Best ULEZ-compliant cars for £2000 | CAR Magazine

Best ULEZ-compliant cars for less than £2000

Published: 09 August 2023 Updated: 10 August 2023

► More being offered £2000 scrappage on London ULEZ cars
► These cars can all be bought for less than that amount
► We have hatchbacks, sports cars, estates and hot hatches

There’s a lot of misinformation being shared about the expansion of the London ULEZ, which comes into force on 29 August 2023. The main one is that drivers with non-compliant cars feel they are being forced into a new electric car – when in fact you can buy a secondhand motor for less than the £2000 scrappage allowance being offered to all Londoners.

So, yes a huge number of previously unaffected drivers will fall into the zone, but according to Transport for London, less than 10% of cars will fall foul of this. The ULEZ is a nail in the coffin for smoky old diesels, and rightly so given the state of the air in the capital. But if you have one of these and are on a limited budget, don’t despair – there are loads of London ULEZ-exempt bargain petrol cars.

For guidance, diesels registered before 2015 and the majority of petrols built before 2006 are now subject to a £12.50 per day charge. And unlike the congestion zone, it is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. But it’s not completely cut and dried, and you really should check to see if your car will be charged here.

If you own an old non-compliant car, and are looking to get into something new with your £2000 scrappage allowance, may we suggest these cars. All are available for less than that amount, which means you should be able to become compliant without denting your wallet.

EDITOR’S PICK: the road-testing team at CAR magazine has been living and breathing used cars since the beginning. And although used values are high at the moment, there are still some post-2000 that offer great value, interesting engineering and allow you to stand out from the crowd. Our current favourite family car for less than £2000 is the BMW 1 Series (E81), a car that’s easy to maintain and can be great fun to drive.

Keep reading to for our full selection of the sub-£2k ULEZ-compliant used cars available in the classifieds right now.

BMW 1 Series E81 (2004-2011)

Good to drive, with balanced handling and brilliant steering feel 

Cheap London ULEZ cars

The BMW 1 Series was blessed with controversial styling, but the passage of time has been kind to it. It was rare for being rear-wheel drive in a market of front drivers, but that meant the steering and handling were very similar to the 3er and 5er and way better than the rival VW Golf.

To comply with the London ULEZ, you’re going to need to choose a petrol version, which is no bad thing given how good they are. There are loads still around, and that means parts and support is plentiful. Watch out for rusty sills and crash damage, and always buy from someone you trust.

Ford StreetKa (2003-2006)

Cheap open-topped motoring, already on its way to classic status

Cheap London ULEZ cars

From a time when ‘new edge’ design was doing its best to transform Ford’s rather conservative image. This innovative – and affordable – roadster is simple fun, a hoot to drive, and still refreshingly cheap to buy. It’s based on the SportKa ‘warm’ hatch, which means you need to watch out for rust, and buy one that’s been well cared for.

The’re quite rare, so you’ll likely find one via an owner’s club. Don’t be tempted to buy ones from optimistic ‘classic Ford’ dealers. The good news is that there are examples from £750 with the best rarely topping £3000.

Mercedes-Benz A-Class W169 (2005-2012)

Roomy, cheap to buy, and surprisingly good to drive

Cheap London ULEZ cars

Once touted as nothing less than the complete reinvention of the small car, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in its original incarnation faded away with nary a whimper. Shame, because the second-generation car was of a decent quality, and had space to spare. In petrol form, it offers impressive passenger or cargo space in the same footprint as a Renault Clio

When new it was a fashionable, upmarket urban car but fell out of favour quickly – now it’s a bargain supermini with a distinctive style and unique abilities. Buy automatic versions with care, but the petrol engine and manual gearbox combination is generally reliable.

Alfa Romeo Mito (2009-2018)

Stylish, proven mechanicals, cheap to buy

Cheap London ULEZ cars

The Mito was never a class-leading small hatch, but these days it offers a fair amount of cool for not a lot of money. Avoid the cheapest ones as they’re likely to be the tiny, non-London ULEZ diesel, but for £2000 you can pick up a petrol Mito 1.4, and it’s got a distinctive style that has aged well.

