Should I buy an electric car?

Brand new battery-powered vehicles are arriving faster than ever. But should you buy an electric car?

Simon Ostler
Apr 30, 2020

If you're thinking about making a change on your driveway for the first time in about 10 years, you now have far more options than you would've had last time you were car shopping. Where your choice was once restricted to either petrol or diesel cars, you'll now have to consider a selection of hybrid options along with the latest and greatest electric cars too.

Electric car options now vary from plug-in city cars to luxurious large hatchbacks and supersized SUVs. This means that as long as you can afford it - brand new electric cars are still pretty pricey for now - there's more electric car choice than ever before.

Brands from Volkswagen to Jaguar and Kia now offer a selection of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars across a range of prices. And as new models keep arriving, drivers can now take their pick of everything from compact, value-focused options to upmarket more luxurious models.

So is it the right time for you to be considering an electric car? Well that depends on a few factors, but luckily we've got all the answers for you right here. Keep reading to decide whether you're reading for an electric car and if so how to choose the type of model that would suit your needs best.

Should I buy an electric car?

With an ever growing choice on models becoming available from a variety of brands, there's certainly plenty of electric cars to choose from nowadays. Whether or not there's one that will suit your needs is another question altogether though.

As the technology is still in its relatively early stages, electric cars remain much more expensive than comparable petrol or diesel cars. The new Peugeot 208, for example, comes in at £18,850 in entry-level Active trim with a 1.5-litre diesel engine, the same spec e-208 version with electric power is an extra £6,200, which, incidentally, is the same price as you can get a used 2019 BMW 5 Series Touring on BuyaCar.

So they are expensive, but you will of course be saving money on fuel costs and road tax - electric cars run tax free thanks to their zero-emission status. But, the extra money you're spending on the car itself will cancel out those savings for the first few years at least.

You’ll need to make special arrangements at home if you want hassle-free charging - we suspect you would, as public chargers remain a problem if you're looking to make longer journeys.

This all sounds very negative, but we can also think of plenty of reasons why choosing an electric car would be a good idea. For a start they're actually rather fun to drive. The instant power you get from an electric motor makes virtually every electric car a hoot off the line.

They're also packed with some neat technology too, such as the Nissan Leaf's e-Pedal, which is a very intuitive single pedal system that lets you accelerate and decelerate by pressing down or lifting off with one foot.

We've already noted their exemption from road tax, but electric cars are also safe from ULEZ charges in central London, so if you're often making the journey into the capital, zero emission driving ought to be very appealing.

Consider an electric car if...

You drive less than 150 miles per day
You have a garage or driveway
You're a company car driver
You drive in central London
You want to do your bit for the environment

Electric cars aren't so good for...

Regular journeys of several hundred miles
Daily on-street charging
Cheap purchase prices

Would an electric car suit my needs?

It's firstly important to understand the needs of an electric car, if you're able to meet those, then there is more chance that an electric car will be good for you.

To begin with there's the entirely different aspect of electric car charging. You'll need to know about electric car charging stations and the different cables that go with them, while there is also the option of charging your electric car at home. Electric car charging also takes much longer than your standard fuel fill-up, it can be anything between five and 12 hours, so take flexibility into account when making your decision - if you're an on-call doctor, you're going to need a car that can travel at any time.

Once your car's charged, it won't last as long as a petrol or diesel car will before it needs charging again, so getting to know the range of your car (the distance it can travel on a single charge) is an important next step. Be wary of official figures here too, as they have a reputation for being a touch optimistic and real world tests tend to be much lower, but there are many new cars available now that will go towards 200 miles.

If you're worried about electric car range, there are various ways you can maximise it.

What if an electric car doesn’t meet my needs?

It's understandable you might have some doubts about diving head first into an unknown electric pool. But you can alleviate some of those doubts by taking the halfway house approach and instead opting for a hybrid or plug-in hybrid model.

These cars offer some of the benefits of electric car driving, with the option of limited electric-only driving and somewhat reduced running costs, while also maintaining the security of a petrol engine for those times when you really need it.

Are there grants still available for electric car buyers?

Every zero-emission electric car still qualifies for a £3,500 grant from the government. New and used electric car owners also benefit from a grant towards a home charger, which can recharge batteries up to three times faster than a three-pin plug.

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles provides a £500 grant to most electric and plug-in hybrid cars, reducing the cost of some units to little more than £200.

Scottish electric car owners also qualify of a grant of up to £300 from the Energy Saving Trust, so many will find that their charger is free.

Are there any desirable electric cars on sale?

Some of the first battery-powered cars might not have made the neighbours turn green with envy. But the choice has grown dramatically, and will continue to do so, as car makers such as the Volkswagen Group – which includes the brands of VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche - gradually turn their back on diesel and divert their engineering resources into creating better electric cars.

Those after a compact electric car can choose from the Renault Zoe, Smart ForTwo EQ and Volkswagen e-Up. These range from around £16,400 to more than £21,000.

For something larger, you could go for something like the Volkswagen e-Golf which places an electric powertrain inside a very recignisable shell. Alternatively, testdrive something like the BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf for the full electric car experience.

At the top of the car market, the latest models blend luxurious interiors with impressive performance. But prices reflect as much, climbing from around £59,000 to more than £120,000.

The latest is the Audi e-tron, an SUV that’s about the size of a Range Rover Evoque and a rival to the acclaimed Jaguar I-Pace. Tesla is perhaps the best-known name at this end of the market, and its Model S continues to sell well in the UK.

Will I lose money buying an electric car?

In the early days of the electric car market, when there was little choice and what was in showrooms was largely underwhelming, weak used values for electric cars reflected the lack of interest from drivers. This wasn’t helped by unanswered questions over the longevity of the battery.

Now concerns over battery life have proved to be, to date, unfounded. And the car makers are bringing increasingly desirable and practical electric models to the road.

This is warming consumers to the idea of going electric. Cap hpi, a car valuation consultancy, reported at the start of the year that some second-hand electric cars, including the popular Nissan Leaf, were actually rising in value.

Contrasting the anticipated residual values of two new, popular electric cars with comparable models from the same manufacturer shows that electric cars are worth considerably more money after the typical ownership period of three years and 30,000 miles of driving.

BMW’s entry-level i3 is predicted to lose £16,525, whereas a comparable 120d 5-door manual in M Sport trim is likely to fall by £18,125. It’s an appreciable saving, even before you factor in the substantial reduction in fuel bills, road tax, company car tax and servicing.

It’s even more sobering when comparing the new Jaguar I-Pace with an F-Pace S 3.0 V6 diesel. The electric SUV is predicted to lose approximately £15,470, whereas the F-Pace diesel may drop by an eye-watering £29,515.


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