Best Low Emission Cars

9 minutes Published: 12/03/2020
Rowan Harris

The climate crisis is all over the news at the minute, but that’s not the only reason why you should want a low emission car. Whether it’s an Electric Vehicle, A PHEV or just a frugal petrol engine, each offers a number of benefits for both the driver and the environment.

For one, the lower the emissions, the lower the road tax and BiK (benefit-in-kind) rates, and you can avoid those ever-increasing congestion charges.

Low emission cars also offer a much better fuel economy than less economical rivals. If performance is your thing, don’t be put off - some zero-emission cars, like the BMW i8, have a blisteringly fast 0-62 pace.

So, whether you want to do your bit to avoid the impending climate catastrophe, you’re a fan of seriously fast cars like the Tesla Model S - the quickest production car - or you’re a company car driver that just wants to minimise your Benefit-in-kind (BiK), there are plenty of cars on the market to satisfy your needs.

For the ultimate in low-emission driving, you need to take a look at our best electric cars, and best hybrid cars. If you want to stick with petrol and diesel for the moment, but want to avoid potential no-drive zones, check out our best Euro 6 cars list.

1. Hyundai Ioniq Hatchback

RRP: £19,940 - £32,195
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 26 - 85g/km

Pros

  • Cheaper than alternatives.

  • Nice design.

Cons

  • Back seats are a bit cramped.

  • Boot is a little pokey.

The Hyundai Ioniq actually comes in 3 different flavours - you can choose exactly how low you want your emissions to be.

If you’re just about ready to dip your toe into the electric car market, the standard hybrid will bring you 78.5mpg with 84g/km of CO2 emissions. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, the Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) will bring you 256.8mpg with a mere 26g/km of CO2. Ready to rip up the rule book? The Ioniq EV produces 0 emissions and manages 194 miles of range, taking 57 minutes to reach 80% charge.

If that wasn’t forward-thinking enough for you, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Ioniq is also one of the safest cars available on the market today. Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, rear-view cameras and lane-keep assistance, all of which add up to an impressive 5* Euro NCAP safety rating!

2. BMW I3

RRP: £34,015 - £42,075
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: N/A
  • Fuel: E
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 14g/km

Pros

  • Super stylish.

  • Surprisingly quick.

Cons

  • Small boot.

  • Design not to everyone’s tastes.

The BMW i3 is an all-electric city car that is as great for the environment as it is for your street cred. It’ll manage between 175 miles and 188 miles on a single charge depending on whether you opt for the standard 170hp model or the slightly nippier 184hp model, which can manage 0-60 in 6.9 seconds.

There’s no denying it’s one of the coolest looking cars on the market - both inside and out. On the outside, its iconic colour scheme and angular body style give it some seriously retrofuturistic vibes. Step inside and you’ll find a stunning interior with a number of styling options. Our favourite interiors are ‘Lodge’, with its leather and wool-trimmed seats, silver steering wheel highlights and eucalyptus wood dashboard, and ‘Suite’, complete with full leather seats, leather trims and oak-coloured dashboard with ambient lighting.

A 10.2 inch infotainment system with BMW’s impressive iDrive system comes as standard, along with sat-nav and DAB radio. The sat-nav is tailored to the i3 and will also tell you where you need to go to find a fast-charging point.

3. Nissan Leaf

RRP: £26,435 - £40,240
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: N/A
  • Fuel: E
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2:

Pros

  • Decent sized boot for a hatchback.

  • Safety kit.

Cons

  • Cheap interior.

  • A bit dull to drive.

Chances are, the Nissan Leaf was one of the first electric cars you’d heard of. Not because it was the first, but because it was one of the first that actually looked like a car that someone would buy - not like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV with its front wheel arches protruding like a hamster's cheeks filled with food - and it was cheap enough for mainstream adoption.

The Nissan Leaf has come a long way since then with improved range, a more sophisticated driving experience and more space on the inside. The standard 150hp Leaf will now get you 168 miles of range. If that still gives you range anxiety then there’s a 217hp Leaf E+ which will manage as many as 239 miles on a single charge. If you’re no stranger to a drag race, the standard model will see you dart from 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds, while the E+ will shave a whole second off that.

