Despite the fact that it’s only in the last few years that electric cars have been taken seriously by the motoring public, they have, in fact, been around for just as long – if not longer – than those powered by petrol and diesel.
However, now that there’s a legislative imperative to cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful gases, manufacturers have started to seriously invest in electric-car technology. This has meant dramatic increases in battery range, huge reductions in charging times and – perhaps most importantly – a rapid increase in the number of public charging points available. Indeed, such is the growth in popularity of electric cars that the Government expects half of all new cars sold in 2027 to be battery-powered.
This has meant it’s now commonplace for an electric car to have a maximum range of well over 100 miles (up to 300 miles in some cases) and a charging time of less than a couple of hours from a rapid charger. Batteries have also become smaller and lighter in recent years, benefitting the packaging, efficiency and handling of these vehicles.
While a lack of harmful emissions and the associated low running costs are major plus points of electric cars, it’s not the only advantage that electric cars have over their petrol or diesel-powered counterparts.
Firstly, there are the packaging benefits: without a bulky engine to fit in, electric cars can offer more room inside than a similarly sized conventional car, while they’re also sprightly performers. This is because electric motors produce 100% of their power from a standstill, meaning they acceleration surprisingly quickly from low speeds.
EVs aren’t for everyone, however. Purchase prices are still quite high and the fact that you can’t just refuel an electric car means they don’t suit everyone’s lifestyle. Add to this the fact that not everyone will be able to recharge at home and EVs are just not practical for everyone right now.
This situation is changing rapidly, however, with more charging stations emerging all the time and electric car getting cheaper and faster and having better range. Indeed, the energy company Ecotricity is responsible for developing an ‘electric highway’ between London and Edinburgh, which consists of an extensive network of charging stations between the two cities, that can give an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.
Electric cars are getting better and better very quickly. Keep reading for our favourite 10 models right now.
Top 10 Best electric cars:
1 – Renault ZOE hatchback
The Renault ZOE is one of the least expensive EVs on the market, although there’s a monthly charge for battery rental to be factored in. It’s a small hatchback, a little larger than the Renault Clio on which it’s based, and makes a very practical car around town, with a big 338-litre boot. It’s extremely easy to drive, because – like most electric cars – there’s no changing gear to worry about, so progress is generally smooth. It’s almost completely silent, apart from a noisy regenerative braking system that also makes stopping a little jerky. The maximum range of 100 miles for the entry-level model is a little on the short side compared to rivals, but higher-spec models can now manage up to 250 miles thanks to a battery upgrade in late 2016. Renault will also provide a home charger that can fill the battery considerably faster you’re your average domestic socket.
2 – Hyundai Ioniq Electric
The Hyundai Ioniq is something of a unique proposition. It’s the only car to come with a choice of three different electrified powertrains. There’s the hybrid, the plug-in hybrid and the one we’re interested in here, the electric version. It’s impressively nippy, managing 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds thanks to its 118bhp electric motor. Hyundai also says the Ioniq Electric will travel around 174 miles on a full charge of its batteries, although 150 miles is more likely in day-to-day driving. This will be plenty for most journeys and puts the Ioniq ahead of key rivals like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV. The boot is able to handle 350 litres of luggage, expanding to 1,410 litres if you fold down the rear seats – a practical feature for anyone with large items to lug. The Ioniq’s conventional styling may also attract many buyers. It’s not unusual for electric cars to advertise their difference to traditionally powered cars – but not everybody wants to stand out from the crowd quite so much.
3 – Tesla Model S hatchback
The Tesla Model S can probably take more credit for making electric cars an exciting idea than any other vehicle. Although it’s not as futuristically styled as some, it’s still extremely attractive – despite a 2016 facelift that removed the faux front grille. The Model S is a premium-priced product that has gained a very favourable image and a loyal following, despite prices exceeding the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, which match it for size and beat it for interior quality. What they can’t do, though, is come anywhere near it on performance – the P100D version has a ‘Ludicrous Mode’ allowing a 0-62mph run in 2.6 seconds, while even the entry-level version will do this in under six seconds. Despite this hugely impressive performance, the Tesla’s maximum range is still right at the top of what’s achievable, offering between 280 and 300 miles depending on which model you go for. You can also have your Model S with self-driving ‘Autopilot’ technology that allows the car to effectively drive itself under certain conditions.
4 – Tesla Model X SUV
We make no apologies for there being two expensive Tesla models in our top 10 – it’s simply a reflection of just how much the US company has done to advance the electric-car movement. It’s been clever in boosting the appeal of zero-emissions cars by addressing market niches, with the Model X attracting those who might previously have chosen a premium SUV such as a Mercedes GLS or Range Rover. It’s a great-looking car with loads of space in the back and the option of seating for seven. It even offers a similarly supernatural performance to the Model S. With 0-62mph in 3.2 seconds in the P90D version’s ‘Ludicrous Mode’, not even a Porsche Cayenne Turbo can keep up.
