BUYING a used car on a budget of £5,000 might sound like you’d have to settle for an old clunker, but actually there are some decent cars at that price. Buying one that is compliant with London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ), makes things a little trickier, though.
The ULEZ, which is expanding to cover all areas between the North and South Circular ring roads from October 2021, charges a £12.50 daily fee for most petrol cars built before 2006 and most diesels made before 2017.
If that means your beloved vehicle will end up costing you a fortune, you may be looking to switch to something that escapes the charge but is still decent to drive. We’ve compiled eight of the best ULEZ-compliant used cars, all costing less than £5,000.
1. Mazda MX-5
The popularity of the Mazda MX-5 is part of the reason that it’s so cheap as a used car; it’s been sold globally since the start of the century, and more than a million have found homes in that time. Of course, you’ll be getting zero points for exclusivity, but the ubiquity of the MX-5 is testament to its excellence; it’s simply one of the best roadsters ever made.
The Mk.1. and Mk.2 generations of the car are feeling a bit old now, and the incumbent Mk.4, released in 2016, is still a bit too new to find itself on this list. Three is the magic number, then. That means you have a choice of two engines: 1.8-litre or 2.0-litre.
If you opt for the bigger powerplant, you’ll obviously pay more Vehicle Excise Duty (£305 rather than £240), but you’ll also get a limited-slip differential and variable valve timing, which makes the engine perform better and more efficiently.
If you’re willing to stretch a little further financially, or accept a model with a slightly higher mileage, there’s also the 2.0 Sport, which has further mechanical improvements including upgraded, stiffer suspension and traction control, as well as creature comforts like heated seats and a Bose stereo.
If you’re fine with the 124bhp offered by the 1.8-litre powerplant, then you can get a low-mileage version, made later on in the car’s production run, for less than £3,500.
For around £4,000 you could get the extra 34bhp offered by the 2-litre engine, if you go for a 2007/08 model, and you’re pushing towards the upper end of the budget for a nice, low-ish mileage 2.0 Sport. If you don’t mind a 100,000+ mile model, though, you can grab one for around £3,000.
2. BMW 3 Series Touring
The BMW 3 Series Touring is the quintessential cool estate car, and owning one will set you apart from the hordes of people opting for a high-riding SUV (despite the fact that estates are often more practical — but that’s a rant for another day). Despite the premium brand name, you can get an E91 model, produced between 2005 and 2012, for well within budget.
And thanks to an excellently balanced chassis and an upgrade in size from the E46 generation, you’ll find the E91 Touring to be rewarding to drive, as well as practical.
The majority of the E91 3-Series Tourings sold were diesel-powered, but unless you want to be paying £12.50 to drive in the ULEZ, you’re going to want to look for models with a petrol engine under the bonnet — the 323i, 325i, 328i and 330i are all examples of naturally aspirated BMW straight sixes, while the smaller 318i and 320i engines are naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines. All are ULEZ-compliant.
However, if you do opt for the smaller, 2.0-litre inline four, be aware that some owners have reported corrosion of the crankshaft sensors.
If you’re in the market for a more modern 3 Series Touring, you might want to check out Driving.co.uk’s long term test of the current G-series 330d.
3. Nissan Qashqai
Okay, a Nissan Qashqai isn’t going to take anyone’s breath away but we’ve included it on this list because currently it’s one of the few crossover SUVs that fit our sub-£5,000 ULEZ-compliant criteria. And while the Qashqai doesn’t have the gleeful quality of the MX-5, nor the clout of the BMW, there’s a reason that it is the most popular car in the packed small SUV segment — it’s practical and extremely good value for money.
The incumbent J11 generation of the model, which has served Nissan dutifully since 2013, is heading towards retirement so expect used prices to gradually get more reasonable. But at the time of writing, we need to go a bit earlier to find the sub-£5k bargains.
You’ll find the first generation of the car, introduced in 2007, extremely affordable but you might want to look at models made after the 2010 facelift to find the better-looking, better-equipped and lower mileage options.
Another reason the Qashqai was so successful is the level of customisability it allowed: customers could choose from front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a range of petrol and diesel engines, and in a number of trims: the entry level Visia comes with Bluetooth connectivity, air-con and electric windows; the Acenta upgrades to parking sensors and climate control; the N-tec adds sat-nav and 18in alloys, while the range-topping Tekna comes with all the bells and whistles, including a glass roof and leather heated seats.
Again, you’re going to want to refine your search by fuel type, as you’ll pay for the diesel in the ULEZ. That means you’ve got the option of a 1.6-litre unit putting out 108bhp or a 2.0-litre engine producing 139bhp. The smaller engine is mated to a five-speed gearbox, while the larger one gains a sixth gear. Watch out, though: you’ll pay an extra hundred quid in road tax — VED jumps from £165 to £265.
While the original Qashqai is popular, it’s also not the most reliable car you can buy, and you should pay attention to the rear suspension, specifically, as well as for issues with the general build quality.
4. Honda Jazz
Again, not the most glamorous model in the list but the Honda Jazz has garnered its reputation among more experienced drivers, shall we say, for a reason — it’s affordable, comfortable, cheap to run and amazingly practical.
And because it’s popular among people of a certain generation, who’re less likely to use the car for daily commutes, used models with less than 50,000 miles on the clock are abundant.
Its unique shape, while admittedly not seductive, allows for extremely good headroom and visibility, while the rear magic seats, which can be folded up to yield full floor-to-roof cargo space, allow a myriad of storage options — think potted plants, for example. It really is one of the most versatile superminis on the market.