Of course, it will still take a lot longer to recharge the Leaf than a conventional car. A 6kW wall-mounted charger will see you fully charged in 6 hours, about half of the time it would take from your standard 3-pronged plug. However, a dedicated fast-charger of the kind that you’ll find at most service stations will get you up to 80% from empty in about 40 minutes.

If you’re still hesitant about new-fangled technology then don’t worry, the Nissan Leaf comes with a battery warranty for 8 years and 100,000 miles as standard.

4. Tesla Model 3

RRP: £40,840 - £60,400
  • Doors: 4
  • Engine: N/A
  • Fuel: E
  • Body: Saloon
  • Drive: A
  • CO2:

Pros

  • Great value for money, considering the excellent tech features.

  • Huge range.

Cons

  • Not the plushest interior.

  • The standard model isn’t worth the average range.

Either you’ve heard of Elon Musk’s infamous Twitter spats and social media blunders or you know someone who has already been indoctrinated into the cult of Tesla.

The brand has become synonymous with the electric vehicle, and it’s becoming increasingly harder to avoid it. The Model X and Model S were both pioneering electric cars in their own ways, though for many, ownership was out of the question due to their high prices. That all changed a few years ago, however, when Tesla made the bold move to launch the Model 3. The car has recently launched in the UK, and brings with it stellar performance, fantastic range and a whole host of tech features.

The Model 3 now comes in three variants: Standard Plus, Long Range and Performance. The Standard Plus will get you a cool 254 miles of range, while the Long Range and Performance models will get you 348 and 329 miles respectively. If you’ve got a need for speed, the Standard Plus model will manage 0-60 in a fairly impressive 5.3 seconds, but the Long Range and Performance trims come up trumps with a 0-60mph in 4.4 and 3.2 seconds.

And of course, there’s 0 emissions.

5. Jaguar I-pace

RRP: £63,440 - £81,440
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: N/A
  • Fuel: E
  • Body: SUV
  • Drive: A
  • CO2:

Pros

  • An SUV without the guilt.

  • Gorgeous cabin.

Cons

  • Expensive.

  • Infotainment system is cumbersome.

If you’ve got cash to burn and you’re looking for an EV with a touch of class then why not consider the Jaguar i-Pace? It’ll come as some relief to the more traditional car enthusiasts that the dashboard of this car hasn’t been reduced to a monolithic 15-inch screen. Instead, you’ll find a mix of buttons, knobs, cursors and touchscreens.

It’s a bit more expensive than a Model 3, but less than a Model X or an Audi E-Tron. But it’s also got a far nicer interior than either of the Tesla models.

Crucially, the Jaguar i-Pace gets you 298 miles on a single charge. It’ll take you a full 13 hours to get topped up using a dedicated wall-box at home, which is fine if you want to leave it on charge overnight, and you should expect to see a typical 50kW charger deliver 168 miles of range per hour.

The i-Pace also has four-wheel drive provided by two electric motors, giving you 395bhp and 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds!

6. Toyota Prius

RRP: £23,240 - £34,040
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.8
  • Fuel: H
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 28 - 104g/km

Pros

  • Low running costs

  • Plenty of safety features.

Cons

  • Road noise.

  • Alien-like design.

If you’ve ever hailed an Uber or been in a taxi in a busy city like Manchester or London, then chances are you’ve been in a Prius. It stands out during the day with it’s aggressively angular front profile, and by the night with its crazy, eye-catching rear-lights that look like they’ve been fashioned out of neon tubing.

It’s been stalking our streets for a while now, and with over 1.5 million Priuses sold worldwide, it must be doing something right. This hybrid car has some of the lowest running costs. It’s also got an incredible resale value, no doubt due to its eminent desirability, so you can always expect some low priced leases.

A generous five-year, 100,000-mile warranty comes as standard, which should also cover you for the duration of your lease. However, the Hyundai Ioniq’s warranty slightly edges it here, with no upper mileage limit.

7. Skoda Superb Estate

RRP: £19,785 - £41,805 | From £233.25 per month to lease
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 3.6
  • Fuel: P, D, H
  • Body: Estate
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 35 - 237g/km

Pros

  • Massive boot.

