With every passing year, the electric car makes a greater case for itself. Improvements to battery technology and gradual reductions to the purchase price mean we are edging closer to the point where an electric car becomes a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine.
If you’re keen to become an early adopter of what many believe will be the cars of the future, which one should you choose? Based on our aggregated wowscores, we’ve picked out ten of the very best on sale today.
10. Citroen C-Zero/Mitsubishi iMiev/Peugeot iOn
£21,216 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
Falling into our number ten spot is this trio, co-developed by Citroen, Mitsubishi and Peugeot. Having been on sale since 2009, these three are among the oldest EVs in our list and, in many ways, it shows. As an electric car, the range isn’t good enough considering the substandard performance on offer (63hp which will, at best, take you 93 miles). As a city car it works reasonably well, with a smooth ride and an excellent turning circle.
Perhaps the biggest reason why they can’t compete with the latest crop of EVs is the hefty purchase price. Although prices were slashed recently, at over £21,000 (including a £5,000 government grant which can be claimed back for buying an EV) they are still hard to justify for what’s offered.
9. Renault Twizy
£6,895 (plus monthly battery rental)
The Renault Twizy may have a paltry 17hp and 42lb ft of torque but, with only 470kg to shift, performance around town is still sprightly enough. A range of 43 miles should be fine for commuting, and the small batteries mean recharging from a regular wall socket takes 3.5 hours – considerably less than most EVs.
The narrow body allows the opportunity to slip through gaps that would be impossible in a regular car and, if you must, the tandem seating allows a passenger to sit directly behind the driver. The ride is uncomfortable at best, and the lack of weather protection will put off many UK buyers (even the “doors” are an optional extra) but, as a second or third vehicle, it makes a compelling case for itself. It could even be the ideal car for commuting to a railway station in for out-of-town commuters who don’t want to take to two wheels.
8. Smart ForTwo Electric Drive
£15,395 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
Despite its diminutive size, the electrical gubbins of the Smart Electric Drive are all very cleverly packaged, so space inside the two-seat cabin – and the volume of the boot – are identical to the rest of the range.
Many testers suggest the electric Smart is better to drive than the now-replaced regular model – the lower centre of gravity thanks to the heavy batteries makes the car feel more stable, and the torquey motor gives the EV performance that only the slightly mad Brabus version can top. Best of all, the electric motor isn’t lumbered with the awful automatic gearbox its conventional siblings had.
It’s worth noting that the car on which the Electric Drive Smart is based has been replaced, so you may see a new-shape electric version in the future.
7. Kia Soul EV
£24,995 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
Kia has recently thrown its hat into the electric ring with this: the Soul EV. Not only has Kia built upon the strengths of the regular car – namely distinctive styling and a spacious cabin – but by removing the thrashy, unrefined petrol and diesel engines, one of the Soul’s biggest minus points has been negated.
Kia recently proved the Soul EV to have – by current electric standards – a very impressive range too. An independent test discovered that in real world driving (and far from ideal weather conditions) a range of over 130 miles was highly plausible.
6. Volkswagen e-Up!
£19,525 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
As city cars go, few can match the mix of quality, refinement and fun of the Volkswagen Up. The good news is, in many ways, the e-Up builds upon the strengths of the regular model.
In city driving, the large punch of instant torque makes it feel more sprightly than the fuel burning versions, and the low-mounted batteries have a positive effect around the twisty bits.
There is only really one negative, and unfortunately its a big one. Even after the government subsidy is considered, it costs far too much: more than double that of regular Up variants.
5. Nissan Leaf
£16,490 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
In many ways, the Leaf fits the bill perfectly for a family hatchback. The stylish cabin is more than roomy enough for five, the boot swallows a reasonable 370 litres, and it achieved the top five-star safety rating when crash tested by Euro NCAP.
Beyond that, it is eerily quiet, rides fairly nicely and if you choose to rent the battery rather than own it outright, prices (including the government subsidy) start at less than an entry-level Volkswagen Golf.
As is the case with many electric cars currently, only a meagre 124-mile range and lengthy recharging times prevent it from doing everything the likes of a Ford Focus can do. If you can live with those issues, then it may not be the crazy choice you think it might be…
4. Renault Zoe
£13,995 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
The Renault Zoe rightfully sits near the top of our list of the top ten EVs – we liked it so much that we named it our best electric car of 2014. When backed up by the government’s grant, the purchase price places the car in direct competition with regular superminis. There is a small catch though – strictly speaking, the battery must be rented from Renault at a cost of £70 per month. However, additional costs are almost negligible, so on a dally basis it will still be one of the most cost-effective superminis to run.
Performance is on a par with most small diesels, but all is achieved in almost complete silence. Once you factor in styling which to our eyes makes it prettier than not only Renault’s own Clio, but most other cars in the class too, and the Zoe can be considered a genuine everyday prospect.
3. BMW i3
£25,680 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
The BMW i3 has received rave reviews since its release. The tall, futuristic-looking family hatch is unlike anything else BMW makes, but still delivers many of the driving thrills that you’d hope for from the Munich brand.
The electric motor produces 168hp and 184lb-ft of torque, which endows it with a hot-hatch-bothering 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds. The handling is fun to a point, beyond which it is hampered by skinny low-rolling resistance tyres, which on the flip side help it to achieve a claimed range of 100 miles.
The gorgeous yet practical cabin is one of the nicest available on sale, so if you can overlook the jiggly ride on larger wheels, you can almost justify that purchase price.
2. Tesla Model S
£49,900 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
Tesla has perhaps achieved more than any other car brand to change the perception of electric cars from ugly, slow white goods into objects that could perhaps even be considered cool and desirable. The sleek and stylish Model S offers a genuine alternative to the likes of the Aston Martin Rapide and Porsche Panamera. Acceleration figures are on a par with both, all of which is achieved in the unflustered silence of electric drive.
The latest updates to the Model S promise to improve the range to not far shy of 400 miles (for the most expensive models) so the typical “range anxiety” that afflicts most EVs is starting to become much less of an issue. It is undoubtedly a brilliant car, but its luxury price tag means that it isn’t as attainable as our winner.
1. Volkswagen e-Golf
£25,845 (including £5,000 government subsidy)
Some would argue that the e-Golf is the best electric vehicle on sale today. In many ways, it behaves much like a regular VW Golf – it has the same secure handling, the same practical, well-built cabin, and the same perfectly adequate performance. A claimed range of 118 miles is quite standard among its EV rivals and, at just shy of £26,000, it costs about the same as a top-spec family hatch.
Perhaps most importantly for some, though, is the fact that it’s so good at hiding its electric origins that makes it so desirable. It features one or two aerodynamic tweaks to eke out every last watt from the batteries, but to the untrained eye, it just looks like any other Golf. Once there is no perceptible differences in styling and cost to the more established fossil fuel cars, electric vehicle sales will really start to take off. Right now, the e-Golf is the closest to that reality.