Choosing a used car becomes ever more complicated.
Never mind the colour, the spec or finding those perfect 20in alloys, now there’s also the small matter of terrifying acronyms: ULEZ (for ultra low emissions zone) and CAZ (clean air zone). These shouldn’t be confused with any congestion charge.
Whether we like it or not, having a car with a petrol or diesel engine that complies with air-quality regulations is becoming a must. These zones already exist in London (costing £12.50) and Birmingham (£8) and are soon to come to at least a dozen more major cities, including Derby, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne.
Get caught by the camera in the wrong car and there’s a £120 fine, so you need to know whether you have a Euro 4 petrol (usually from January 2006) or a Euro 6 diesel (usually from September 2015). However, you can’t trust the advertisement or seller when it comes to ULEZ compliance. The only places are official websites, such as urbanaccessregulations.eu, which covers the whole of Europe. Let’s take a look at the best used cars that remain on the right side of these zones:
Coupés are the only way to travel selfishly these days, or certainly to go two-up with a significant other. Indeed, a Mazda RX-8 offers proper flexibility and proof that a spinning Wankel is allowed into the city. A 2007 example that has made it to almost 90,000 miles and chunked through half a dozen owners is £2200. Otherwise, everything else is German, so let’s spend £24,995 on a 30,000-mile BMW M2 (pictured) with a traffic-friendly automatic gearbox. At least it’s a handy size so fits right into urban parking slots.
If you’re going to do built-up areas properly, a small, light, cheeky and manoeuvrable micro-hatch makes fabulous sense. The Skoda Citigo (pictured) is the perfect modern town-centre assault vehicle (as are its Seat Mii and Volkswagen Up siblings). Get a one-owner 2012 S with 55,000 miles for £2750. Then again, Daihatsus are just alt-Toyotas, and a 2008 Sirion 1.0 S for £995 with 60,000 miles is a fuss-free way to get around. It will never break down, either, and that’s the last thing you want to do in a city.
One stylish way of steering your way around the regulations is to go for an old fossil that’s at least 40 years old. Get a Fiat 500: that’s a proper city car and it won’t cost you as much as a tired, rusty Mini. We spot ted a 1970 left-hand-drive one with 45,000 miles up for £6400 in Rome. Otherwise, a recently restored UK-spec 1972 Mercedes-Benz 350 SLC (pictured) is by far the coolest, most perfect answer to the ULEZ zealots for just £16, 500. It’s unarguably the prettiest of the 1970s Mercs.
Estate cars are underrated, considering they offer practicality, flexibility and economy without dragging loads of extra weight around. The Fiat Tipo in Station Wagon (pictured) format is a no-nonsense vehicle that’s great value for money. Get a 1.2 Multijet diesel in Lounge trim with 40,000 miles from 2017 and you will pay just £6700. Otherwise, a petrol Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer from 2010 in 1.8 SRi guise with 90,000 miles backed up by a full service history is £2795, and it has a lovely big load bay.
These provide not just four-door practicality but also promise so much when they are released from the zone. The Porsche Panamera (pictured) is a wonderfully charismatic creation. A 2010 4.8 V8 4S with a few owners and 65,000 miles is a tempting £21,995 with a warranty. The Aston Martin Rapide is now great value for money, too: you can get a one-owner 2010 car with 65,000 miles from a dealer for £40,000. If you can manage the servicing costs, it will make you the envy of many city dwellers.
If the city air does get any fresher, you can be the first to confirm that the smog is lifting in one of these: a Smart Roadster (pictured) with a pop-out roof and a tiny engine that has been emissions friendly from right back in the 2000s. That’s why you can buy a 2004 90,000-mile example for £1800. As for an Italian that will enter ta in pedestrians, a 2011 Maserati Grancabrio does the job with 60,000 miles and costs £35,000 with a full service history. It’s more rea l-world than a Ferrari, so cyclists won’t hate you so much.
What better environment than the big city to show off your quick hatchback responsibly – often at 20mph or less? The Ford Focus is an excellent package anyway, but add the ST (pictured) into the mix and for £13,500 you can get a 2014 2.0 Ecoboost ST-3 with fewer than 40,000 miles. Small, purposeful cars never go out of fashion, and a Renault Twingo is such fun, especially in Renaultsport format. A 2010 example with 42,000 miles and in mint condition costs just £4800 and will deliver plent y of in-zone smiles.
