Electric cars

Various kinds of cars now come with a cable and plug, from pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to extended-range electric cars (EREVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). All use mains electricity to provide a certain amount of quiet, zero-emissions running, although only those with an engine on board can keep on going indefinitely. Most also currently qualify for the the government’s plug-in car grant, contributing up to £5,000 to the cost of the car.

Below we list a range of plug-in cars that we’ve put to the test. Prices were last checked on 07 February 2014.

Tesla Model STesla Model S
Review verdict:5 out of 5 stars
Price: From £50,280 after grant

Sober suited styling disguises a genuinely 21st Century vehicle. The Tesla Model S is purely powered by battery, is made largely of aluminium, and provides a truly innovative driving environment dominated by a giant touchscreen monitor. Huge batteries offer exceptional range for an EV, while quick charging options promise to keep the Model S moving on longer journeys. It is also exceptional fast and persuasively luxurious. High price and a surprising amount of road noise are the only real downsides.

BMW i3 electric carBMW i3
Review verdict:5 out of 5 stars
Price: From £25,680 after grant

BMW’s i3 is arguably the most innovative electric car yet put into production, featuring a purpose-built carbon-fibre body structure sitting atop an aluminium chassis, and available with or without a range-extending engine. Its unusual boxy proportions and striking looks also set it apart, while the driving experience is top-notch. Not everyone will love the styling, the interior is a mixed bag and it isn’t cheap, but the i3 deserves to become a landmark, game-changing success.

Renault Zoe in PortugalRenault Zoe
Review verdict:5 out of 5 stars
Price: From £13,995 after grant plus at least £45 per month battery rental

Renault’s Zoe has a lot going for it – it’s good looking, quick, easy to drive and, most importantly of all, affordable. It’s not perfect, as owners will learn if they try to take corners too quickly, and it comes with the usual electric-car drawback of limited reserves between lengthy top-ups. But a real-world 90-mile range and versatile charging options make the Zoe a battery-powered car that demands relatively few compromises.

Nissan Leaf noseNissan Leaf
Review verdict:5 out of 5 stars
Price: From £20,990 after grant, battery included; or from £15,990 plus at least £70 per month battery rental

Awkward to look at but beautifully engineered and carefully thought through, Nissan’s Leaf was conceived as an electric car from the outset and it shows. The Leaf offers great packaging, tangible quality, real comfort, and an engaging, involving drive – all of which helped it win recognition as the European Car of the Year for 2011. Improved all round for 2013, the latest British-built examples can now be bought outright, or with a lease agreement for the battery.

Renault Twizy in IbizaRenault Twizy
Review verdict:5 out of 5 stars
Price: From £6,895 plus at least £45 per month battery rental – not eligible for grants

Unlike anything else on the road, with tandem seating for two and optional scissor doors, the Renault Twizy shows that the future of personal transport can be both responsible and huge fun at the same time. It’s not perfect for the UK, being permanently open to the elements, without no cabin heating, and with only the option of clip-on plastic side-screens to keep out the rain. It’s also not the fastest thing on the road, and doesn’t boast the longest range, but again those are part of the deal.

For those who don’t mind dressing to keep warm, the Twizy is a five-star barrel of laughs that deserves to be a huge success.

Volkswagen e-GolfVolkswagen e-Golf
Review verdict:4 out of 5 stars
Price: £25,845 after grant

The familiar shape of the seventh-generation Golf hides unfamiliar mechanical innards – a 24kWh battery and front-mounted 85kW (114bhp) electric motor. The combination closely echoes the Nissan Leaf recipe for serene and rapid progress over 100 miles or so, only with a more upmarket badge, classier interior and a noticeable requirement for additional cash. The e-Golf is as refined and as impressive as you’d expect of VW’s answer to the Leaf, but the extra 10% in list price gives pause for thought, and costs this EV one of its five stars.

VW e-UpVolkswagen e-Up
Review verdict:4 out of 5 stars
Price: From £19,250 after grant

Volkswagen’s Up city car offers impressive quality at an affordable price when powered by petrol, but its transmogrification into a battery electric vehicle isn’t quite as persuasive, mostly due to the big hike in cost. A battery big enough for 75 to 103 miles has been neatly integrated under the floor, leaving cabin and luggage space unaltered, and the driving experience is effortless and reasonably refined. If it were just a little cheaper, it would deserve five stars.

