Quite apart from any concerns you may have for the environment, choosing a cleaner, lower-emissions and more fuel-efficient vehicle makes sense financially. Not only will you save money on petrol or diesel, there are also incentives in terms of the tiered road tax system.
Buy a car that emits less than 100g/km of carbon dioxide, for example, and your annual tax disc is free of charge – and if it also meets the Euro 5 emissions standards, you needn’t pay the daily London congestion charge, either (though you will need to register with Transport for London  for exemption).
All new cars (and most used cars sold through franchised dealerships) are now displayed in showrooms with an ‘eco-label’ – like those you’d see on a fridge, cooker and other consumer goods – citing their carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption. So it’s easy to make comparisons.
As yet, all-electric cars aren’t an ideal solution for everyone, but they can make sense for those with access to battery recharging facilities or a handy off-street plug socket, and whose driving is mainly short-distance urban commuting; many electric vehicles are serving as a household’s second car and general local runaround. They are still expensive to buy, however, as are the new extended-range EVs (Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt), which have an additional small engine which acts as a generator to back up the battery range.
Hybrid cars such as the popular petrol-electric Toyota Prius and Toyota Auris are now well-proven, and several new models are available this year such as the smaller Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Honda Jazz Hybrid, and the family-sized diesel-electric Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 crossover vehicle. None of these need external recharging, though plug-in hybrids – which will give a longer range in their all-electric mode – will soon arrive from several manufacturers.
It’s not all about electrification, however; there are a number of less radical solutions. Modern-day low-emissions diesel engines are now super-smooth and efficient (many, even in family cars, now come in under the 100g/km mark and return over 70mpg), and petrol engines are also getting ever-more economical. This needn’t mean sacrificing performance: little engines such as Ford’s new turbocharged 1.0-litre EcoBoost and Renault’s 1.2 TCe offer as much oomph as the much larger engines they have replaced.
Look out too for new technologies such as stop-start (or start-stop or idle-stop, as some companies call it). This automatically cuts the engine when idling and then restarts it again when you release the brake or press the throttle to move off. The latest stop-starts are smooth and intuitive, and improve fuel economy by up to 15 per cent during urban driving. They are often combined with regenerative braking, which collects energy otherwise lost under deceleration (slowing down) and reuses it in the car’s electrical system.
You could also consider downsizing your car – many modern small cars have clever multi-folding and sliding seats, smart storage areas and other ways to make them more versatile, and even the tiniest city cars or most mainstream of superminis now have gadgets and creature comforts once offered only in expensive executive cruisers. Some very compact MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) such as the Vauxhall Meriva and new Ford B-MAX have wide sliding side doors for easy access, as well as plenty of leg room for all the passengers.
Load-carrying solutions have also become smarter and safer; manufacturers now offer a range of purpose-designed aerodynamic roof boxes, racks, bars and carriers, making small-car ownership easier than ever. If you only occasionally need to haul large items, it makes sense to run a small car and attach a carrier as required.
Consider all the options, and look at the long-term implications, such as potential resale values, as well. A car loan  may help you finance your purchase.
Issued by Sainsbury’s Finance
Sainsbury’s Finance is a trading name of Sainsbury’s Bank plc. All information correct at time of publication, but may be subject to change. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any part of the Sainsbury’s Group of companies.