Electric cars are a great way of reducing running costs and your environmental impact
In a nutshell, a fully electric car – or EV – is a car that has an electric motor to drive the wheels, which draws power from a battery pack. There is no conventional petrol or diesel engine whatsoever and it creates no emissions.
The most common concern with electric cars is whether you have enough power to get to where you’re going, because it takes much longer to charge a battery than it does to fill up a petrol tank – and you have to find a charging point or somewhere to plug it in. This is commonly referred to as ‘range anxiety’.
Rapid charging points that can top-up around 80% of an electric car’s power in around 30 minutes are increasing, as are conventional and workplace charging points, which helps to make electric cars more practical.
Range anxiety is still a big issue, though, and electric cars are typically limited to a range in the region of 100 miles, so they don’t make sense for drivers who cover long distances. The range can also be affected by cold weather.
Electric cars are a good fit for drivers who regularly cover short distances, particularly in urban areas. If you’re able to charge the car at home (it can usually be done from a mains socket) and plan to use it for short, local journeys such as the school run or trips to the shops, then an electric car makes absolute sense.
They can also be great commuting tools, especially if you’re able to charge the car at work. The journey obviously needs to be within the car’s range but according to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK commute is around 6.8 miles – well within an electric car’s range. You may need access to another vehicle if you occasionally do longer trips, though.
Performance is generally good around town. An electric car’s pulling power is available immediately – you don’t have to rev it and build up to peak power as you would with a normal engine so they tend to feel quite fast at low speeds. They’re less well suited to the motorway because they often struggle for power on faster roads while higher speeds can drain the battery faster.
Electric cars offer the best mpg of any car because you’ll never see a petrol station and the cost of charging the battery is dramatically less than filling up a tank of fuel. Servicing costs are also generally lower than those of a conventional petrol or diesel-engined car because there are fewer moving parts, so there’s less to replace.
They may have exceptionally low running costs, but the other main drawback with electric cars is the price. Generally speaking, they are more expensive than equivalent petrol or diesel models because the batteries and electric motor are very costly and require significant investment from car manufacturers.
Although numbers are increasing, there are still far fewer electric cars on the road than there are petrols or diesels, which adds to the cost because car makers have to build fewer vehicles with more expensive technology.
That said, some established electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe have dropped their starting prices to more affordable levels, but they still rely on the Government’s plug-in car grant to reduce the cost by £5000.
You’re more likely to find small cars with electric power than larger ones because their compact proportions and lower weight are easier on the batteries, which gives them a longer range. Family cars, luxury cars and even vans have made the leap to electric power, though, so the choice is not completely limited to small cars.
Our top 10 electric cars include all of the above as well as some models that are as appealing and good to drive as they are for the environment.
Best electric cars
Tesla Model S
Brilliant to drive but refined and comfortable, the Model S is our Best Electric Car above £30,000
A smart cabin and great handling make the i3 one of the most appealing electric cars on sale
One of the more affordable electric models on sale, the Leaf is spacious and easy to drive
Sharp styling, a generous amount of equipment and low list price make the Zoe a good all-round electric car
The e-Up is just as good to drive and as practical as the standard model
It’s tiny, but the Twizy is very cheap to buy and great for nipping around town
Just as good an all-rounder as the standard model, the e-Golf adds zero emissions to the mix
Kia Soul EV
Practical with stylish looks, the Soul EV is also refined and good to drive