What Car?'s top 10 used electric cars (and the one to avoid)
Electric cars are all the rage, and if you buy used you don’t need to spend a fortune to get into one. Here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the model to avoid.....
Electric vehicles are certainly not new technology and have in fact been around since the invention of the car.
But it’s fair to say it's only been in the past 10 years or so that manufacturers have made a concerted effort with them, producing a wide range of EVs in different shapes and sizes.
Indeed there was a time not so long ago when attempting a top 10 list for used electric cars was impossible; there simply weren’t enough of them. However, with the improvements in battery technology and range, the proposed legislation regarding the banning of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 and the fact that EVs no longer perform like overloaded milk floats, demand for them is growing and sales are on the up.
And those sales aren't just in the new car market. Used car sales are up too, and that's not surprising, as buying second-hand is a far more affordable way to get into EV motoring.
Our top 10 has everything from small city cars to top-of-the-range luxury SUVs to whet your appetite; some of them are cheaper than others, but all of them represent the best of their type.
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10: Volkswagen e-Up
Basing your electric car on the cute little Up is not a bad place to start since it’s one of the best city cars on sale. And, in some ways, the e-Up is even better.
For starters, if you need an automatic car, the smooth electric motor and instant torque make the e-Up a swift urban runabout. Second, the additional weight of the batteries helps to settle the ride over the standard car. Plus, the batteries are neatly hidden beneath the seats, so there’s no loss of interior space.
10: Volkswagen e-Up - interior
Trouble is, because the battery pack on earlier e-Ups is so small, the range is only really 66 miles, which limits it to those who mostly do urban driving and have easy access to a charge point.
Still, if you regularly commute into central London, not needing to pay the congestion charge or ULEZ is useful. A 7kWh charger will refill your e-Up in about six hours, while the rapid-charging facility means you can be back in action in 30 minutes.
A 2019 facelift brought a 37kWh battery, good for a claimed range of 161 miles. At the same time, it was announced that the Up's siblings, the Seat Mii and the Skoda Citigo, would only henceforth be available from new as fully electric cars.
We found: 2015 e-Up, 20,000 miles, £11,000
9: Kia Soul EV
The Kia Soul EV is proof that electric cars need not look boring. And it’s still a highly practical five-seat family car that’s much cheaper to run than the standard car.
Equipment levels are pretty decent with climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, sat-nav and a reversing camera.
9: Kia Soul EV - interior
A home charger should recharge a fully depleted Soul in six hours, while a fast charger will get the battery to 80% in about 30 minutes. The claimed range of earlier Souls is 132 miles.
In 2019 the Soul EV was updated to incorporate the latest technology from its sibling, the former What Car? Car of the Year, the Kia e-Niro. This upped its claimed range to a far more healthy 280 miles.
We found: 2015 Kia Soul EV, 10,000 miles, £14,000
8: BMW i3
Here’s proof that you can even have a premium-badged electric car for a fraction of what it cost new. There are plenty of BMW i3s out there in either range extender or pure electric form, and the two-year-old car we've found here knocks quite a bit off the price of a new one.
8: BMW i3 - interior
Of the two choices, the EV actually has the longer electric power range, and because we’ve gone for a car registered after the model revisions in July 2016, you should be able to go for 120 miles between charges. Later models upped this to around 160 miles, and then a 2019 facelift upped it again to between 177 and 193 claimed miles, depending on the power output. A recharge from empty using a 7kWh home charger takes four hours, and the i3 can be fast-charged so you can get it up to 80% within 40 minutes.
Once topped up, the i3 is quite pleasant to drive and grips the road well, even with those skinny tyres. The ride can be a little firm, but it means the i3 resists roll despite being fairly tall.
We found: 2017 BMW i3 E 94Ah, 13,000 miles, £20,000
7: Tesla Model X
The first Tesla on our list is one of the biggest and brashest electric cars on sale today, and certainly turns heads wherever it goes. Meanwhile, the claimed range of later versions exceeds 300 miles, and a range of 150-200 miles on a charge should be easily achievable from an earlier 75D model thanks to its huge battery.
7: Tesla Model X - interior
This does mean charge times can be quite long unless you’re using one of Tesla’s own superchargers (it can take 25 hours from a standard three-pin plug and 11 hours from a 7kWh wall charger) that take 40 minutes to get an 80% recharge.
Just don’t be surprised when you have to fend off crowds of people wanting you to demonstrate the ModelXmas facility!
We found: 2017 Tesla Model X 90D, 32,000 miles, £55,000
6: Nissan Leaf
The first-generation Nissan Leaf should always be remembered for having been one of the first to kick-start mass production of electric cars. What’s more, it was even produced in the UK and proved you could electrify a more practical family-sized car rather than put up with the tiny little ones that went before it.
6: Nissan Leaf - interior
Early Leafs can be picked up for a pittance, but the range was never great on them and battery degradation means it’ll be even worse today. We’d recommend going for a facelifted example from 2016 onwards with the 30kWh battery, which means that 105-120 miles on a charge is achievable.
A dedicated 7kWh home charger should fill a flat Leaf in four-and-a-half hours while a rapid charger should get you to 80% in 30 minutes.
