The best electric car? We have driven them all – here are five worth considering in 2017, including their running costs and UK price, plus two to watch out for.
We love a V8 as much as the next petrolhead, but the case for an electric car grows stronger every day. They are nippy, emit zero CO2 emissions locally so everyone can enjoy cleaner air and they can be filled up for significantly fewer pennies than a petrol or diesel.
With that said, they are still expensive to buy in the first place (so the payback time is longer), the resale value can be an issue (because of the battery cell’s longevity), most require longer journeys to be planned (because of range) and access to a home charger is nigh-on essential (to make charging easier).
To say electric cars are a perfect fit for everyone would be a lie, then, but a financial case can certainly be made in a lot of cases – especially as the charging network in the UK continues to grow and electric car prices creep down towards the realms of affordable.
And let us remember that the UK government recently said it plans to ban sales of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars. That leaves hydrogen and electric to take up the slack in just 23 years.
But which are the best electric cars available now and are there any that you should potentially wait for? Just how many miles can you go between charges? We decided to investigate, with a view to updating the article as new electric cars are introduced and old ones are given a facelift.
1) Hyundai Ioniq Electric: Mr Sensible
The Ioniq Electric offers 110 miles of practical motoring in a package suitable for families, thanks to enough space for four adults, space one little-one in the middle and a 350-litre boot. It starts from £24,995 and comes with a five-year, 125,000-mile warranty.
It should be able to go around 110 miles on a single charge, narrowly bettering the Nissan Leaf, while the standard level of equipment is very generous, with automatic emergency braking and Apple CarPlay and Lane Keep Assist just some of the highlights.
What really helps the Ioniq Electric stand out is the fact it is actually an enjoyable car to drive. Nippy enough to have the odd blast, yet smooth enough to be very comfortable and cheap enough to make financial sense.
We also like the ability to vary the level of engine braking using paddles behind the steering wheel, reducing the need to use the brakes and ensure you can travel as far possible on a single tank of electric.
Cheap to buy, cheap to run. In fact, the US Department for Energy calculated it is the most cost-effective electric car in the US.
Hardly the prettiest car and 110 miles is still going to be prohibitive for some drivers.
2) Tesla Model S / Tesla Model X: The Jetsons choice
The Tesla Model S is king of the electric cars, but it cost substantially more than everything else in our list. A top-spec P100D with all the trimmings, for instance, comes in at around £115,000. The payback time will be a fair few years, if ever.
But then it does offer more than 250 miles on a single charge, 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds if you opt for the Ludicrous Mode Upgrade (making it as fast as a hypercar off the line), up to seven seats (though the two rearmost ones are mainly for kids), unrivalled safety levels and all-wheel drive.
Then there is the fact it has a 17-inch display and a clever infotainment system that lets you browse the internet, up to a staggering 607lb/ft (910Nm) of torque and a top speed of 155mph. It also glides along like nothing else and it seems to attract serious levels of attention from bystanders.
As for practicality, there could be more cubby holes inside (where are the door bins?) but it has a front trunk, a rear boot that offers 894 litres of space before you consider folding the second row of seats down and a clever Autopilot system that lets the car drive itself on motorways.
For those who want even more space, the larger, more spacious Model X SUV has you covered and comes with fancy Falcon Wing doors that appear to have had some reliability issues, but most owners seem happy.
It also has has up to seven seats all face forward, which is good for travel sickness, and can seat adults in all rows, thanks to improved headroom. Though a little less accomplished than the model S, the Model X is a tempting glimpse at the future of the school run.
The Model S and Model X are incredibly satisfying to drive and make a case for going electric better than anything else.
The high price makes them more of a vanity purchase than a financially sensible one.
3) Nissan Leaf: Think of the trees
Nissan was one of the first to give electric cars a chance and so the Leaf is now a veteran, with each update making it even more capable. It can be had from as little as £16,680, but that means leasing the battery and going for the smaller range of the 24kWh battery.