There’s nothing exciting going on dynamically in most city centres, but it pays to be prepared for some roadwork chicanes. The Audi R8 is as tame as the A1, with an automatic gearbox and just as easy to drive. A 77,000-mile 4.2 V8 FSI R tronic f rom 2008 is £30,500. Even more comfy and cheaper is the Bentley Continental GT, which has 12 awesome cylinders and ceramic brakes. A 6.0 W12 from 2005 with 100,000 miles is £16,500. You can spot the Volkswagen Group parts and it feels like an Audi A8, but that badge…
Instead of waiting for a bus, why not pilot your own? The question is how many seats can you get for the money. That would be eight in the Hyundai i800, and you can buy a 2016 SE example with a Euro 6 2. 5-l it re diesel engine and 60,000 miles for £14,990. Seven seats will do, of course, and the Mercedes-Benz V-Class (pictured) is a good shout. Find a rare 3.5 V6 petrol with an automatic gearbox and a 2011 will cost you £13,500. It’s probably the best-quality people-shifter around.
Celebrate the sheer majesty of the Chelsea Tractor with an SUV of your own that will easily provide an escape to the country. Don’t let farmers have all the fun: get a Toyota Land Cruiser. Only £13,950 will secure a 2008 Invincible that has just ticked over to six figures – so barely run in. Or how about a tiny Suzuki Jimny? (pictured) Not the cool, short-lived new one, but the old properly cool one. A 2010 SZ4 with 84,000 miles is £7400. If you ever do find a muddy puddle in the ULEZ, this will traverse it as capably as a Land Rover Defender.
If you’re going to be in a traffic jam in a ULEZ, you might as well do so in some considerable comfort. A late Jaguar XJ with a proper engine is your last chance to buy a legend. A 2018 Sport with 3.0 V6 petrol power, a panoramic sunroof and 64,000 miles is just under £27,000. Then again, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the default luxury limousine; a contemporary-looking 2006 S500 with 80,000 miles is a shade under £10,000, which is a great way to both travel and arrive.
For dashing into the city to pick something up, be it people or packages, superminis and medium hatchbacks are surely the way forward. The Kia Rio (pictured) is largely overlooked, but a 2011 1.4 1 with 80,000 miles, just a couple of owners and a warranty costs a mere £1900. Reliability is mostly Mazda-shaped, and you can get a 2005 3 very cheaply now with all petrol units that qualify. For instance, a 1.6 TS2 with a six-figure mileage is £645, which probably works out cheaper than an annual bus pass.
CLEAN AIR ZONES EXPLAINED
HOW DO CAZs WORK? While there are differences in various CAZs that have been introduced or are being considered in different regions of the UK, most use broadly similar rules. Drivers of older vehicles have to pay a set charge if they enter the CAZ. Most CAZs exempt all Euro 4-compliant petrol cars (usually cars registered after January 2006) and Euro 6-compliant diesel cars (usually cars registered after September 2015).
Most CAZs are enforced by the use of ANPR cameras and feature online payment systems for the owners of non-compliant vehicles that are driven into the zones.
WHY ARE THEY NEEDED? The push for regions to introduce CAZs is part of a wider government initiative to improve urban air quality by reducing vehicular pollution. Air quality in a number of urban areas is currently below legal limits. The World Health Organization claims that seven million premature deaths each year can be l inked to poor air quality. Research by CBI Economics, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, claims that CAZs would lead to an average reduction of 18% in NO2 across eight UK cities. A March 2021 report by the Mayor of London claimed that its ULEZ had already cut NO2 levels in the capital by 44%.
WHICH CITIES HAVE CAZs?London was the first city in the UK to launch a CAZ scheme, with the introduction of the ULEZ covering its centre in April 2019. It runs alongside the separate congestion charge, from which electric vehicles are exempt.
Bath introduced a CAZ that applies only to commercial vehicles in March. Birmingham’s CAZ came into effect in June, with a charge of £8 per day for non-compliant cars (those owned by disabled people and those more than 40 years old are exempt, however).
WHICH ARE NEXT TO FOLLOW?Bradford, Leicester and Portsmouth are set to introduce CAZs this year, with Aberdeen, Bristol, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester following in 2022. Newcastle and Sheffield are also considering them, as are a number of other cities and regions. Oxford will introduce a Zero Emission Zone this year, encompassing a few streets in the city centre between 7am and 7pm. Leeds and Liverpool have put plans for CAZs on hold, due to the pandemic, while Nottingham has cancelled its plans for one, instead focusing on retrofitting its buses with hybrid and electric powertrains.