  • Plenty of room for passengers.

Cons

  • Plusher interiors on offer e.g. the VW Passat Estate.

  • Boring to drive.

The Skoda Superb Estate may not have quite the same eco-credentials as some of the cars on this list, but it still boasts some very low CO2 emissions for a car with a combustion engine and is a great choice if you’re not yet ready to make the move to a battery-operated car.

Despite its slightly larger profile, the superb estate has some of the lowest running costs you’ll find for such a car. There’s also a choice of petrol and diesel engines, so it doesn’t matter whether you tend to drive long distances or just around the city.

The 2.0 litre diesel option manages an impressive 54.3mpg in fuel economy and 105g/km of CO2. Opt for the 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel and you’ll get up to 47.9mpg and CO2 emissions of just 113g/km. The range-topping diesel brings a 187bhp version of the 2.0 litre engine and still achieves an impressive 47.1mpg, emitting no more than 118g/km of CO2.

The Superb Estate also has one of the largest boots you’ll find on an estate car - a whopping 660 litres - so you should be able to cut down on the number of trips you make if you’re trying to shift furniture.

8. Porsche Panamera Hatchback

RRP: £66,386 - £149,537
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 4.0
  • Fuel: H, P, D
  • Body: Saloon
  • Drive: A
  • CO2: 60 - 242g/km

Pros

  • Powerful V8 Engines

  • An estate car shouldn’t be this fun...

Cons

  • Options are expensive.

  • Not the most practical.

If you want something that’s fast, practical AND will carry a couple of rear passengers, you can’t get much better than the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.

That’s right, this super stylish estate car cum sports car has enough room for four and a 520 litre boot space which is plenty for your weekly shopping and the odd weekend excursion. It’s a surprisingly good family car, but if you’re looking for something a little more exciting than your average estate car, you’ll be pleased to hear that the top-tier Turbo S Executive E-Hybrid will rocket from 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds, reaching a top speed of 193mph.

As you’d expect from a car that can reach such dazzling speeds, each seat is body-hugging and built to hold you and your passengers in place as you hurtle around bends. It’s also a luxury car, and there are tonnes of options to choose from, including leather interior trims, a sportscar style chronograph, electrically operated seats, a thumping 14-speaker Bose sound system, and more.

The top tier trim also manages 76.3mpg with 74g/km of CO2 emissions, but the standard E-Hybrid will offer as much as 85.6mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 60g/km CO2 if you’re looking for something more frugal.

9. Renault ZOE Electric Hatchback

RRP: £29,115 - £33,940 | From £226.97 per month to lease
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: N/A
  • Fuel: E
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: A
  • CO2:

Pros

  • Cheap to run.

  • Decent electric range.

Cons

  • Fast charging costs extra.

  • Uninspired styling.

The Renault Zoe is another, reasonably-priced small electric car - with a difference. The new model ditches the old infotainment system and slightly weird interior design for a slick refresh. The all-new, large and super-clear infotainment system and digital driver’s display now come as standard. Surprisingly, for a car of its size, it’s also not too difficult for rear passengers to get comfy either.

It’s got an impressive range for such a small car - 240 miles. That’s more than the bigger Nissan Leaf. You’ll get to full charge in three hours with a public 22kw charging point, or 85% full in 70 minutes if you opt for the 50kw fast-charging facility.

It’s by no means the fastest electric vehicle - the 110hp motor will reach 60mph 11.4 seconds, while the 135hp model will cut that down to 9.5 seconds. However, with 338 litres in the trunk it is significantly larger than the likes of the VW e-UP, though still a bit smaller than the Leaf.

Summary

It can be tough to know what to look for in a new car, but low emissions are becoming increasingly important. 

With high taxes and restricted zones for traditionally combustible cars, there’s never been a bigger emphasis on keeping emissions low.

For a wide range of zero-emission and low-emission cars, take a look at our best electric cars, or our best hybrid cars! For petrol and diesels that are Euro 6 approved, check out our best Euro 6 cars list. You can also look at our full list of available electric car lease deals and hybrid car lease deals.