This Bluemotion model is legendary for its ability to ration fuel. Officially, it would return a ludicrous 91.1mpg on the motorway and a still-remarkable 67.3mpg around town. You won’t pay any road tax to run it, either. Nice ones – albeit with high mileages – can be had for around £4000.
Smart Fortwo CDI (2007-2014)
It might be as basic as ‘proper’ cars get, but if all you need is something to pop to the post office in, it’s hard to beat this Smart. Its torquey 0.8-litre diesel lump offers decent off-the-line urge at town speeds, and you get road-tax exemption to boot. Get a good one from £3000.
The MX-5 is the definitive B-road car not only because it’s brilliant to drive but also because it’s historically been so cheap that you aren’t overwhelmed with mechanical sympathy. Early Mk2 MX-5s can be had from £1000. They’re generally reliable but notorious for quickly rusting away when kept outdoors.
MG F (1995-2000)
This is a cracking little roadster, thanks to solid fundamentals and the fizzy K-series engine. Head gaskets are a problem, although many will have been fixed by now, but watch for chassis corrosion and problems with the complex hydragas suspension system. That means there are plenty of cheap fixer-uppers out there, if you’re willing to put the work in. We found one with plenty of rust prevention work and 65,000 miles on the clock for £1800.
Porsche Boxster (1996-2000)
The car that saved Porsche. A little less than £5000 is enough for a well-presented example that has a decent service history and a couple of quality-of-life modifications such as an auxiliary input for the stereo. Prices bottom out at around £3500, but you won’t want the hassle of buying a rough one.
The best deals on non-ULEZ 4x4s
Toyota Land Cruiser (2002-2009)
The Land Cruiser is famed for its dependability, so 100,000 miles is barely run in. Around £7000 gets you in a car that’s cosmetically rough with suspect histories, while nicer examples float around £10,000. It’s a great choice if you need something that just works, regardless of the conditions.
Land Rover Discovery 3 (2004-2010)
Most of these have done stratospheric mileages at this point, but if you wanted a 4×4 that’s as stylish as it is capable, you will struggle to do better than a Discovery 3. You can get a rough one for £3000, but we would recommend spending around double that to get a car with all its service stamps. Pay special note to whether the timing belt has been changed, as it’s an expensive job.
Jeep Cherokee (1984-2001)
The Cherokee has all the charm of a classic Land Rover at a fraction of the cost. This wagon is well on its way to cult status and is exceptionally capable off road, especially with a couple of choice modifications. About £5000 gets you a decent runner; £7500 buys an immaculate example.
Non-ULEZ future classics
Audi A2 (2000-2005)
The A2’s lofty mission resonates especially strongly today: the whole point of its lightweight, aerodynamic construction was to save fuel. As with the best classics, it was a terrible failure in its day, so it’s unlike anything to have come since. We found a 1.4-litre turbodiesel car in rough cosmetic shape and with 168,900 miles for £1650 – a perfect restoration candidate.
BMW 5 Series (1996-2000)
Arguably the final – and best – car to have come from the BMW of yesteryear, the E39-generation 5 Series offers a tremendous drive and has wonderfully restrained styling compared with today’s pig-nosed equivalent. Asking prices range from £1000 for one in desperate need of TLC to £8000 for immaculate examples with the M Sport package.