It was on sale new until 2018, so parts and spares supply should be good… for now – and sharing tech with the Fiat 500 means most garages will be able to service it without drama. Look at the classified ads and small, independent dealers to find a hidden gem previously owned by an enthusiast.

Ford Fiesta Zetec S (2004-2017)

Great driver’s car, but avoid thrashed examples

Cheap London ULEZ cars

The fifth generation Fiesta was a bit of a breadbin to look at, but the modestly powerful Zetec S was a diamond thanks to its excellent dynamics and affordable pricetag (in an era where the traditional hot hatch was becoming increasingly weaponised). You’ll find clean examples with patience, but don’t be tempted by the 1.6 TDCI Zetec S diesel, as it’s not ULEZ compliant

It’s well worth looking at for rural areas, as low mileage ULEZ refugees are a bargain and cheap to run. Like all cars in this price range, the best place to find good examples is with genuine small dealers, relatives, and the small ads. Remember also, try to avoid badly modified and thrashed examples.

Alfa Romeo 147 1.6TS (2001-2007)

It’s a family car, but with added fizz

Cheap London ULEZ cars

Another Alfa, and another mid-table option when new, that looks a whole lot more tempting as a sub-£2000 runabout. It has a cool image, twin-cam, rev-happy engine, and dynamics set firmly to ‘fun’, and it’s good to know that petrol models are happily ULEZ-compliant.

Obviously, it’s an old Alfa, so although it’s nowhere near as bad as pub bores might suggest, there are one or two issues. The interior and electrics are fragile in places, and it’s already becoming rare, which might make finding parts difficult. But it’s a distinctive alternative to an Audi or Volkswagen that still projects an image of Italian stylishness.

Audi A3 8L (1996-2003)

Small, stylish and surprisingly easy to run

Cheap London ULEZ cars

Look at it and you’ll be hard pressed to believe it’s more than quarter of a century old. But the first-generation Audi A3 has aged well and still looks reasonably modern. It’s also surprisingly compact, which means that the A3 is seriously city friendly. We’re looking at a later model to squeeze into ULEZ, and you’ll definitely want the 1.8T Sport Quattro, as it’s the one with the best steering.

Being pretty much identical to the Volkswagen Golf Mk4 under the skin means keeping one on the road is simplicity itself, with plentiful, cheap parts available. Watch out for rusty front wings, tired engines and signs of abuse, buy from an enthusiast, and you should be able to find a tidy example for less than £2000.

Toyota MR2 Mk3 (2000-2006)

Bulletproof open-topped fun

Cheap London ULEZ cars

Sorry, it’s not the Ferrari lookalike Mk2, but the later Mk3 is a much better bet. You get mid-engined fun and Japanese reliability, and although it has very little in the way of interior storage space, you can live with that because of the other upsides.

They’re still temptingly cheap, too, not being swept away by the modern classic boom (yet). How cheap? £2000 will still get an MoT’d 2002-on MR2 Roadster, though budget another £800 for a hardtop if you’re parking it in the street. Issues? Watch out for accident damage.

Citroen C3 Pluriel (2003-2010)

Full open-topped experience, but with some compromises

Cheap London ULEZ cars

Be in no doubt, the C3 Pluriel is a brave choice given how the removable roof rails make this a convertible that demands a lot of forward planning from its owner. Not just that, but it can be quite leak-prone, but when it’s all working it’s unlike anything you can buy new.

There are small diesel models, but you need to ignore these for obvious reasons. Good job that most survivors are petrol and cost from less than £2000 for a clean example. Our advice is to check the roof rails and seals, ideally buy from a long-term private owner, and join the Citroen Car Club for the best support and community love.

Ford Mondeo ST220 (2002-2007)

Fast Ford in saloon or estate form is a great drive

Cheap London ULEZ cars

ULEZ compliant fast Ford for not much cash? There are a few to choose from here, but we rather like the Mondeo for its all-round usability and space for a growing family. Admittedly this one’s a V6 with 140mph potential – and with running costs to match – but for your £2000, a decent example offers amazing excellent value for money.

However, the ST220’s reputation for expensive repairs is justified, and this will be a fact of life if you choose a badly-maintained, neglected example. However, at this price you could have the engine rebuilt and still be paying less than any comparable new car’s PCP deposit…

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR