Best electric cars

Tax free, green and cheap to run. Here are the best electric cars on the market

BuyaCar team
Jul 26, 2017

Electric cars began as joke material for Jeremy Clarkson, but they are set to have the last laugh, with the announcement that the government will ban petrol and diesel cars from 2040.

But there's no need to wait 23 years before switching to battery power. There are plenty of reasons to go electric now, including free car tax, low charging costs and quiet but powerful performance. The government's grant scheme also gives you up to £4,500 towards the purchase price.

You may still conjure up an image of the tinny G-Wiz when you think of an electric car, but there are now dozens of models available, from city cars to SUVs, some with ranges that stretch beyond 200 miles on a single charge.

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You do need to take into account the optimistic figures for an electric car's range.  In real-world driving, these can be 20% less than stated. For those who need greater range, plug-in hybrids combine clean and cheap electric power with a petrol or diesel engine that kicks in when the batteries run low.

We've listed the ten best electric cars on sale below. You can jump to the best family cars, large cars, crossovers and SUVs or sportscars. Prices include the government grant where applicable.

Best small electric cars

Renault Zoe

Best electric car for value

Our pick Renault Zoe Expression Nav  Official range 149 miles

The Zoe is small but spacious inside because it’s a purpose-built electric car, designed around its battery and not converted from a vehicle that has space for an engine and fuel tank.

It’s a superb city car that’s quiet and smooth over bumps, as well as being nippy to thanks to the instant acceleration that you get from an electric motor. It can manage motorway journeys but takes a while to reach higher speeds after that initial burst of acceleration.

And it’s cheap too - prices start at just over £9,000 if you take out finance, although these don’t include the battery. You’ll need to hire that from £49 a month. The cost depends on your mileage and works out roughly the same as running a petrol or diesel car.

The cheapest Zoe has a range of around 100 miles, which drops to 70 miles in colde weather. The rest of the range is now available with a bigger battery that's claimed to offfer more than 180 miles of realistic range between charges.

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VW e-up!

Best electric car for narrow city streets

Our pick Volkswagen e-up!  Official range 93 miles

Just like the petrol-powered VW up!, the electric e-up! is surprisingly practical, with space in the back to carry two adults on short journeys, at least, a decent-sized boot and small dimensions for easy manoeuvring. With instant power from the motor, as soon as you press the accelerator, it's perfectly suited to city driving

Unfortunately, it is an expensive choice. Even when the government grant is taken into account and VW e-up! discounts included, it costs around £19,000. At that price, there’s virtually no chance that the low running costs of the e-up! will balance out the huge price premium over a petrol version (which you can buy for £10,000 less).

If you can overlook the cost, the range of up to 93 miles (closer to 70 miles in real-world driving) makes the up! ideal for most commutes and daily driving, but you’ll need to plan your charging on longer journeys. It does come well-equipped with heated seats, parking sensors and climate control.

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Best electric family cars

BMW i3 hatchback

Best electric car for smooth ride and agile handling

Our pick BMW i3 94Ah  Official range 195 miles

The i3 is a purpose-built electric car: designed around its heavy battery pack without any need to make space for the mechanical parts that engines require.

This has helped to create a bright, airy interior with a flat floor, good visibility and plenty of space for passengers - although boot space is tight.

You can now buy the i3 with a high-capacity 94Ah battery, providing at least 125 miles of real-world driving on a single charge. The Range Extender model adds a petrol generator that recharges the batteries on the move when they are low, providing another 70 miles-or so of driving before you need to stop.

The car can be charged up in around four hours if you’re connected to the right high-speed socket and the price looks more reasonable with the government grant in place.

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Volkswagen e-Golf

Best electric car for the looks and practicality of a conventional car

Our pick Volkswagen e-Golf  Official range 115 miles

The standard VW Golf is designed to be understated and the electric version is no different. In fact, if you don’t spot the small badges on the grille and bootlid, you’re unlikely to realise that the engine and fuel tank have been replaced by motors and a battery that can take the car around 10 miles between charges.

Inside, the story is much the same. The solid, straightforward dashboard is still there and there’s still enough legroom in the back for adults to sit comfortably. The boot is a little smaller to accommodate the battery, though. It's quick to accelerate but shudders over bumps more than the standard car.

The Golf’s limited range means that you’ll have to plan long journeys carefully. There is the option of installing a fast charger at your home, which takes only 30 minutes to charge the battery to 80% capacity.

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Nissan Leaf

Best electric car for families that need over 100 miles of range

Our pick Nissan Leaf Acenta 30kWh  Official range (24kWh) 124 miles (30kWh) 155 miles

Now offered with a bigger battery, the Nissan Leaf can easily manage 100 miles between charging without the need to drive so economically that a long queue of traffic forms up behind you.