5 – BMW i3 hatchback
If there’s one thing BMW’s designers haven’t done with the i3’s styling, it’s play it safe. You can immediately tell that the i3, unlike many electric cars, has been designed from the ground up as something new and different. It has none of the compromises that electric conversions of conventional cars can suffer from and uses hi-tech construction techniques to ensure both strength and (relatively) low weight. Build quality is excellent and BMW claims a 195-mile range is possible, although this is likely to drop significantly if you frequently attempt to match the car’s claimed 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds. Like many other BMWs, the i3 is also good fun to drive, while compact dimensions and nippy performance – especially its acceleration from low speeds – make it a great city runabout. Inside, it uses many tactile, natural textures and materials to make for an imaginatively styled interior quite unlike conventional cars. It is, however, quite pricey – although you’ll recoup some of this through its low running costs and impressive residuals.
6 – Nissan Leaf hatchback
Nissan is a company that has truly embraced the electric revolution and the Leaf has been a huge success, with examples gracing city streets in countries around the globe. Its quirky looks have become its trademark and carry over to the interior, although its style is now beginning to date somewhat. It can seat four comfortably and has a decent 370-litre boot – about enough to suit a young urban family. It’s quick and responsive to drive and claims a reasonable 124-mile range, boosted to 155 miles for more expensive models. Meanwhile, a dashboard display underlines the Leaf’s planet-saving credentials by awarding tree icons for an economical driving technique. A full recharge takes eight hours through a conventional three-pin domestic socket, although you can fit a fast charger at home to reduce this to around three hours. The Leaf is also compatible with public fast chargers.
7 – Kia Soul EV hatchback
The Kia Soul EV represents the South Korean brand’s first foray into the UK electric-car market, and although it’s been overtaken by the Hyundai Ioniq further up this list, the youthfully designed Soul still holds appeal. Its square, boxy shape makes it extremely spacious inside and headroom is particularly generous. The 281-litre boot is a little below par, however, while the 891 litres available with the rear seats down is really quite small compared to rivals. Batteries take up much of the boot space – one of the major drawbacks of buying an electric car that hasn’t been designed as such from the outset. Interior fixtures have an agreeably upmarket taste to them, too, although this jars a little with features such as the loudspeaker surrounds, which light up in time with the music playing through them. With its claimed range of 132 miles between charges, the Soul makes for an enjoyable zero-emissions urban runabout and offers more range (just) than key rivals like the Nissan Leaf.
8 – Volkswagen e-Golf hatchback
If there’s a brand that reassures buyers they’re in safe hands during their transition to electric motoring, it’s VW. The Golf is beloved of buyers all over the globe and the e-Golf variant offers the same straightforward, proven, high-quality appeal as its conventional sibling. The only difference is that its range is determined by charge in its batteries, not how much fuel is in the tank. On the outside, although there are some stylish blue flashes and appropriate badges, there’s precious little to distinguish the e-Golf from a petrol or diesel model. Interior space is unchanged, although the boot space has shrunk by almost 40 litres to 341 litres, as some of it is given over to accommodating the battery pack. The only thing that might make an e-Golf difficult to live with is its limited range of 115 miles – however a forthcoming facelifted model has a claimed maximum range of 186 miles, with a real-world range of about 125 miles – a significant improvement.
9 – Ford Focus Electric hatchback
The Ford Focus is commonly regarded as one of the best mass-market hatchbacks for driver appeal. If you’re something of an introvert, then the Focus Electric might appeal, because it won’t attract any more attention than a standard Focus, thanks to its more traditional styling. It’s also, however, an excellent example of why conversions of conventionally fuelled cars can be less successful than electric cars designed as such from the start. For example, the Focus’s boot has lost a good deal of space to the car’s chunky battery pack, which also adds a lot of weight, badly affecting the way the car drives. What’s more, its range is only around 100 miles – and that’s the best-case scenario. You can expect to get closer to 70 miles in the real world. This means that sadly the Focus Electric ends up looking compromised next to purpose-built EVs such as the BMW i3 and Renault Zoe. Meanwhile, the VW e-Golf’s conversion to electric power seems a lot more successful, especially in its upgraded 2017 specification.
10 – Volkswagen e-up! hatchback
We’re big fans of the e-up! – the all-electric version of the excellent VW up! city car. However, despite the low running costs that come with EV ownership, we find its purchase price just a little too high to stomach. As a city car, its diminutive dimensions are a bonus, not a restriction, and although it has a tiny boot, it can seat four in reasonable comfort. It’s also quite enjoyable and easy to drive. Its 90-mile range is on the short side, but may be sufficient for urban users, however it does preclude long-distance road trips. Those urbanites who do plump for an e-up!, however, will appreciate its exemption from road tax and, if they live in the capital, the London Congestion Charge. It should only cost a few pounds to charge from your domestic electricity supply and you can top it up from public charging points during the day, too. However, aside from these advantages, we feel the e-up! offers insufficient advantages over the much cheaper regular up! to make it worthwhile for most buyers.