Should I buy an electric car?

Showrooms are being swamped with brand new battery-powered vehicles. But should you buy an electric car?

James Mills
Oct 31, 2018

For a sign of things to come on Britain’s roads, look across the North Sea, to Norway. There, 37 per cent of the new cars bought in the first six months of the year were electric. Drivers in the UK are wondering whether they too should be plugging in to the electric car revolution.

Here, however, different taxes and incentives mean an electric car isn’t as attractive as it is to Norway’s motorists. Which is why only 8,772 electric vehicles (EVs) were registered in the UK in the same period, compared with 20,855 in Norway’s smaller car market.

Yet switching to an electric car can still be financially beneficial. And with a wave of new models sneaking up, silently, on the horizon, now is a good time to weigh up whether switching to an electric car might not only do some good for the environment but also help lower your household expenditure.

Here we answer questions drivers should ask themselves when deciding whether to switch to an electric car.


Should I buy an electric car?

With a wide choice of models and increasing range between charges, there’s probably an electric car for you. They’re expensive, but charging is cheap and most hold value well, reducing finance and running costs. You’ll need a garage or driveway for hassle-free charging; for long journeys, public chargers remain problematic.

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

Electric cars aren't so good for...

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

What is an electric car?

The car industry is good at talking jargon, and referring to all manner of cars as being “electrified”. However, an electric car is one that is exclusively powered by an electric motor and battery, rather than a hybrid that combines both a fuel-burning motor with an electric one.


Would an electric car suit my needs?

Where you live and what you use your car for will partly determine whether an electric car is suitable for your needs.

Those without private parking or access to nearby public charging points will struggle to charge an electric car. All vehicle manufacturers and electrical professionals advise that charging at home is done by installing a dedicated wallbox charger, so you’ll need to own the property or have the permission of the landlord to do this.

How often you drive long distances will also have some bearing on whether or not you become infuriated by an electric car.

Some of the most affordable models travel for around 200 miles before their battery needs topping up. However, even the very best, most expensive models, can only drive for about 250 miles in everyday conditions before the battery needs to be charged.

Charing at home with a wallbox depends on the power of the unit being used and the capacity of the car’s battery. It can take between five and 12 hours to do this, and many drivers leave their car charging overnight.

When out and about, a rapid charger of the sort found at motorway service stations can charge a low battery to 80 per cent capacity in around 40 minutes. In the future, the performance of publicly available charging points is set to improve, cutting waiting times for motorists.


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

If you frequently undertake long distance drives, consider a plug-in hybrid electric car. It combines a petrol or diesel engine with a compact electric motor and battery, and gives the best of both worlds – zero emissions running for about 30 miles, ideal for running around locally, and a combustion engine for long trips.

The two work seamlessly together, and the emissions levels mean low bills for road tax and company car tax, while fuel economy can comfortably better a diesel.


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 VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat and Porsche - gradually turn their back on diesel and divert their engineering resources into creating better EVs.

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, Volkswagen’s Golf, the best family hatchback on sale, comes with electric drive. Alternatively, testdrive the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul EV or the Kona Electric or Ioniq Electric, from Hyundai. These range in cost from just under £23,000 to as much as £35,000.

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 Land Rover 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.


New electric cars on sale, ranked by their official driving range*

  • Tesla Model S 100kWh – 393 miles
  • Tesla Model X 100kWh – 351 miles
  • Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh – 339 miles
  • Audi e-tron – 310 miles
  • Tesla Model S 75kWh – 304 miles
  • Jaguar I-Pace EV400 – 298 miles 
  • Tesla Model X 75kWh – 259 miles
  • Renault Zoe Dynamique Nav R110 80kWh – 250 miles
  • Nissan Leaf – 235 miles
  • BMW i3 120Ah – 223 miles
  • Hyundai Kona Electric 39kWh – 214 miles
  • Volkswagen e-Golf – 186 miles
  • BMW i3 94Ah – 186 miles
  • Hyundai Ioniq Electric Premium – 174 miles
  • Nissan e-NV200 Combi – 174 miles
  • Kia Soul EV – 155 miles
  • Volkswagen e-up! – 99 miles
  • Smart fortwo EQ – 96 miles

(*Range claims based on NEDC official measurement)

Electric cars coming soon

  • Aston Martin RapidE - 2019
  • BMW iX3 – 2020
  • Honda Urban EV - 2019
  • Jaguar XJ - 2019
  • Mercedes EQ C – 2018
  • Mini Electric – 2019
  • Polestar 2 - 2019
  • Porsche Taycan - 2019
  • Tesla Model 3 – 2019
  • Tesla Roadster – 2020
  • Volvo XC40 EV - 2019
  • Volkswagen I.D. - 2020
  • Volkswagen I.D. Crozz - 2020
  • Volkswagen I.D. Buzz - 2022


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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