Once upon a time, ‘going green’ meant you were wild with jealousy or about to puke. These days, with an increasing number of electric and hybrid vehicles available, it takes on an altogether more pleasant definition. Electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids have developed significantly over the past year, becoming more economical, practical and better equipped than ever. We've tested the vast majority of those available on the market and we've pulled together our top ten favourite battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars for your consideration.
10. Mitsubishi iMiev
The Mitsubishi iMiev is a cute, appealing city runaround, which has alter-egos in the Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero. Its 16kWh battery size is relatively small, but the car is small and light so it'll still do 'up to 93 miles' on a single charge, which is roughly what you can expect from most EVs. The iMiev's charge time is an unremarkable seven hours, though Mitsubishi claims that can be reduced to 30 minutes (for 80% charge) with a rapid charger. After the Japanese Tsunami/Earthquake disaster, the car was built with a device that allows it to power a home in the event of an emergency outage, though we can't imagine you'd get much use out of this feature in the UK – especially if you had somewhere to drive to the next morning.
Read: Mitsubishi iMiev review
9. Renault Twizy
The Twizy is the smallest, most basic electric car in our list and is incredibly cheap to buy and run, although you will have to pay a recurring charge (starting from £55 per month over a 12 month period) for leasing its battery. It's fabulous fun to drive. It accelerates quickly from traffic lights and, although its skinny tires provide little grip, you'll get a real buzz zipping about town. Passers-by will get a kick out of seeing it. It's an odd-looking thing that attracts plenty of (mostly positive) attention. Sadly, its 55-mile range is the lowest of all the cars in our list, so you'll probably need to charge it daily to limit your chances of being stuck somewhere with no juice. Being stuck is the last thing you'll want, as the Twizy is very exposed to the elements. We recommend you wear warm clothing or invest in the lap blanket and plastic windows Renault provides as an option.
Read: Renault Twizy Review
8. Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupé
The Electric Drive is the Smart car’s greener, battery-powered cousin. With an official range of 84 miles, this two-seater is very much a city car. It's not particularly practical – there are no rear seats and the boot is incredibly small, but it's fun to drive, easy to park and has a great stereo. It might ‘smart’ to hear charging takes up to seven hours, but it’s the £20,000 price tag that’ll sting. Conveniently, Smart can also lease the battery over 3 years, which brings the initial purchase price down to around £13,480, with a monthly fee applied on top.
Read: Smart Fortwo ED review
7. Renault Fluence ZE Saloon
The Renault Fluence ZE's propulsion system is well proven, as it's based on that of the popular and well-established Nissan Leaf. Its chassis, meanwhile, is based on the Renault Megane saloon, so it's extremely practical with good equipment and room in the back for three. That said, the way the batteries have been fitted means boot space is limited. The Fluence may look a tad dull but it's surprisingly good fun to drive, though its claimed 115-miles range will reduce significantly if you've a heavy right foot. The Zoe's purchase price is comparable to that of a petrol-powered Megane, but it will require separate battery hire of £76 per month over a 36 month period, with mileage limited to 6,000 miles per year.
6. Vauxhall Ampera
Vauxhall’s Ampera isn't a hybrid, as such, but it features a large battery that provides a 46-mile electric-only range and a petrol engine that acts as a generator to supply electricity once that initial battery charge runs out. In all, Vauxhall claims 235mpg though once that battery goes flat and the engine begins working full time, expect economy in the region of 30mpg around the city. It has plenty of onboard technology, such as dusk-sensing lights, a fancy infotainment system and sat-nav system and a reverse parking camera. It doesn't come cheap, but it does include an impressive eight-year warranty.
Read: Vauxhall Ampera review
5. Chevrolet Volt
Minor cosmetic tweaks aside, there’s little between the Volt and its Vauxhall Ampera cousin. There are slight differences in spec, including a slightly softer suspension setup, and some slightly different wheel choices, but under the surface they're identical. It may look futuristic, but the Volt drives like a normal family car, except with less noise (until the engine kicks in after about 50 miles). At £35,255 before the government grant, it's a little pricey, but represents slightly better value for money than its Vauxhall kinfolk.
Read: Chevrolet Volt review
4. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid
The Prius is the great grand daddy of hybrid cars, having been the first mass produced vehicle to use a part-petrol, part-electric powertrain. The plug-in model can be used as an ordinary hybrid or as a pure electric vehicle, and Toyota claims a combined fuel economy of 134.5mpg. The battery, which takes 3 hours to charge, provides 31 miles of pure electric range and the petrol motor kicks in to dispel any range anxiety. The only downsides are the slightly cardigan-and-slippers reputation of the car and the price – it's by no means a snip at £33,245, before the £5,000 government grant.
Read: Toyota Prius review
3. Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid
The V60 is the first plug-in hybrid diesel car, but don't let its sensible grown-up design and eco fous fool you – it's very performance-oriented, capable of 0-62mph in just over 6 seconds. The interior has a high-quality feel and offers adequate, if not mind-blowing levels of space and lots of impressive technology. Our favourite feature in this area is the fact you can use your smartphone to locate, lock, unlock and set charging times for the car remotely. It boasts a claimed 155mpg (this figure will be far lower in the real world) with a Prius-matching 31 miles of range on pure battery power. All that's just as well, given the cost before government subsidy is a whopping £48,775.
2. Renault Zoe
Renault has high hopes its Zoe will become the first mainstream electric car. The Zoe drives 130 miles on one charge and its so-called Caméléon charger makes it compatible with a wide range of electrical outlet types. It can be charged in as little as 30 minutes from high-powered outlets or up to 9.5 hours from a standard wallbox installed at your home. Its base price is relatively low but don't start cracking open the champagne just yet – buyers have to lease the battery separately for around £70 per month.
Read: Renault Zoe review
1. Nissan Leaf
Nissan has sold over 50,000 Leafs, making it the most popular battery electric car to date. The latest Leaf, manufactured at Nissan's Sunderland plant, boasts around 100 improvements over its predecessor. Most importantly, its range has increased from 109 to 124 miles and a new, optional, 6.6kW charger allows it to be charged in around 8 hours, provided you buy the (also optional) Nissan Home Charging Unit. Nissan also offers a range of trim levels, the option to lease the battery for around £70 per month instead of buying it outright and it's even improved the performance and handling.
Read: Nissan Leaf review
Other notable mentions
Tesla Model S
We'd love to include the Tesla Model S in this list, but it's not out in the UK as yet. When it does arrive, it'll boast a staggering 265-miles range and the ability to recharge in as little as an hour (from Supercharger stations).
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Porsche has added plug-in technology to its hybrid Panamera, with good results. Expect a range of between 11 and 22 miles, 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 167mph. It won't come cheap, though (this is a Porsche, after all) we expect the car to cost in the region of £100,000 when it goes on sale later this year.
Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive
This fully-electric hypercar packs an electric motor at each wheel and will deliver a whopping 740hp – a shedload more than the standard SLS AMG GT. Expet 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds, a limited top speed of 155mph and a range of 155 miles. The price is estimated to be in the region of £500,000.
Audi A3 e-tron
The e-tron has been in development for what seems like decades now, but a production version is expected in late 2014. This green saloon promises a range of 90 miles and a top speed of 90mph, recharging in 4 hours via a fast charger and, most importantly perhaps, an Audi badge on the front.