Electric cars are going from strength to strength, here we pick the top 10 best electric cars on sale
Electric cars are not a new phenomenon, but with the threat of the world’s oil supplies drying up before the end of this century, the electric car is seen as one option to keep the world mobile while helping to reduce the impact on the globe’s resources.
There were electric vehicles (EVs) built at the dawn of the motor car in the early 20th Century, but like steam power, it fell by the wayside as internal combustion forged ahead. Electric vehicles were seen as a niche choice for a number of years, good only for tiny city car concepts and milk floats, but ever-stricter emissions regulations and a requirement to reduce pollution has seen car makers create electric cars that are not just viable, but desirable, too.
As a result of this investment, battery technology has accelerated exponentially over the past decade or so. It wasn’t long ago that the best-selling electric car in the UK wasn’t a car at all, as the Reva G-Wiz is classed as a quadricycle, and it wasn’t a very good one at that. It used a set of standard 12-volt lead acid batteries slung under the flimsy bodywork that drove a puny electric motor, so it was slow with a limited range and was only really any good for short solo trips in town.
But the electric car market changed with the arrival of the Nissan Leaf in 2010. The five-door hatch revolutionised the EV market, thanks to its family-friendly five-seater layout and the fact it’s just like a conventional car to drive. The original model had a range of about 80 miles if you drove it like a conventional car, but this has improved over time with the introduction of new battery technology, while charging times have also seen a drop.
The big development of the past decade is the arrival of a number of new EV models from a variety of manufacturers. Mainstream firms like Ford, Renault, Volkswagen, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Kia have all developed their own electric vehicles, and prestige firm BMW has even created its own EV sub-brand. Perhaps the most significant development is the arrival of Tesla, with its all-electric model range, unique battery system and cutting-edge technology.
There are advantages and disadvantages to electric drive. Some of the biggest drawbacks are still to do with range and charging time. Unless you go for a Tesla, you won’t be going any further than about 100 miles in your EV on a full charge, and you’ll need at least half an hour on a high-voltage power supply to get any significant charge back into the battery.
The weather can have an impact on range, too. If it’s cold, the battery can’t hold as much of its charge, while using a heater or air-con will cut the battery range, too. Many cars now have pre-heaters that mean you can warm or cool the cabin while the car is plugged in, so you can save the battery energy for driving the vehicle.
Access to charging is the main factor in whether you can make an EV work for you. If you don’t have space to fit a high-voltage wallbox, live near on-street charging or even have the ability to get an EV close to a plug socket, whether at home or at work, then an EV is a non-starter.
The benefits of electric drive include near-silent cruising, which can make for a very relaxed drive, while the instant torque provided by the electric motor mean every EV has decent sprinting ability at the traffic light grand prix.
Plugging in an EV to charge is a mess-free affair, simply plug the car in like you’re charging any device and that’s it – no dirty petrol pumps or fuel spillages to deal with. And with zero tailpipe emissions, EVs deliver no local pollution, helping air quality in built up areas.
Recent road tax changes mean that EVs that cost less than £40,000 are now the only cars that are road tax exempt – all other cars, even plug-in hybrids, pay at least £130 in road tax. EVs over £40,000 still have to pay £310 a year for the first five years, then are exempt after that. However, the cost is still less than the £450 a year faced by conventional cars costing £40,000 or more.
The Government’s Plug-In Car Grant is up to £4,500 on EVs, and while price are coming down as cost margins reduce, you’ll still need to find well over £20k to buy an EV. Leasing could be a better option, while some makers, chiefly Renault and Nissan, offer battery lease deals that should help lower costs.
Today, there are enough EVs on sale that we can compile a list of 10 of the best, covering all areas of the market.