The purpose-built electric car is roughly the size of a Ford Focus, with enough space in the back for adults to sit comfortably. As with any car of this size, having three passengers in the back will be cramped.

There’s a deep boot that’s average-sized for a small family car, and drives smoothly, soaking up the worst of road bumps and potholes.

The biggest battery is in the 30kWh Leaf with an official range of 155 miles, which should guarantee more han 100 miles of real-world driving. That's not the case with the 24kWh Leaf, which has a smaller battery.

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Best large electric cars

Tesla Model S saloon

Best electric car for performance, range and seven seats

Our pick Tesla Model S 60  Range (60) 253 miles (75) 304 miles (90) 346 miles (100) 381 miles

The Tesla Model S is absolute proof that an electric car can have the performance to match a Ferrari. The most powerful model will accelerate from 0-62mph in 3.1secs and there’s up to 340 miles of range from the battery.  That’s considerably more than any other car in this list, but then the price is substantial too: from just over £55,000 to almost £120,000 for the ultimate Model S.

It’s a big car that’s spacious enough inside to be able to accommodate a third row or rear-facing seats for children, making this a seven-seater. The dashboard is dominated by a huge touchscreen and performance is brisk on the cheaper models, but stupendous at the top level.

You also benefit from Tesla’s high-speed Supercharger network that can recharge the car with around 170 miles of range in half an hour.

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Best electric crossovers and SUVs

Tesla Model X

Best electric car for drivers who want the only all-electric SUV

Our pick Tesla Model X 75  Range (75) 259 miles, (90D) 303 miles (100D) 336 miles

The first sport utility vehicles were off-road cars, but the SUV title is now applied to any tall vehicle, even if - like the Model X, it’s just a higher version of the Model S with no real off-road ability.

But that extra height does bring extra practicality, including the theatre of the car’s rear gullwing doors, which are hinged at the roof and rise above the car in a surprisingly compact area. The dashboard contains a large toushcscreen and the windscreen curves into the roof, flooding the interior with light.

And at the moment, the Model X is the only all-electric SUV that you can buy. It shares batteries and motors with the Model S, meaning that performance is just as sensational. Even the slowest car accelerates from 0-60mph in justs six seconds, while range between charges is at least an official 259 miles - around 170 in real-world driving.

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Volvo XC90 T8

Best electric car for seven seats without any range anxiety

Our pick Volvo XC90 T8 Momentum  Range 27 miles (electric only)

The XC90 T8 will drive itself on electric power alone, but only for 27 miles at most. However, you won’t then need to charge it, as the car also has a petrol engine that can take over until you get to your destination and plug the Volvo in again.

If your typical journey is short, with charging points at either end, then you could reduce your petrol costs to zero. But for longer journeys, the car is unlikely to prove much more economical than a conventional model.

Apart from the technology under the bonnet and the electric charging flap on the car, there are few other signs that it’s different from other XC90s. That means you still get seven seats, a huge boot and stylish, minimalist dashboard.

It’s not eligible for any government grant, though. Hybrid cars don’t qualify if they have a list price of more than £60,000 - like the Volvo, although there are Volvo XC90 T8 deals for less

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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Best electric car for low company car tax with an affordable SUV

Our pick Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX3H  Range 32 miles (electric only)

As a plug-in hybrid car, like the Volvo XC90 T8, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has an electric motor and battery that can drive the car for up to 32 miles on electric power alone, with a petrol engine providing a much longer range.

Like most plug-in hybrids, the Outlander PHEV uses little - if any - fuel on short journeys, but looks much less economical on longer journeys when the petrol engine is mainly in use.

Official emission figures put the car into a low company car tax bracket, making it cheap to own for business users. And it can cope with off-roading should you need to head into a field.

The hybrid equipment does take up some valuable room inside, which means that this Outlander only has five seats, instead of the seven available on other versions. It still feels spacious inside, though.

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Best electric sportscar

BMW i8

Best electric car for style, speed and scissor-like doors

Our pick BMW i8  Range 22 miles (electric only)

Whether you begin with its traffic-stopping styling, miserly fuel economy, or searing performance, the i8 is an exceptional machine.

Even without its electric technology, this would be a stunning sportscar, but the plug-in hybrid i8 combines a petrol engine with an electric motor to provide instant and continuous acceleration. It takes only 4.4sec to get from 0-62mph. It’s also agile in corners, turning sharply, without much leaning at all.

At the same time, the i8 can run on electric power alone for 22 miles, as long as you are gentle with the accelerator.

Unsurprisingly given its price, the i8 is very well equipped. Once you’ve clambered in through the awkward-shaped opening made by the butterfly doors, which open upwards, its two seats are spacious, but there’s limited luggage space.

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