Electric cars are becoming ever more popular in the UK. These are our top ten EVs on the market right now
With diesel and petrol coming under pressure – not just from demand, but also from governments looking to reduce harmful emissions – electric cars are increasingly looking like the future of motoring. Hybrid engines may feature heavily over the next couple of decades, but further down the line it’s hard see to how electric vehicles – commonly referred to as ‘EVs’ – won’t eventually take over the driving landscape.
To begin with, a limited range, poor performance and lack of practicality meant even the best electric cars were no match for conventionally powered machines. But today, the best electric cars can surpass 300 miles of range, produce 0-62mph times to rival supercars, and even offer 7-seat variants for those who need space and practicality above all else. Times really are changing.
This is remarkable given that a few years ago, the best electric car in the UK wasn’t a car at all. The Reva G-Wiz was to all intents and purposes a quadricycle, which used a set of standard 12-volt lead acid car batteries to drive a tiny electric motor. This meant it was slow and had a limited range, which in turn meant it was only really suited to EV friendly cities.
Fast-forward a handful of years, and the Nissan Leaf arrived to revolutionise the electric car market. The five-door, five-seater hatch became an instant success thanks to its family-friendly layout, and its similarity to conventional cars. A modest range of about 80 miles has increased significantly over time following a raft of software updates, while the time required to charge the battery has continued to drop. Having hit showrooms in 2010, these constant improvements have made it one of the best electric cars you can buy today.
Since the arrival of the Leaf, most major car makers have invested in EV models. Firms such as Ford, Hyundai/Kia, PSA Peugeot, Citroen, Renault and Volkswagen have all developed and sell their own electric vehicles, and prestige firm BMW has even created its own EV sub-brand. Perhaps the most significant development was the arrival of Tesla, with its all-electric model range, unique battery system and use of cutting-edge technology on its Model S and Model X cars.
Of course, EVs have their advantages and disadvantages, just like the internal combustion engine. Most people won’t be able to look past the limits of driving range and electric 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. What’s more, you’ll need at least half an hour connected to a high-voltage power supply to get any significant charge back into the battery. However, if you’re used to charging the battery of your smartphone overnight, it’s a similar habit to get into when running an EV.
That’s if you have access to charging. This will be the main factor in whether you can make an EV work for you. If you don’t have a garage or off-street parking where you can fit a high-voltage wallbox or if your local authority hasn’t installed on-street charging, then an EV is likely to be a non-starter.
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. The pollution is still there, it’s just back at the power station, while most EV makers offer end-of-life vehicle recycling to ensure batteries and electrical parts are disposed of responsibly.
The weather can have an impact on EV range. 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 using the National Grid while the car is still plugged in, saving the battery energy for driving the vehicle.
The benefits of electric drive include near-silent cruising, which can make for a very relaxed drive, as long as you’re confident that you have the battery range to complete your journey, while the instant torque provided by the electric motor means that every EV has decent sprinting ability away from the traffic lights.
The Government Plug-In Car Grant for buying a new EV is currently still available, but the amount of rebate has changed. You can now get up to £4,500 off an EV, but while list prices are also 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 separate battery lease deals that should help to lower costs.
Changes to UK road tax in April 2017 mean that the only cars that now qualify for free road tax are EVs that cost less than £40,000. All other cars, including plug-in hybrids, pay at least £130 in road tax. EVs over £40,000 still have to pay a £310 premium for the first five years, but they are exempt after that, which should encourage the used market for EVs. And if you do buy new, at least this is still cheaper than the £450 a year you pay to drive a conventional car costing £40,000 or more.
Today, there are enough EVs on sale that we can compile a list of 10 of the best, covering all areas of the market.
Best electric cars 2018
- 1. BMW i3
- 2. Renault Zoe
- 3. Tesla Model S
- 4. VW e-Golf
- 5. Nissan Leaf
- 6. Hyundai Ioniq
- 7. Tesla Model X
- 8. Volkswagen e-up!
- 9. Smart ForTwo ED
- 10. Nissan e-NV200 Combi