911.

There are two benefits to having the engine behind the rear seats. One is the fact that it frees up more space in the cabin. The Twingo might be smaller than many of its rivals, but the interior is large enough to fit four adults.

The other advantage is the turning circle, which is tight enough to rival a London taxi. This is ideal if you need to make an unexpected U-turn having seen traffic mounting up ahead. It also means that the Twingo is incredibly easy to park. Prices start from around £100 per month, which is less than some people spend on a mobile phone contract.

RENAULT TWINGO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Smart Fortwo Coupe

Used deals from £5,350
Monthly finance from £101

The Smart Fortwo Coupe shares the platform it's built on with the Renault Twingo, which means you benefit from the same comically small turning circle. It’s also the smallest mainstream production car you can buy, so it’s ideal for London’s tight and congested streets.

For such a small car, the Smart Fortwo is surprisingly practical. Honestly, it is. The boot should be large enough to cope with your weekly trip to Tesco Express, but if it isn’t you could always arrange a home delivery. If it’s just you in the car, you can even fold down the passenger seat to create space for a lengthier load.

There are two three-cylinder petrol engines available, including a turbocharged version which is the one to choose if you intend to venture beyond the M25. You can even buy a Fortwo Cabrio if you want to breathe in that clean London air. The Smart Fortwo has switched to electric power for all brand new models, but you won’t have a problem finding a petrol version on the BuyaCar website.

SMART FORTWO BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Audi A1 Sportback

Used deals from £6,850
Monthly finance from £134

The current Audi A1 Sportback, introduced in 2018, offers big car quality and technology in a smaller package. You get an enviable level of standard kit, including LED headlights, LED rear lights, sweeping indicators, 15-inch alloy wheels, a digital radio, lane departure warning, air-conditioning, plus pedestrian and cyclist recognition safety technology.

There are no diesel or hybrid engines available, but the small and efficient petrol engines are perfectly suited to the cut and thrust of London life. Opt for one of the S tronic automatic versions and you’ll enjoy a relaxing driving experience while saving money on your fuel bills.

Stretch to the Vorsprung model and the park assist function will remove the pain of parking in London. The car can steer into and out of a parallel parking space or parking bay, leaving you to concentrate on the accelerator and brakes. In return you’ll look like a parking hero in your posh supermini.

AUDI A1 SPORTBACK BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Peugeot e-208

Used deals from £24,450
Monthly finance from £365

The Peugeot e-208 is one of a new breed of electric cars and there are loads to choose from on the BuyaCar website. It's more expensive than you might expect a car of this size to be, courtesy mainly of its electric powertrain, but it's a pretty high-quality car all round, too.

It looks striking, but it's what's under the skin that matters most. The all-electric e-208 is capable of covering 217 miles from a single charge, which is enough for three laps of the M25, with enough range to spare to get you to the nearest charging point.

It’s possible to recharge the battery to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes when using a 100kWh rapid charger. There’s even a sport mode, which gives priority to performance, which is ideal if you’re hoping to make it beyond the Hammersmith flyover faster than your office colleagues.

5. Mini Countryman PHEV

Used deals from £19,598
Monthly finance from £301

You can’t walk a mile in London without seeing an electrified car hooked up to a charging point. The Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) might not be a fully electric car, but thanks to CO2 emissions of 40-46g/km and an electric range of around 30 miles, it is, for now at least, exempt from the London Congestion Charge.

When you consider that the Congestion Charge costs £15 per day, this adds up to a significant saving over the course of a year. You could find that the driving range is enough to complete your daily commute on electricity, so you might not need to use any petrol during the week.

'Preconditioning' means that you can heat or cool the cabin before you start your daily commute, while the acoustic pedestrian protection makes an external noise when you’re driving on electric power, so that pedestrians shouldn't walk in front of you as you sneak through the city.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

6. BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225xe

Used deals from £9,099
Monthly finance from £152

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225xe shares the same hybrid format as the BMW i8 supercar, which should help to soften the blow of life with an MPV. You’re not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to hybrid people carriers like this one, but the BMW is such a class act that it stands head and shoulders above most of the competition.

It offers the best of both worlds, with an ability to hit 62mph in a hot hatchback troubling 6.7 seconds, plus the potential to cover between 25 and 32 miles in pure electric mode, depending on the age of the car. What’s more, it’s exempt from the London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), so it’s ideal for London commuters.

Inside, the 2 Series Active Tourer has enough space for five adults, so you can do your bit to cut London congestion by giving four of your workmates a lift to the office.

BMW 2 SERIES ACTIVE TOURER BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Used deals from £11,499
Monthly finance from £204

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid. It’s not hard to see why, because the Outlander offers the high driving position and practicality of an SUV, with the kind of running costs you’d associate with a much smaller car.

Charge it up and the Outlander’s large 13.8kWh battery could deliver up to 28 miles of electric range. Thanks to CO2 emissions of just 46g/km, the Outlander PHEV is exempt from the London ULEZ and the Congestion Charge.

A car like this is ideal if you’re not quite ready to head down electric avenue. A combined petrol and electric range of 372 miles gives the safety net of a petrol engine, with the ability to cover a typical daily commute on electric power - provided you remember to plug the car in to charge every night.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Volvo XC40

Used deals from £23,900
Monthly finance from £302

The Volvo XC40 is one of the must-have cars of 2020, so you’ll enjoy the smug feeling associated with driving one of the most fashionable cars in London. You get the same high driving position and safety credentials as one of the larger Volvo SUVs, but in a smaller, more city-friendly package.

Petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and full electric versions are available. Buying an electric version of any car will ensure that you’re ready for any future changes to the London ULEZ or Congestion Charge.

In the meantime, the XC40 boasts a first-class cabin and high level of standard equipment. Highlights include automatic LED headlights, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, a nine-inch portrait touchscreen media system and a 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument display. Tick the right boxes and the Volvo XC40 will park and practically drive itself.

VOLVO XC40 BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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