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How to find the right green car for you

Finding the greenest car that also suits your lifestyle is a tough ask, but if you want to drive with your green credentials still intact then we can help


'Go green' is a term most-associated with recycling or perhaps growing your own veg - but you can also be more eco-friendly when it comes to driving a car.

It goes without saying that today's cars are far more fuel-efficient than those of only a decade ago, but we can now opt for alternatively-powered vehicles - electric, petrol-electric hybrid and even hydrogen. These Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) use little or no fuel and are much kinder to the environment.

It may seem a long way off, but by 2035 it will only be legal to sell electrified cars such as hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric models in the UK. The good news is that there’s now a big selection of more environmentally-friendly cars on offer. There are many factors to consider when buying a ULEV. 

Which type of car is the 'greenest'?

If you want to drive with your eco-conscience almost intact, then you should choose either a 100% electric vehicle (EV), a plug-in hybrid or hybrid. Hydrogen cars, such as the Toyota Mirai, are also available, but the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is in its infancy so Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) are not yet a practical alternative.

EVs are the greenest because they have an electric motor (or motors) powered by batteries. They emit zero CO2 and harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx). However, it should be noted that production of electricity in the UK is not 100% generated by renewables (wind and solar), so coal and gas power stations are still in the mix.

Right choice for your lifestyle


There was a time when driving an electric car meant you had to pootle around in odd-looking micro vehicles. Now they come in all shapes and sizes, from city cars to hatchbacks and SUVs to sports cars.

It's estimated that three out of five short journeys (under five miles) are currently made by car. These are ideal for plug-in hybrids, which often have an electric-only range of around 30 miles, and pure electric cars.

Most affordable 100% electric cars, including the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Hyundai Ioniq, have a real-world range of around 150 miles. If you want to approach the 300-mile mark you'll have to pay closer to £60,000 or above for premium cars such as the Tesla Model S and Jaguar I-Pace.

For many, hybrids are a good compromise between 100% electric cars with limited range and traditional petrol and diesel-powered vehicles.

In theory, hybrid cars are capable of unbelievable economy and low CO2 emissions, but in the real world they are only zero emission for short trips and rely on their less efficient combustion engines for longer journeys.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of hybrid:

  • Cars with electric motors assisting the petrol/diesel engine (hybrids and mild hybrids)
  • Plug-ins with larger batteries that can be charged up and have a limited electric range of around 30 miles
  • Range extenders, with small, conventional engines that charge the car's batteries (rather like on-board power stations), rather than to help power the wheels

Read more about the history of the hybrid car.

The benefits of driving an electric car


Electric cars are much cleaner than petrol or diesel powered cars, with no or much-reduced emissions.

According to the Government-backed Go Ultra Low campaign, over three years, driving a 100% electric car could save an average of over £1,400 in fuel costs alone, compared to the average diesel car. Some drivers report saving around £150 a month compared to a petrol or diesel car.

There are also incentives to encourage us to ‘make the switch’ and to start enjoying the many benefits of electric motoring. 

These include generous grants available to eligible customers buying new 100% electric or plug-in hybrid cars. The Government’s Plug-in Car grant gives buyers up to £4,500 off the ‘on the road’ price of an eligible new electric car or £2,500 off eligible plug-in hybrid cars (priced below £60,000).

Ultra low emission cars are also either exempt from road tax, or pay a reduced rate, and they pay zero London Congestion Charge. 

Which Ultra Low Emission Vehicle should you buy?


Sales of EVs and hybrid vehicles increased by 34.8% in 2017, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers, but they still represent a small proportion of overall car registrations in the UK.

100% electric - the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling pure EV in the UK. Other popular models include the Renault Zoe, Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Kia Soul and Volkswagen e-up! 

Read our reviews here: 

Plug-in hybrid - the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the most popular plug-in hybrid in the UK. Other options include the Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Niro, BMW 330e, Volkswagen Golf GTE and Volvo XC90 T8.

Hybrid – this category includes everything from the Toyota Prius to the Kia Niro Hybrid, Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid.

Range extender hybrid – the best know example of which is the BMW i3. Think of it as an electric vehicle with a small-capacity internal combustion engine to get you home should you run out of charge for that extra peace of mind. 

Mild hybrid - the Suzuki Swift SHVS is an example of a mild hybrid (SHVS stands for Small Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki). The key difference between a traditional hybrid and a mild hybrid is that the former is able to power the car on its own, while the mild hybrid's electric motor is only able to assist the engine.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell - at present, the Toyota Mirai is the only hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on sale in the UK. It has a range of more than 300 miles and will be joined by FCEVs from other manufacturers over the coming years. This technology could well rival EVs in the coming years if and when there's a viable refuelling infrastructure.

You can access all the options using Go Ultra Low's 'Car selector’

Financing a green car


The buying process for an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle is similar to a conventional car. You have the same basic options – buy new, buy used or lease.

Plug-in hybrids and hybrids are now considered mainstream, so there really is no difference and they are widely available.

In 2017 the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV outsold all other pure electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles in the UK in 2017, accounting for 7,407 of the 47,263 plug-in passenger vehicles that were registered.

Whether you’re buying or leasing new or used, there are plenty of options.

The only consideration when buying a plug-in is that ideally you need to be able to charge your car at home overnight. Even if that’s impossible because you live in a flat or a terraced house without a garage, you may still be able to benefit from owning a PHEV if you can recharge at your workplace, for instance.

Buying a pure electric car isn’t quite the leap in the dark that it was. As prices become more in line with petrol and diesel vehicles, manufacturers are coming up with plans to give more peace of mind with long warranties and battery leasing deals, for instance.

Just as car finance deals such as PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) and PCH (Personal Contract Hire) are increasingly popular ways to run a conventional car, the same goes for EVs.

  • If you want a new eco-friendly car, or you're just looking for one that’s greener than your current model, our eco-car comparison tool gives a side by side comparison – and shows how much money you could be saving.

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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