The Mk.4 model, unveiled last year, is now available for purchase which means prices for used editions of the Mk.3 generation are beginning to drop, but for now the best bet on a £5,000 budget is the Mk.2 generation, made between 2008 and 2014.
Models made before the turn of the decade should give you change from £3,000, while you can buy a low-mileage model made after the 2011 facelift and walk away with a couple of hundred quid still in your pocket.
The Mk.2 Jazz was offered with the choice of a 1.2-litre or 1.4-litre petrol engine, while a hybrid was introduced later in the production run. Neither offer much in the way of power — you’re looking at 98bhp at the top end — but the larger unit should provide enough oomph for long distances, and VED with that engine is still just £125 per year.
Plus, models with the larger motor are better equipped, as they were available with the higher-spec ES and EX trims.
Models with automatic gearboxes tend to afford a slightly higher price than their manual counterparts, but in Driving.co.uk’s review of the car, we decided that the manual was the better option.
5. Mercedes C-Class
Like the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes C-Class is an example of a more premium model that has become more accessible with age.
Some versions made between 2007 and 2014, referred to by those in the know as the W204 generation, have now dipped below the £5k mark, and, being a Mercedes-Benz, even those in the more basic trims will feel sufficiently luxurious: all models came with alloy wheels, climate control and Bluetooth, for example.
Again, you’ll want to keep an eye on the engine you choose. Less powerful versions will be both cheaper to buy and cheaper to run, and you’ll again want to refine your search results by fuel type, as the diesels aren’t ULEZ-compliant.
While you’ll be able to find some versions decked out with the larger, six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine for below £5,000, you might want to think twice, as their fuel economy won’t compare well to the smaller 1.8-litre four-cylinder engines, and increased emissions means higher road tax — annual VED for the 3.0-litre, 231bhp petrol model is £330, thanks to its 219g/km CO2 emissions.
The smaller engines were matched up to manual gearboxes as standard, but most buyers opted for an automatic. If you’re happy to have a version with a manual ‘box, that’ll usually save you a few pennies when buying — we found some older, manual editions in the more luxurious Elegance trim, which has some exterior and interior styling upgrades, for less than £4k.
Having said that, reconciling the manual ‘box with the W204’s odd handbrake, which comprises a fourth pedal and a switch on the dash, can be a bit confusing to start off with, and it is generally agreed that the automatic transmission suits the C-Class better.
6. Abarth 500
Like a puppy trying to growl, the Abarth 500’s power boost and sporty upgrades over the Fiat 500 on which it’s based succeed mainly in making it even more endearing.
However, despite its distinctly non-threatening exterior, its a very capable hot city car, packing 135bhp thanks to a turbocharger not present in the normal 500’s engine. It has a ride that may prove too firm for many but the handling is excellent thanks to reworked and lowered suspension. What’s more, the Abarth badge alone will tickle the fancy of anyone familiar with the company’s rallying heritage.
Abarths don’t exactly sell in their droves — the car maker’s market share tends to sit between 0.1% and 0.2% — meaning that you may not find yourself with a whole lot of selection, but if you can find a version with good mileage, in good condition, it’s worth a look — Abarth 500s are renowned for their reliability as well as bonkers fun.
The only recurring problem that specialists note is with the washer jets, as well as the door handles occasionally working themselves loose. And if you’re tall, the ergonomics will prove nightmarish.
7. Suzuki Swift Sport
Like the Abarth, the Suzuki Swift Sport isn’t winning drag races against the likes of a Fiesta ST or a Peugeot 208 GTi, but it’s a cheap and cheerful supermini with far more thrills than you might expect — we just adore the pre-turbocharged versions of this car.
What’s more, it will put a smile on your face while keeping you on the right side of the ULEZ regulations. It’s possible to get an early version of the Mk.2 car (made between 2012 and 2017), packing 134bhp, for just within budget, and you can find a great example of the Mk.1 and walk away with change.
That 134bhp comes from a naturally-aspirated, four cylinder engine that, despite not being as efficient as the three-cylinder turbocharged units preferred by some other car makers, has a refreshing old-school quality to it, and has a more satisfying engine noise. With 147g/km of CO2, you will pay for £165 per year for VED — slightly cheaper than the Abarth’s £205.
In the older Mk.1, made between 2005 and 2012, the engine puts out a slightly more paltry 123bhp, but don’t let that put you off — both generations weigh just a smidge over a ton, meaning that there’s not much for that power to shift. That litheness also means that handling is excellent, and you can really throw the Suzuki around at the top of the rev range.
8. Ford Fiesta EcoBoost
When we think of the best ever engines, it’s easy to jump to a Jaguar straight-six or a Ferrari V12, but the fact is that Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is one of the best powerplants ever made. The three cylinder units are smaller, more efficient and more powerful than the four-cylinder units they replaced, and though they’ve been used in a number of models, they feel no more at home than in the Fiesta.
Thanks in no small part to the little unit, the Fiesta has been known as the best supermini about for years now.
The car’s popularity means that there’s a huge choice of colours and trims when it comes to picking a Fiesta, and because it only costs around £16,000 new, you can get a low mileage model, made not too long ago, for not much money.
The seventh generation of the car was introduced in 2008, but the EcoBoost engine wasn’t made available until 2013. You really do want to opt for one of these models — the claimed 65.7mpg fuel economy will save you money when it comes to refuelling, while the 99g/km CO2 emissions means that you won’t pay a penny in road tax.
However, no car is perfect, and there are a couple of things to look out for. Make sure all the door seals look good — some owners have reported worn seals that have led to water entering the cabin. And when you take it for a test drive, pay particular attention to the steering, as some people have warned of issues with the steering rack, while some owners have also reported having to change their transmission oil seal.