Wednesday, July 3, 2013

London Congestion Charge-free cars

New rules on the congestion charge means that vehicles with emissions above 75g/km CO2 will have to pay - here's how to beat it
Vauxhall's Ampera is a re-badged version of the Chevrolet Volt
Changes to the London Congestion Charge mean that vehicles which fall above the 75g/km CO2 emissions threshold will soon be charged for going into the capital.
Now standing at £10 a day, the fee is levied on motorists who enter the area bounded by London’s inner ring road on weekdays between 7am and 6pm. Those who fail to pay up risk getting their number plate snapped by the ANPR cameras that surround the zone, and paying a £130 fine.
Since 2008, cars with emissions of less than 100g/km CO2 have been exempted from the charge. From this month, however, some of those vehicles place above the new threshold, and so will have to pay the charge. Worry not, however, because the Government has implemented a 'sunset period' lasting until July 2016 for those owners to either pay up, or find a new car.
If you are in the market for a super-frugal, congestion charge-beating car, here's Autocar's top picks.
1. Citroen C-Zero

Citroen is no stranger to electric power. Back in the mid-1990s, it produced electric versions of the Berlingo, and sister company Peugeot built an electric 106. Nearly 20 years later, the world has caught up, and in a climate of spiraling fuel prices, buyers are now beginning to take electric vehicles seriously.

Mitsubishi i-Miev 

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is an all electric version of the company's i city car. The standard, petrol engine i is no longer available in the UK, but it not only spawned the i-MiEV, but also the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero.

Peugeot iOn 

Back in the mid-1990s Peugeot pioneered usable electrical power with vehicles based on the 106 and Citro├źn Berlingo. Neither cars made headlines, but that was before the overwhelming automotive focus on alternative powertrain vehicles that we’re now faced with.

£25,486/£28,990/£25,500 – 0g/km CO2
These triplets are all based on the chassis of the Mitsubishi i-Miev. As with Mitsubishi's city car the small footprint, good visibility and tight turning circles found in these models make them ideal for the city. The 63bhp electric motor in the i-Miev provides good acceleration to 30mph but isn’t at home outside of stop-start city traffic. Faster driving, especially in winter, will see a signification reduction from the claimed range of 93 miles.
2. Nissan Leaf

