Sean O'Grady: What is the price of going green?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Right now I am in a bit of a quandary. I'd really like to buy the long-term Honda Civic Hybrid I'm driving around in. It's got a good many things going for it, though mostly not down to its hybrid technology. There's the Honda build quality, which has stood up well to half-a-year's hard use in London and on the nation's motorways, escaping from our overrated capital city. It's easy and smooth to drive, the only irritation being the whine from the constantly variable automatic transmission, which makes hard acceleration from, say, 50 to 70mph rather wearing. It's a saloon, which I like because it makes any junk I'm carrying around that little bit more secure. It's no beauty, though.

The Honda's main rival, the Toyota Prius, is the more interesting shape and has been properly designed from the ground up as a petrol-electric hybrid, but it doesn't seem to have that much of an advantage over its rival. I ran a Prius, too, for some months and the main difference between them, as far as I was concerned, was the Prius's superior fuel economy. As a more complete hybrid (ie with a relatively powerful electric motor) it seemed to return better fuel economy: say, 50mpg rather than the 40mpg.

However, the main reason for buying either of these hybrids, I'm a little ashamed to admit, is to avoid the London congestion charge. But that regime looks set to change for the worse, (apologies for the London-centric nature of all this, by the way), because the Mayor Ken Livingstone seems to want to extend the congestion-charge exemption to a larger number of low-emissions cars. Anything that dumps less than 120g of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every kilometre covered will get the zero rating. Good news if you want to buy, for example, a Smart, a Citroën C1, Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo, Ford Fiesta diesel and many other little motors. It is a far more logical approach than just determining which cars are green by dint of their technology. That way, we saw the big Lexus saloons and SUVs exempt, even though they are still - relative to, say, a Citroën C1 - quite polluting. I don't have a problem with SUVs paying £25 to get into town, although I think it's a bit unfair if you've just bought one. A case for judicial review, I would have thought. It all seems to be out for consultation anyhow.

My problem is that I just don't know what Transport for London intends to do and so I don't know what car to buy next: larger hybrid or baby hatch. I'd rather the little car for the sake of parking, but I can't even begin to make a choice while this blight of uncertainty is hanging over the London car market.

I'd like to go green, but I can't really run a purely electric car on grounds of practicality. I'm willing to pay that bit more for the sake of the planet. But how much? And when?

By the way, in case you do think that all of this automotive navel-gazing is too London-centric, maybe I should say that at least Livingstone allows cars into London. Many of our great cities have made it all but impossible to drive around in and you can see the baleful effects of this all around you. On a recent visit back to my home town of Leicester, for example, I was struck by how absurd the city's traffic regulations had become, and how their cumulative effects had rendered the city centre a veritable ghost town. There's no pollution in a graveyard.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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