Electric cars promise to deliver a much-needed step change in vehicle emissions, and as such are often in the news.
With other benefits such as low running costs and a refined driving experience, you may have become interested in electric cars, and want to find out which is best for you.
Many different models are available and there will be an electric car to suit most tastes, needs, and budgets. Here we guide you through the key elements to consider before buying.
What electric cars are available?
There are two main types of electric car – pure-electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Pure-EVs use only a battery and electric motor for drive, while PHEVs have a smaller battery, but a conventional engine to provide more range. Although not purely electric, there are also standard self-charging hybrids, like the Toyota Prius.
Currently there are more EVs on the road than PHEVs. Electric cars are already available in all sizes from compact models like the VW e-Up!, through to large SUVs such as Audi's E-Tron. Supermini buyers have the Renault Zoe and BMW i3 to choose from, family hatchbacks are represented by the Nissan Leaf, and the VW ID3, while crossover buyers can pick from the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro and Peugeot e2008. Additionally, there are increasing options in the premium car market with Jaguar’s I-Pace and Tesla's Model X joining the Audi e-tron and Mercedes EQC.
With benefits such as low running costs and a refined driving experience, you may have become interested in electric cars, and want to find out which is best for you.
Which electric car would suit me?
Three contrasting driver profiles are explored below, with suggestions as to what electric car may be suitable for each.
Electric cars are a great way to get around town. With no exhaust, they don’t contribute to local air pollution, and many home tariffs and public charge points are powered by 100% renewable electricity.
An EV naturally suits town driving, since electric motors have all their power available as soon as the throttle is pressed. Petrol and diesel cars need to build up revs before they are in the peak power band, but electric cars are ready instantly.
As such, EVs are usually nippy, making them quick to get out of junctions and easy to drive in traffic. Brake energy recuperation means that electric cars ‘brake’ as soon as the driver starts lifting off the throttle. Systems recapture energy to charge the battery that would otherwise be lost under braking, and will do so if a driver lifts off, drives downhill, or presses the brake pedal itself.
If looking at a small car for lots of short trips, an electric car is ideal and set-up well for urban driving. Consider the Renault Zoe and BMW i3 as superminis that will cover around 200 miles on a charge and are both comfortable out on the open road and perfect for pottering around town.
Many miles are completed by drivers heading to or from work, and the potential to reduce running costs and reduce stress will be welcomed by most.
Electric cars are very easy to drive, with a single gear removing the need for gear changes, which is great in heavy traffic. Throttle response is quick, and the steering often light, while suspension set-ups tend toward being comfortable. Overall, the majority of electric cars offer a quiet and relaxing drive.
Good examples of pure-electric family hatchbacks are the Peugeot e208 and the VW ID3. Both will travel around 150 miles on a charge dependant on the model, which covers the majority of UK commutes. Alternatively, if more range is required, the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro – both compact SUVs – may suit your needs.
Long distance drivers
The impression that electric cars can’t travel long distances is outdated, and there are many EVs that will cover more than 150 miles on a single charge.
Recent developments in mass-market EVs have seen the arrival of the Kona Electric and e-Niro offering drivers around 275 miles on a charge. If drivers need more, a rapid charge of an hour will add over 200 miles to the range, meaning a day’s drive of more than 500 miles is easily possible with only one stop.
Premium manufacturers are keen to offer electric cars to buyers, with Jaguar’s I-Pace an excellent SUV that’s also electric, providing a range approaching 300 miles on a charge. It competes with the Tesla Model S saloon and Model X SUV in providing long distance EV range; Tesla owners also benefit from the company’s Supercharger network which allows for ultra-rapid charging times.
What should you consider before buying?
With increased driving ranges, the checklist as to whether an electric car is suitable is far shorter than it was just a few years ago. Previously, if you travelled more than 75 miles a day, owning an EV required some compromises. Now, if your daily mileage is less than 120 miles, this is no longer the case.
Convenient charging is crucial and off-street parking is ideal for this. Where this is not possible, on-street residential charge points are rolling out in areas across the UK, and many EV drivers run their cars from the public network alone.
The best electric cars are new and typically include the latest features as standard, thus price is generally comparable to the high-spec petrol or diesel model in the range rather than the budget option.
However, due to low running costs, any additional cost can generally be recovered within 2-3 years, or sooner than that the more an EV is driven.
There is a burgeoning used electric car market, with EVs available offering shorter ranges for around the £6,000 mark. If your driving requirements are 75-80 miles a day or less, these could still make sense, for either a one- or multi-car household.