The EPA rating of the 30kWh is 107 miles and it can be filled up for a few quid. 0-62mph takes 11.5 seconds so it is a bit slower than its competitors, but then you get a bigger 370-litre boot, a wonderfully quiet drive and a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
While the 30kWh costs more, it does come with an eight-year warranty instead of five years and the level of standard equipment dramatically improves. Take it to a fast charger, meanwhile, and you can recharge 80 per cent in 30 minutes, compared with a 12-hour home charge from a domestic socket.
The price is low enough to make it tempting, especially if you go used. Prices are well below £10,000.
Somewhat dull to look at and a little undesirable.
4) BMW i3: Funky and practical
Another manufacturer who decided to really go for electric cars, as opposed to modifying current models, is BMW and the i3 just so happens to be a solid car. Not only does it have a unique aesthetic, inside and out, it offers the largest battery capacity bar Tesla.
In its top-spec i3 94Ah version with 170hp, it can go around 115 miles on a full charge while offering an impressive 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds. Rear boot space is 260 litres and there is less interior space than some of its rivals, but then it is a smaller car and that makes it better around town.
Unlike other electric cars in this list, the BMW i3 can be had with a range extender (REX) petrol motor that is solely tasked with recharging the battery but this comes at the expense of emissions (from 0g/km to 12g/km) and acceleration (0-62mph in 8.3 seconds).
It does, however, mean you have a back-up plan if you run out of battery and it can go a lot further on a single charge. Pricey, but very competent and served with an eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty.
Sensibly priced and the optional REX version makes it way more practical.
The look, though original and futuristic, will put some buyers off.
From £32,380 | BMW i3 94Ah
5) 2017 VW E-Golf: Easy to recommend
Diesel gate or not, VW makes some superb cars and the 2017 Golf is one of the most versatile. So in giving it an electric powertrain you get the best of two worlds ─ a much lower carbon footprint, solid build quality and practicality and, of course, cheaper fuel bills.
Boot space in the VW E-Golf takes a 39-litre hit to accommodate the battery pack, reducing the total to 341 litres, but that still means a reasonable amount of space for things and the interior has extra cubby holes.
The battery capacity is 35.8kWh (up from 24.2kWh), giving it a range of around 186 miles (NEDC) and the top speed is 93mph. That is 33 per cent more than its predecessor and good for around 124 miles of real-world driving. 0-62mph, meanwhile, takes 9.6 seconds.
The VW E-Up is another solid choice if you want something cheaper and smaller, but with the same VW quality credentials.
It’s a Golf, only electric.
The range is among the best, but will still need planning to utilise on occasion.
The electric cars to watch
Tesla Model 3: The combustion engine killer
Tesla knows how to make an electric car and the Model 3 will be the most affordable of them all. It will be priced around that of a BMW 3 Series, offer a 215-mile range, seating for five adults and a 0-60mph time of less than six seconds.
Autopilot has been promised, as has a Ludicrous Mode Upgrade for those who want to pay extra for more performance. From what we have seen, it should be a looker, too. The Tesla Model 3 is expected to go on sale in late 2017, assuming there are no delays.
The first production car rolled off the line and into the hands of Tesla CEO and founder, Elon Musk. A UK price is yet to be confirmed, but around £35,000 seems likely.
The 215 mile range, Tesla desirability and accessible price could make it the first mass-bought electric car on the planet, which will accelerate the move away from petrol and diesel.
£35,000 is still a lot of money for a lot of motorists.
Jaguar I-Pace: A potential winner
Jaguar is the latest major car manufacturer to wade into eco waters with a full-blown electric saloon it calls the I-Pace concept. The EPA range is said to be 220 miles and performance should be impressive, thanks to a 394.5bhp power output and 516lb/ft of torque.
0-60mph takes a claimed four seconds, while a touch of liquid cooling ensures the range remains consistent no matter how hot or cold the weather is. Inside is a fancy interior that even includes a starry night in the roof.
Find yourself a 50kW charger and it will charge from empty to 100 per cent in two hours, or 80 per cent in 80 minutes if you want to spend less time waiting around. Jaguar says the I-Pace will be on the road in 2018 ─ definitely one to watch.
If it is like a normal Jaguar, it will handle well. Plus the range is substantial.
A high price would make it hard to justify, although a Jaguar spokesperson said around £40,000 is likely.