Red Vauxhall-Opel Ampera from the sideVauxhall Ampera
Review verdict:4 out of 5 stars
Price: From £28,750 after grant

With a 1.4-litre petrol engine on standby to supplement its battery and motor, the Ampera is an extended-range electric car to its maker, but a glorified hybrid to others. Divisive labels aside, this is a well-sorted plug-in car that can drive up to 50 miles on battery alone, then as far as you like on petrol when the need arises – a breadth of capability that earned it the accolade of European Car of the Year 2012.

The drawbacks are that it’s heavy and not exactly cheap, and the Vauxhall brand lacks the kudos you might otherwise expect at this price point.

Toyota Prius Plug-inToyota Prius Plug-in
Review verdict:4 out of 5 stars
Price: From £28,245 after grant

An additional £3,000 over the price of a top-of-the-range standard Toyota Prius adds a new lithium-ion battery pack boasting a bigger capacity, as well as a mains charging cable. Much of the rest of the Prius experience remains unchanged although the ability to travel up to 15.5 miles on batteries alone, at speeds of up to 51mph, means the Plug-in will be able to complete many short, urban journeys without ever firing up the engine. Also like the standard car, the Plug-in Prius offers an effortless, quiet and refined driving experience that may not appeal to keen drivers but is an attractive proposition for many nonetheless.

Volvo V60 PHEVVolvo V60 PHEV
Review verdict:4 out of 5 stars
Price: From £44,275 after grant

Charge up the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle for up to 30 miles of silent electric motoring, or switch to hybrid mode and add in 200bhp of five-cylinder diesel. Volvo has aimed high with its modified medium-sized estate but appears to have succeeded in producing a fluid through-the-road hybrid, or range-extended electric car, depending on your label preferences. It promises to meet a very wide brief, including towing 1,800kg loads with its electric back axle supplementing the diesel front end for all-wheel-drive. But as with the Ampera the V60 PHEV is fearsomely heavy and far from cheap.

Ford Focus ElectricFord Focus Electric
Review verdict:3 out of 5 stars
Price: £28,580 after grant

The electric Focus is not Ford’s first foray into production electric cars, given that it used to own the Think electric city car project. Today’s offering is more practical, based on the much larger and best-selling Focus five-door hatchback. But it is also hampered by that basis: the conversion to battery power seems crude, with a big lump of hardware taking up much of the boot. The Focus Electric is also markedly more expensive than Nissan’s Leaf but not noticeably better in any important way.

Renault Fluence ZERenault Fluence ZE
Review verdict:3 out of 5 stars
Price: £17,845 after grant, plus at least £77 per month battery rental

Renault’s big electric saloon sandwiches a bulky removable battery between an enlarged boot and the back seats. It offers good value compared to other EVs of similar quality and feels remarkably normal to drive, in a good way. You’d be hard-pressed to tell it’s electric were it not for the total absence of noise, vibration and gearshifts when you’re on the move. Instrumentation to keep the driver informed about the battery is a tad basic, but what this car really lacks is a little character and pizzazz.

Mitsubishi i-MievMitsubishi i-Miev
Review verdict:3 out of 5 stars
Price: £23,499 after grant

The first mass-produced electric car is cute to look at and lovely to drive. The i-Miev’s kei-car platform means it’s narrow by European standards, will seat only four and offers precious little boot space. But it’s a lively little thing that’s fun to drive, with its precise steering and rear-wheel drive.

Outclassed by subsequent electric cars, it needs to be cheaper to merit more than 3 out of 5 stars. Versions of the same car from Citroen and Peugeot, called the C-Zero and iOn respectively, cost less but are still too pricey at £21,216 after grant.

3rd generation Smart EDSmart ForTwo ED
Review verdict:3 out of 5 stars
Price: From £15,395 after grants; or £12,275 plus £55 per month battery rental

Smart’s electric drive conversion is predictably well engineered, but it adds restricted range to all the other drawbacks of the ForTwo package – just the two seats, an uncomfortably short wheelbase, little luggage space and questionable styling. Better weight distribution courtesy of low-mounted batteries does mean improved handling, however.

Two pricing options – either outright purchase or separate leasing fee for the battery – bring some flexibility in purchasing, but the electric Smart still feels expensive compared to conventional alternatives.

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