Long before the Nissan Leaf, electric cars were significant players until the 1920s, and again in Japan in the late 1940s. But it was with the invention of the lithium ion battery that Nissan’s modern involvement began. In 1995 it launched the Prairie EV (and made 30), then the Altra EV (and made 200). It followed that with the compact Hypermini in 1999. The 2005 Pivo and Pivo2 concepts heralded the start of a development process that resulted in the Leaf. - £25,990 – 0g/km CO2
The Nissan Leaf enjoys high levels of comfort and refinement, despite losing some of its space to large battery packs. Equipment includes a sat-nav that shows charging points along the route, and air conditioning that can be controlled from your smartphone. The second generation version has a claimed range of 124 miles, and can be fully recharged in just four hours when using a fast-charger.
3. Renault Twizy
The Twizy first saw the light of day at Frankfurt in 2009 as the Twizy ZE concept. Among that motor show’s smash hits, it effortlessly stole the limelight from Renault’s original Zoe concept. Enclosed wheels and a state-of-the-art headlamp arrangement were the only features not to make the finished article.- £6795 – 0g/km CO2
Officially, the Renault Twizy is classed as a quadricycle rather than a car. With a top speed of 50mph, and a range of just 50 miles, it’s definitely designed for the city. Windows, and even doors, are optional extras, while luxuries like air-conditioning, a heater and even a radio just aren’t available. But if any car deserves the label ‘go-kart handling’, it’s this. What the car lacks in practicality, it makes up for in fun and personality.
4. Renault Fluence 
The Renault Fluence ZE is part of the first wave of electric vehicles to arrive from the French manufacturer. Along with the Kangoo ZE small commercial vehicle, this electrically powered mid-size saloon stands at the vanguard of Renault’s bold foray into battery-powered transport.
- £17,495 – 0g/km CO2
The Fluence is part of Renault’s four-pronged electric vehicle line-up, along with the Twizy, Zoe, and electric Kangoo Van. It has strong acceleration, but is limited to 84mph to conserve energy. The 1605kg weight means it’s not suited to sporty driving, but rather encourages a more relaxed style. The range is 125 miles, and a full charge costs less than £3.
5. Renault Zoe
While Renault’s mildly outrageous open-sided urban runabout, the Twizy, stands out as the head-turning attention-grabber of the firm’s bold new ZE range of electric vehicles, it’s the decidedly more conventional looking Renault Zoe that’s expected to spearhead sales- £17,793 – 0g/km CO2
With the UK’s preference of hatchbacks over saloons, Renault expects the Zoe to be a stronger seller here. 0-62mph takes 13.5 seconds, but using that acceleration the whole time won’t see you achieve the claimed 130 mile range. Handling is tidy, but those heavy batteries bring the weight to 1,468kg, making this a heavy supermini.
6. Smart ED
The car driven here is a prototype 450-series Smart ED. Engineered by UK-based Zytek, this 450-series prototype loses the three-cylinder engine and self-shifting 'box. Instead, it gets a 35bhp electric motor driving an adapted Getrag 'box which is locked into second gear, offering just forward, reverse and neutral.
- £15,395– 0g/km CO2
The second generation Smart ED is appreciably more accomplished than its predecessor. With 140kg to lug around, and just 40bhp to do it, it isn’t quick off the line, but the seamless torque makes it a cinch to drive in town. Charging the batteries works out at a mere £1, but that’ll only get you 60 miles before you need to plug it in again.
7. Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is the first bespoke creation from PayPal creator Elon Musk’s electric car stable, and is heading to the UK off the back of significant US sales success.
- £TBA – 0g/km CO2
The Model S is the only car on this list that’ll seat seven, and does so with the addition of the two optional rear jump seats. Without the extra seating, the volume of the front and rear boots adds up to a massive 820 litres. This car is as fast as it is practical – with 416bhp, it reaches 62mph in 4.2 seconds with the 85kWh cell. Range is between 230 and 300 miles, depending on choice of battery.
8. Chevrolet Volt 
The Chevrolet Volt is a mainstream electric car that’s essentially a rebadged version of the Vauxhall Ampera. Based on GM’s Delta platform, which also underpins Chevrolet’s Cruze hatchback and the Vauxhall Astra, the Volt is a four-seat hatch powered by lithium ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into the mains, or on the go by its on-board 1.4-litre petrol engine.
Vauxhall Ampera
At its launch, the Vauxhall Ampera was the first ‘plug-in’ hybrid passenger car to be offered for sale in the UK. Powered by General Motors’ ground-breaking ‘Voltec’ series-hybrid propulsion technology (just like its Chevrolet Volt sister model), it represents the great white hope of one the world’s largest car-makers.
- £35,255/£34,995 - 27g/km
The Vauxhall Ampera is a rebadged version of Chevrolet’s Volt, although both models are on sale in the UK. The car has a real-world range of 33 miles, but once the batteries are out of juice a petrol engine cuts in to recharge them, all totally seamlessly. Daily driving can therefore be done on electricity alone (a full recharge costs about £1), but longer journeys can be completed without any range anxiety.
9. Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
A diesel-electric plug-in hybrid. The first diesel-electric plug-in hybrid to go on sale, in fact. The Volvo V60 D6 is the product of four years of hard work for the team at Volvo behind it, and it would be a miserly observer who didn’t heap credit on the manufacturer for being first past the post with the technology.- £48,775 – 48g/km
The V60 Plug-In Hybrid works in a similar way to the Volt but, instead of a petrol motor, has a 212bph, 2.4 litre turbodiesel. It can be driven as a pure electric car, or with both the diesel engine and electric motor working together. Unfortunately the low-resistance tyres make the ride too firm, and the Hybrid’s 250kg weight penalty makes itself felt.
10. Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid - £33,245 - 59g/km
It may look like a normal Prius, but the plug-in version allows it to be charged from the mains, and travel 12.5 miles on electric power alone. The car is brisk and nimble and, like a regular Prius, the switchover between petrol and electric power is imperceptible. There is, however, a £12,000 premium over the normal Prius.
11. Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
The advanced petrol-electric hybrid, due to go on sale in the UK in August, replaces the earlier pre-facelift Porsche Panamera S Hybrid with some traditionally subtle exterior styling changes but, at the same time, significant modifications to its petrol-electric driveline, including a new on-board charger that forms part of the plug-in system and the adoption of a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery in place of the older air-cooled nickel-metal hydride unit, among other detailed tweaks- £88,967 - 71g/km
Unlike the old Panamera Hybrid, the E-Hybrid features a lithium-ion battery and the ability to charge from the mains. It now weighs a hefty 2095kg, but still cracks 62mph in 5.5 seconds. It can complete up to 22 miles on battery power before the petrol engine cuts in, but top speed is limited to 84mph when running on pure electric power.
From James Lewis-Barned