Electric cars: the milk float comes of age

Tesla Model X electric car

Electric cars are now a viable option for serious motorists. Should you buy one? Stuart Watkins reports.

Electric cars will never catch on, will they?

They already have. The number of electric cars on roads worldwide rose to a record high of 3.1 million in 2017, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The figure, which includes battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell passenger light-duty vehicles, is a 57% rise compared with 2016. Support from policymakers and the car industry suggests this trend will continue. The IEA estimates there will be 125 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. In the UK, more than 120,000 have already been sold, according to What Car?.

Should I join them?

There are benefits. Electric cars are clean and quiet, have lower running costs, are exempt from congestion charges and are free of road tax (for completely electric cars under £40,000). There are government subsidies to help you past the generally higher asking price; insurance tends to be pricier, but annual servicing cheaper; and, despite their reputation, they are fun to drive. They “ghost along very quietly, and they tend to be very nippy indeed”, as Which? puts it. Today, the best electric cars produce 0-60mph times to rival supercars, and even offer seven-seat variants, says Auto Express. “Times really are changing.”

Isn’t range an issue?

Not as much as it was. Most electric cars can travel for around 150 miles between charges, and the best ones up to 300 miles, although if you do a lot of motorway miles you’ll find that the battery runs down faster than estimated range figures would have you believe. If short urban trips take up most of your driving, however, an electric car should do the job.

Where do I charge it?

If you have a garage or off-street parking, then you can charge up at home. (Which? recommends that you get your domestic electricity circuits and wiring checked by a qualified electrician before starting.) If you don’t have such parking, there are government incentives available to get a charging station set up near your home. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on the national charging infrastructure, which is still in its infancy and will need to expand if electric car use does. Zap Map and similar websites and apps will guide you to your closest charging points, but there’s no guarantee the one you go to will be working or will be suitable for the particular technology your car uses (Teslas, for example, use a lead incompatible with other chargers); the spot may well be occupied, and charging can take 30 minutes or longer. But if you have an electric car, you’ll soon figure out your own strategies to work round these issues, says Steve Fowler in Auto Express. Just check out all your options locally.

What should I buy?

If you regularly make long journeys and don’t have chargers at both ends, there are other options. Hybrids, for example, charge the battery from a conventional engine and from regenerative breaking technology. PHEVs are hybrids that you can charge by plugging them in and they give you better all-electric range than standard hybrids. It will all ultimately depend on what you need your car for. What Car magazine has a What Fuel? online calculator to help you decide what is best for you. When comparing costs, bear in mind that many manufacturers offer a choice between owning the battery or leasing it, says The Sunday Times. Batteries wear out and are expensive to replace, though the technology is improving all the time. But all in all, it’s hard not to conclude that fully electric cars will in time “dominate the driving landscape”, says Auto Express. Below we look at six of the best fully electric cars you can buy today.


BMW i3 electric car

A smart interior and great handling make the BMW i3 one of the most appealing electric cars on sale today, says What Car?. Its ground-breaking use of super-light carbon fibre and aluminium offset the weight of the battery pack that’s mounted beneath its floor, and it has a realistic range of 100-125 miles. In addition to the fully electric model, BMW offers a Range Extender version with a two-cylinder petrol engine that can generate extra power for the car’s batteries. The eye-widening acceleration, upmarket interior and infotainment system make this a very desirable package. But there are better and cheaper alternatives. Price: £34,075.


Tesla Model X electric car

Need space for seven? And all the modernity and clever-clogs tech the Tesla brand has become famous for? Step this way, says Car magazine: the Model X is half crossover, half MPV, but all Tesla electric car. Famous for its cleverly hinged gullwing rear doors that open even in the tightest of car-park spaces, the interior is roomy for five and the rearmost third-row seats are fine for children on short journeys. It’s pricey though, costing from £75,000 for a Model X 75D entry-level model.


Tesla Model S electric car

You may have seen the headlines about the Tesla Model S accelerating faster than Ferraris, says James Mills in The Sunday Times. However, the car lined up is usually the P100D, the top-of-the-range version that costs £126,900. For most drivers, the P75D, which costs from £64,700, will offer all you need from an electric car. It has an official range of 304 miles and to drive it feels as smooth as any premium car. The spacious, minimalist cabin, dominated by a giant touchscreen, is an oasis of peace, and the four-year warranty for the car, and eight years of cover for the battery and drive unit, will give you additional peace of mind.


Renault Zoe electric car

The Renault Zoe is the best-value electric car you can buy, says James Mills in The Sunday Times. The official driving range is 250 miles, which, Renault says with refreshing honesty, in the real world is more like 186 miles in the summer and 124 miles in the winter. Every Zoe comes with the same power train, so you just choose a trim level to suit your preference and budget. What you get is a practical four-seat hatch with a reasonably sized boot and assured road manners. It will make an excellent substitute for a VW Polo or Ford Fiesta if you rarely make long trips. Price: from £18,745.


VW E-Golf electric car

The Volkswagen e-Golf offers everything you like about Golfs, only in a cleaner, silent electric package, says Car magazine. It’ll cost you, but for the money you get all the usual VW attributes – first-rate build quality, clever connectivity and generous packaging. The range is 186 miles, making longer commutes and journeys more of a realistic possibility than previous models, and there is joy to be derived from the beautifully finished cockpit, brisk acceleration, and “serene, vibration-free driving experience”. This could be the ideal stepping stone, in that the car mixes conventional looks with cutting-edge technology: if you’re on the cusp of going electric, the Golf might well be the car to convert you. Price: from £32,075.


The star of the show: the Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf electric car

The Nissan Leaf is the car that really “kick-started the electric-car market”, says Auto Express. The five-door, five-seater hatchback became an instant success, thanks to its family friendly layout and similarity to conventional cars. The modest range of about 80 miles between charges has more than doubled over time following a raft of improvements, and the time required to charge the battery has continued to drop – you can charge it from empty to 80% in as little as 40 minutes. It is “one of the best electric cars you can buy today”.

What Car? chose the Leaf as its electric car of the year for 2018. It isn’t much more expensive than the Renault Zoe (see above), yet is much better to drive, more spacious inside and the range is more than enough for most commutes. It is also generously equipped, has a bigger boot than rivals, is easily fast enough for regular motorway driving and should prove extremely reliable if previous-generation models are anything to go by. Price: from £25,990.