Best electric cars and plug-in hybrids
Manufacturers are also keen to emphasise their green credentials as buyers are drawn to the lower running costs and other benefits offered by the Governments and local authorities.
We'll be looking at fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids, which usually have a petrol or diesel engine connected to an electric motor. This allows the car to be driven on electricity alone for short distances – and removes the 'range anxiety' associated with fully electric motoring.
Our list shows cars that are already on sale, those that will be coming soon and cars that might make an appearance in the UK in the future. All prices quoted take into account the £5000 Government grant.
Cars you can buy now
Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera
The Chevrolet Volt and Vauxhall Ampera are two of our favourite alternative-fuel cars. Powered by an electric motor and a petrol engine, they offer all the benefits of an electric car without the problem of range anxiety. When the batteries run low on power the combustion engine acts as a generator to charge them. Government average economy is impressive at 235mpg and 27g/km of CO2. Prices start at £30,255 for the Chevrolet Volt and £29,995 for the Vauxhall Ampera.
The new Nissan Leaf has a range of 124 miles and comes in a variety of trims. Other changes include faster charging options, a dark interior trim option and a mode to boost battery regeneration. The Leaf offers excellent refinement and room for five. Prices for the new Leaf start at £15,990 for the car with an additional £70 per month for the lease of the battery.
The Renault Twizy turns more heads than most supercars. A strict two-seater, the Twizy is not at all practical, but is fun to drive around town if you can cope with the harsh ride and shortage of creature comforts. Prices start at £6690.
Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive looks very similar to the conventionally powered car. It has an 87-mile range and the batteries can be charged in one hour from a rapid-charge unit. The ride is hard, but at least the semi-automatic gearbox from the standard car isn't required for its electric drivetrain. Prices start at £12,275 for the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Coupe and the batteries cost £55 per month to lease.
Toyota Prius plug-in
The Toyota Prius can be credited with bringing eco-motoring to the mainstream. The plug-in hybrid version can travel up to 15.5 miles on electricity alone and when that runs out it is powered by the standard car's petrol engine. It has average economy of 135mpg and emits 49g/km of CO2. Prices start at £33,425.
What you will be able to buy
Audi A3 E-tron
What Car?'s 2013 Car of the Year will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain that will develop a combined power output of 201bhp. Powered by a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, the E-tron will get from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and offer average economy of 188mpg with CO2 emissions of 35g/km. The E-tron will also be able to drive about 30 miles on electricity alone.
The BMW i3 is due to go on sale before the end of 2013. A variety of powertrains will be available including fully electric and range-extender versions. Customers will be able to buy the car and battery outright for about £35,000.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV goes on sale in the UK this summer. Pricing has yet to be revealed, but we expect it to cost about £35,000. Powered by a 117bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine and two electric motors, the Outlander PHEV has an electric-only range of 32 miles and permanent four-wheel drive.
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
A plug-in hybrid version of the Porsche Panamera will go on sale in July, with prices starting at about £95,000. Powered by an electric motor and a new 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, the Panamera S E-Hybrid will have average economy of 91mpg and a combined output of 410bhp. It will be able to drive 22 miles in electric mode.
Customers can order the all-electric Renault Zoe now, but the car won't arrive until June. It has a claimed range of 130 miles, room for five, a 338-litre boot and a high specification on all models. The Zoe looks great and has a starting price of £13,995, plus £70 per month to lease the batteries.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is a luxury electric car that produces 416bhp and darts from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds. It handles and rides well and the refinement is excellent. The Model S is wider and longer than a Porsche Panamera and has room for five adults and two children. Prices and specifications for UK-bound cars will be revealed closer to the on-sale date at the beginning of next year.
The Volkswagen e-Up is a fully electric version of the Up city car that will go on sale early next year. It will have a range of about 93 miles and should cost around £16,000 in the UK.
Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion Twindrive
Plug-in hybrid technology will come to the Volkswagen Golf at the beginning of 2014. Powered by the same petrol engine and electric motor as the Audi A3 E-tron, the Golf Bluemotion Twindrive will have a claimed average economy of 188mpg and emissions of 48g/km.
Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
The world's first plug-in diesel hybrid, the V60 Plug-in Hybrid goes on sale in May. It has average economy of 155.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 48g/km. The V60 Plug-in Hybrid has a 31-mile range on electricity alone and all-wheel drive. Prices start at £43,775.
What you might be able to buy in the future
The Audi A2 is an electric concept car that could go on sale by 2016. It is shorter than an Audi A1, but has room for four adults.
Ford Focus Electric
The Ford Focus Electric is exactly that, an electric version of the Ford Focus. No on-sale date has been set for the UK, but it could arrive as early as the end of this year.
Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive
The Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive is not officially available in the UK, but Mercedes dealers will help you import one if you have £360,000 lying around. It is the most powerful production Mercedes ever – developing 740bhp.
The Toyota i-Road is the manufacturer's take on a rival to the Renault Twizy. The three-wheel car has a range of 30 miles and is likely to enter production, although no date has been set.
By Matthew Burrow