New Year, new you? PistonHeads might not be the first place you'd think to look for EV advice - clue's in the name and all that - but there's no arguing with the numbers. The EV and Alternative Fuels forum is growing faster than any other on PH, and you only need look at the sales: 2020 was a terrible year for car retail, but battery electric vehicle sales were up 185 per cent against 2019, with more than 100,000 sold. That was alongside a similar trend for plug-in and self-charging hybrids, up 91 and 12 per cent respectively. And it's only getting started.
It's the pure electric vehicles we'll focus on here, with recommendations for every budget from £5,000 to more than £100k. In that there are French, Japanese, German, American and British cars, so it can't be said that choice doesn't exist. Furthermore, although discussion and debate will inevitably continue around the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, here the attention will solely be on the cars themselves. So, without further ado, here's where the PH money would be spent when it comes to BEVs.
Up to £5k...
Where else could the best EVs list begin than the Twizy? Despite its obvious limitations, the Renault microcar is nothing if not fun. Where electric vehicles, particularly back at its 2012 launch, had garnered a reputation as rather worthy, joyless, unimaginative forms of transport, you couldn't help but be entertained by the Twizy's mere existence.
For its 56 miles of NEDC range, the Twizy was a hoot in the way that cars weighing less than half a tonne always are. The trouble was, as it so often is with electric vehicles, that the Twizy was expensive: £7,000 wasn't far off conventional supermini money, and back then the battery had to be leased as well. It was a lovely plaything, but a tricky one to justify. (It should be noted that brand new Twizys now have the batteries included in the price, yours from £11,695.)
With early cars now available from £4,000 and obviously not having covered many miles, the Twizy becomes far simpler to make a case for. Particularly as, it might be argued, the days of long commutes might be behind us and the world is considerably more environmentally aware than just a few years ago. What better thing for running your local errands? The batteries in this one are paid for, and it even has the windows fitted...
Up to £10k...
It might be hard to believe, but the Renault Zoe idea has been around for more than 15 years now, the first wacky Zoe City Car concept emerging in 2005. It wasn't until 2012 that the production car was introduced, less mad but still smartly turned out. UK sales started in 2013, with more than 10,000 sold between then and the end of 2019.
Nowadays, we're used to new electric cars announced almost daily, but the Zoe - like the smaller Twizy - was a real surprise. A pleasant one, too, delivering all of the benefits of electric motoring with a dollop of French style and good value to go alongside. This was way before the latest crop of EV superminis and ahead even of the BMW i3; a real pioneer for the sector, one that - in its current, heavily updated form - remains competitive all these years later. In fact, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi's early commitment to electric now looks a smart move, despite the CHAdeMO charging platform now out of favour as CCS is becoming more popular. That a brand new Zoe has CCS compatibility tells you where the market is heading.
For £10,000, one of the first Zoe updates is available, with a 41kWh battery pack in place of the original 22kWh one; this boosted range from 130 miles on NEDC to 250. If a Twizy remains a little too compromised for regular city use - and, let's be honest, it is for most human people - then the Zoe makes an ideal urban EV runaround.
Up to £15k
Nissan has been making the Leaf for a decade now, with more than half a million sold in that time. It's little surprise, either, the Nissan being one of the first to make electric vehicles 'normal'; it wasn't a plaything like a Twizy or a tremendously expensive Tesla. The Leaf was as usable as any other Nissan hatchback, it just so happened to be electric. So you're spoilt for choice as a secondhand buyer - there are 229 on PH alone, with prices starting from £6k for early cars with the battery fully paid.
As with almost all of the cars in the list, though, it's worth buying as new a model as possible for the advances in battery technology. For the first Leaf, the crucial year was 2016, when the original 24kWh battery was upgraded to a 30kWh unit, meaning NEDC range went from a fairly meagre 124 miles to a more usable 155. Those cars are now available from a little less than £10,000, and are worth seeking out.
With £15k to spend, some of the best original Leafs are on offer (the second generation car, introduced in 2017, is still just out of reach). A 30kWh car like this, with the optional 6.6kW onboard charger fitted, has notched up just 15,000 miles since 2017 (the battery is warrantied to eight years or 100,000 miles) and is for sale at £13,975. The Leaf is not the world's most exciting EV, that's for sure - like petrol power, thrill-seekers are made to pay - but for proving electric could be viable, affordable everyday transport, the Leaf earns its place.
Up to £25k...
It's probably taken the latest crop of trendy electric city cars - think Honda e, Fiat 500, Smart Electric - to show what an achievement the i3 was. Because way back in 2013, here was a small BEV that looked like nothing else, boasted a stunning interior and drove admirably well. Yes, even on the super skinny tyres. It was a great car, and remains so even in the face of new competition - that's how good BMW's first EV was.
Having been around so long (in EV terms at least), there are plenty of i3s to choose from with a £25k budget. On the pure electric side, the car launched with an 18.2 kWh battery, upgraded to a 27.2kWh for the 2017 model year and then 37.9kWh for MY2019. Until that last battery upgrade and 193 miles of WLTP range, an i3 Range Extender was also on offer, combining the batteries with additional charge from a 650cc bike twin that acted as a generator.