We found: 2017 Nissan Leaf Acenta 30kWh, 25,000 miles, £10,000
5: Tesla Model S
Another Tesla makes it onto our list, but this time it’s a little more affordable than an X. Being an American car means that it’s massive and there’s lots of leg, head and shoulder room for five adults. The hatchback boot allows you to load odd-shaped items into the back so, in many ways, the S is a very practical car.
5: Tesla Model S - interior
Like the X, charge times can be quite drawn-out affairs: a 75D can take 11 hours from a 7kWh home charger, but find a Tesla supercharger and it do an 80% fill in 40 minutes. 150-200 miles is easily achievable in real-world motoring too, with a claimed range of over 300 miles on the later versions, which unlocks its potential for long-distance electric motoring.
Unfortunately, it cannot go any higher in this list because although it didn't feature in our most recent What Car? reliability survey it came bottom in our 2018 one.
We found: 2017 Tesla Model S 75, 12,000 miles, £40,000
4: Hyundai Ioniq
While the Ioniq is available in three different flavours – hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric – we’re focusing on the all-electric version here.
The 117-mile real range of the earlier (pre-2019) model is, according to our tests, similar to the earlier Volkswagen e-Golf, but later models from 2019 onwards had a claimed range of 194 miles and a much healthier real range, nearer to 170 miles.
4: Hyundai Ioniq - interior
It doesn’t drive quite as nicely as the e-Golf – or the regular hybrid version, for that matter – but it’s comfortable to go long distances in and, of course, quiet. The Ioniq also comes with more equipment and is a little more practical than the Golf.
A home charger should have it recharged in four hours, or an 80% charge in 30 minutes.
We found: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric Premium, 15,000 miles. £19,000
3: Volkswagen e-Golf
The biggest compliment you can pay the e-Golf is that it feels just like a regular Golf. Only the electric car is much quieter and quicker off the line than a regular petrol or diesel model.
The claimed range on the earlier cars is 125 miles, which increased to 186 miles (claimed) after a facelift in late-2017. That is on par for this type of car, and so are the charge times. It should take four hours from a 7kWh home charger or 45 minutes using a fast charger.
3: Volkswagen e-Golf - interior
Then once you’ve got your head around that, you’ll be able to enjoy the normal qualities that make the regular Golf so popular: the light steering, a pleasant ride and refined motorway manners.
Add to that a decent-sized boot (it’s slightly down on the regular car, but still big enough for a buggy or set of Golf clubs) and plenty of room for people front and rear, and you’ve got a highly practical electric car.
We found: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf, 16,000 miles, £21,500
2: Jaguar I-Pace
Introduced in 2018, the I-Pace SUV is Jaguar’s first electric car, and it can drive for more than 250 miles between charges. It can also be charged to 80% of capacity in just 90 minutes, and its futuristic interior features two 12.0in screens and another 5.5in screen for climate settings. Add in fun handling, and it's a very appealing option.
2: Jaguar I-Pace - interior
It's possible to put a used one on your driveway for around £50,000-£53,000, a healthy saving on the price of a new one, even allowing for the government grant and any potential dealer discounts. Sure, it's an expensive car, but its dramatic body hides a lovely and suitably sybaritic interior and some real high-tech and world-beating wizardry. On top of that, like all the best Jags, it's guaranteed to catch your neighbour's eye, too.
We found: 2018 EV400 S 90kWh, 5000 miles, £52,995
1: Renault Zoe
Despite the potential battery leasing costs, the Renault Zoe is still one of the more affordable electric cars on the market and, thanks to an improved battery from 2015 onwards, the range is decent too.
Being similar in size to a Clio, the Zoe can be more than just a second car. The boot is a decent size and can accommodate a pushchair without issue, plus there’s enough rear seat room for children.
1: Renault Zoe - interior
While the Zoe certainly isn’t as polished to drive as the e-Golf, the longer range makes up for this. We managed 146 miles from an R110 model during our What Car? Real Range test, a figure that makes the Zoe one of the more useful electric cars available. The heavily revised 2020 Zoe actually upped the claimed range under the latest WLTP testing to either 238 or 245 miles, depending on power output. In our Real Range tests we achieved an excellent 192 miles.
Charging times for the earlier cars from flat vary between eight hours on a 7kWh home charger point to two hours and 40 minutes from a fast charger. There are even some Zoes with rapid charging if you need to travel further afield.
Those on a tight budget could even look at one of the very early Zoes, on the market for as little as £6000, but with a much shorter range than the later models, and usually set up with the additional monthly leasing cost of a battery on top.
All in all, the Zoe deserves its place as the best used electric car currently available.
We found: 2018 Renault Zoe R110, 8000 miles, £12,995
And the one to avoid...?
It might seem odd that the best and worst used electric cars come from the same manufacturer, but think of the Fluence as where Renault learned how not to do an electric car.
Renault Fluence - interior
In fairness, it's an old car now, and technology has moved on. The range is very poor, it’s heavy and there’s no rapid-charging facility on it, so completing a long journey is out of the question because of the time you’ll spend recharging it. The Fluence is cheap to buy but best avoided.