Electric cars have been around for a long time. They were all the rage in the 1890s, and only fell out of fashion when plentiful petrol supplies allowed cars to be lighter, go further and travel faster.
Now, as an increasing number of countries set a target for 100% carbon neutrality (in the UK this is 2050), more people are starting to think about making their wheels green. While emissions of electric cars are indeed zero, substantial CO2 is produced in their construction, but this will not discourage many of us from making the transition from the internal combustion engine.
Besides making one feel virtuous, the benefits of an electric car are numerous. There are no gears to worry about, they are very quiet, and servicing is simple and cheap. Acceleration is generally very lively, and in some cases, outstanding. Many countries also offer financial incentives to own one. And if you drive in London, you will not have to pay the congestion charge (£11.50 per day) or the ULEZ emissions charge (£12.50 per day). For most of us, the biggest pull will be their sheer economy: to drive 100 km in a typical electric vehicle (EV) costs £2, compared to around £12 in a petrol car, all things considered. That amounts to a huge saving in a year’s driving.
On the down side, there is the issue of range. Very few electric cars allow you to drive from, say, London to Manchester (or Paris to Marseille) without a stop along the way for recharging. This takes longer – about 50 minutes longer – than filling a tank with petrol, and currently not all petrol stations or car parks have a dedicated charging point. And charging via your home electricity supply (the two or three pin plug) always takes a lot longer. You may therefore experience something called “range anxiety” when you first start driving your EV, especially over long distances.
However, statistics show that over half the journeys we make in a car are between one and five miles (1.6 – 8 km), while only 2% are over 50 miles, and into that anxiety zone range. And on those small number of journeys, charging time can easily be filled with the usual things we do in 40 minutes: cappuccino? Lunch? Update those many social media accounts or write that email to mum?
Cost can be an issue when buying an EV, as often the electric version of a car is more expensive than the petrol one. For example, the e-Golf, from Volkswagen, is £2,600 more expensive than its top of the range petrol Golf GTI. However, insurance is cheaper, and don’t forget the amazingly low running costs.
Purchase costs can be reduced in different ways. In the UK, the government gives a grant of £3,500 towards approved plug-in electric cars. Other deals can involve battery leasing for a monthly fee, rather than outright purchase. In some countries, you can now sell power from an EV’s battery back into the grid at peak times.
There are now around 100,000 electric cars in the UK and well over two million worldwide. If you are thinking of the environment and adding to these numbers, here are five models you may wish to consider.
Volkswagen e-Up! from £24,625
The electric version of VW’s popular city car has a theoretical range of 99 miles, but real-world driving will reduce this to a figure more like 85 miles. In winter, with the heating on, this may fall by 10 – 20 miles. Standard equipment is generous: heated front seats, automatic headlights and parking sensors are included. Acceleration is nippy, despite the extra weight from the 18.7 kWh battery, and the top speed is limited to 81 mph. It can seat four adults and is great fun to drive for all those short urban journeys. Charging via a domestic power lead will take nine hours, which is good compared to the competition.
Nissan Leaf £21,125 - £33,385
The Leaf, first launched in 2011, is now in its second generation. The improvements are substantial: the UK’s top-selling EV now looks better, costs less and goes further. Acceleration is brisk, with 0-60 mph in about eight seconds. A new ‘e-pedal’ system means that it generates charge for the battery the moment you take your foot off the accelerator. This helps boost the range from the 40 kWh battery to a real-world 168 miles. Topping up at one of Nissan’s high-power DC chargers takes about 50 minutes to achieve an 80% charge. SatNav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard on all trim levels. The new model also boasts excellent stowage facilities for small items and expanded luggage space.
Hyundai Ioniq EV from £21,805
Hyundai’s large hatchback give you a range of 130 miles on a charge. The 28 kWh battery can be fully recharged at home in about 12 hours, reduced to four if you have a wallbox charging point installed. On a rapid charging point, you can get up to 80% in 30 minutes. Acceleration on city roads is brisk, but tails off after 50 mph, and faster motorway driving, as with all EVs, eats into the overall range. SatNav, rear parking sensors and rear camera come among the standard items. While the sleek looks are attractive, this impacts on both all-round interior visibility, which is poor, and available luggage space. On the positive side, it has excellent safety ratings and a five-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Tesla Model S from £81,605
The main reason people buy a Tesla is for the car’s enormous driving range, compared to rivals. Tesla claims a range of 424 miles for its Model S, which is similar to many petrol-fuelled family cars. The real-world range will be less, but even so this is a great antidote to range anxiety. The large battery pack, guaranteed for eight years, also provides top notch performance: the top of the range P100D model offers acceleration of 0–60 mph in a staggering 2.5 seconds! Ferrari, eat your heart out… Interior space is excellent, and seats five in comfort and silence. Drivers new to Tesla will need to get used to a 17-inch portrait screen replacing most of the usual dashboard buttons, but otherwise they will feel they are driving a premium range car to compete with the best that Mercedes, Audi etc has to offer. Charging times: home plug-in 42 hours; Tesla Supercharger 42 minutes.
Audi e-tron from £71,125
This new offering from Audi is their first electric SUV and offers a refined driving experience combined with an acceptable range for a car of its size. Audi claims you can reach 241 miles, but this will decrease according to speed, season, and road incline, among other factors. Performance is excellent, with the 95kWh battery delivering some 408 horsepower to twin motors and all four wheels. If you put your foot down, you can do 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Charging the battery to 80% will take about eight hours via a home wall box, or 45 minutes at a motorway service station. The air suspension, which comes as standard, gives you a smooth, silent ride in this 2.5 tonne vehicle. Standard equipment includes a 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instrument display, two centre touchscreens, and leather upholstery.