The i3S is available for less than £25k, too, with a tad more power, wider tracks and a lower ride height for an even sharper drive. It's great - because all i3s are great - but not everyone has appreciated a firmer i3 on bigger wheels, especially in the urban environment that it so excelled in. Our £25k would go on something like this i3, with the bigger battery and a sensible spec, just 4,000 miles old.
Up to £35k...
The e is up there with the Porsche Taycan as perhaps the most talked about electric car of 2020 - not bad for a city car with just a 36kWh battery. It isn't hard to see why, either, with funky styling (largely faithful to the concept, in fact) and a snazzy yet functional interior.
The Honda e is good to drive, too; not quite the equal of the Mini Electric that should also be considered, but grippy, well balanced and more agile than its 1,500kg kerbweight would have you believe. There's certainly more to the package than the cutesy look and the aquarium screensaver.
The e is not without its well documented issues - there are lighter cars with bigger batteries that go further on a charge - but it can also claim enormous desirability. As the industry continues to electrify, so BEVs are going to need that 'want one' appeal that makes buyers covet an electric vehicle rather than simply accept one. The e has that in spades - and it's already available from a smidge over £25k.
Up to £50k...
No brand has done more to transform the perception of electric vehicles than Tesla. Put simply, it proved that those pervading concerns about electric motoring - performance, range and charging - were just that: issues to be addressed and overcome. With the Supercharger network still miles ahead of the rest and battery technology that's allowed decent driving distances, it's Tesla more than any other that's made electric driving viable. Whatever might be said about the build quality. Or the boss...
With the Model S having sold well since its 2012 launch, there's a wealth of choice secondhand. Interestingly, £50k already buys a Model S with a 100kWh battery, enough for a four-second 62mph sprint and a 393-mile NEDC range. Not a Ludicrous-equipped car, sure, but more than enough for most. As a wealth of contented owners will tell you.
Of course, a little more than £50k gets you into all manner of newer stuff - think Polestar 2, most notably - but it isn't hard to see why the Tesla method has won so many over. And why a lot of the competition still has some catching up to do.
Up to £75k...
Let's be honest: who expected Jaguar to be an EV pioneer? Not many, surely. And yet despite a slightly fusty reputation (perhaps because of it) Jaguar persevered with its EV project - the I-Pace of 2018 changed expectations of the brand forever.
Because not only did it beat key rivals like BMW, Audi and Mercedes to the suave, sleek, electric SUV thing by months, it also did so while retaining the qualities that have distinguished all great Jaguars. Despite the elephantine kerbweight and electric propulsion, it still drove with a lithe and fluid joy. Like a proper Jag in other words.
The I-Pace range is far simpler than many electric offerings: a 90kWh battery powers all models, with 400hp and 513lb ft on offer whether you go for an S or a First Edition. Better still, a budget this healthy means the very latest MY21 I-Paces are within reach; they're worth seeking out, too, with much improved infotainment and additional charging capability. This grey SE is on offer at a whisker under £70k.
Up to £100k...
Because, honestly, we couldn't resist. All manner of recommendable, contemporary electric vehicles are there for the taking with £100k to spend; everything from an Audi e-tron to a Mercedes EQC. But here's a Tesla Roadster instead, proof that EVs can be fun, interesting and driver focused - priorities that seem to have shifted somewhat since the Roadster launched in 2008 with a 53kWh battery, 1,300kg kerbweight and 125mph potential. Back then having nothing like the Tesla was understandable; more than a decade on, that nobody else has successfully attempted an EV sports car seems a little odd.
Its status and rarity (alongside Tesla's surge in popularity in the past 10 years) have conferred something like modern classic status on the Roadster. How else to explain £76,000 for a 15k-mile, 10-year-old car? As when new, the Roadster is hard to objectively justify - it can't be juiced on a Supercharger, and its Elise donor car would cost a third of this - but it also isn't hard to see the charm. New eras have to start somewhere, and they don't often begin auspiciously; that one of the earliest electric cars remains one of the most intriguing is a credit to the Roadster idea - and exactly why it's here. Can't all be SUVs, right?
Sky's the limit...
Every volume manufacturer will find the switch to electric propulsion difficult - some of us have grown rather fond of engines over the past century - and none more so than Porsche. Because Porsche makes driver's cars, and decades of thinking has taught us that great driver's cars have to have pistons, valves and cams. The Taycan's job was to prove that wasn't necessarily the case - a task it has largely succeeded in.
At launch a couple of years ago, the Taycan redefined expectations both of electric vehicles and performance saloons. Because although development of the car will certainly have been expedited by the success of the Model S, the Porsche's quality, style and sense of occasion were on another plane entirely. Indeed the first Stuttgart EV saloon was good enough to make some question the Panamera's place, such was its refinement, performance and dynamic panache.
At the top of the budget, it's possibly to spend a heck of a lot on a Taycan - anything up to £175k for a Turbo S with its 770hp and 257-mile potential. The Turbo has a little less power but will still accelerate like little else and can be had brand new for thousands less - see this one. But, truth be told, the genius of the Taycan is there in the 'entry level' 4S - same battery capacity, same bewitching drive, slightly less painful speed. This one is £107,000 after 2,000 miles - and best of luck with the charging network on the way home from Edinburgh. We had to mention it once...
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