Best Small Electric Cars

Urban, chic, and near-silent. Small electric cars really are the best type of car for the city

Dominic Tobin
Mar 14, 2018

Electric power and small cars have always been a natural fit, thanks to the resulting nippy acceleration and lack of exhaust emissions. This makes them ideal in towns, where they tend to spend a lot of their time.

Range between charges is also less of an issue because small vehicles often make shorter journeys, and they are usually light, so require less power and fewer batteries.

The only problem has been that the high cost of batteries has made small cars unaffordable for most drivers, even when government grants towards the cost of a new car are included.

That’s changing, as prices drop and more small electric cars are available as used models with affordable finance payments.

One of the most popular electric cars, the Renault Zoe, looks particularly cheap because batteries aren’t always included in the cost. This makes the car less expensive to buy, but you’ll then need to pay monthly to lease the batteries.

Renault Zoe

List price from £14,595 (estimated, including grant) 2015 cars typically from £7,000 / £135 per month

The best-selling electric car in Europe, Renault’s Zoe has been regularly updated since it first went on sale in 2012.

In 2017 the Renault Zoe Z.E.40 arrived, increasing the car’s real-world range between recharging from around 90 miles to 150. A more powerful 110 horsepower car will arrive this summer, making the Zoe faster to accelerate, particularly at motorway speeds.

What hasn’t changed is the car’s popular design. The Zoe’s sculpted lines don’t mark it out as an electric car; it looks like a standard supermini.

Apart from the quietness and zippy acceleration, the Zoe drives like a supermini too. With the heavy batteries stored low in the car, it’s relatively nimble when changing lanes and cornering, and it does a good job of absorbing the impact over speed bumps and potholes.

Most Zoes are sold without their batteries (only cars badged ‘i’ have them included). You’ll need to lease the batteries for these cars, which will cost from £49 a month, depending on the number of miles that you drive.

BMW i3

List price from £29,570 (including grant, before discounts) 2016 cars typically from £16,500 / £260 per month

Small it might be, but the BMW i3 has plenty of space for the family thanks to its roomy interior. Like the Zoe (above), the car’s batteries are stored underneath the flat floor, and with no engine underneath the bonnet, the dashboard can be moved forward to increase legroom.

There’s also more choice than you get with most electric cars: used models sold before 2017 have a real-world range of around 90 miles between charges are the most affordable, starting at under £17,000, with representative monthly finance payments from £260.

Cars built after 2017 are known as 94Ah models, after an upgraded battery, which increased the real-world range to around 124 miles

Then there are the range-extender versions. Available with every type of i3, these have a small petrol engine that can recharge the battery on the move, increasing the car’s range by a further 90 miles.

Finally, there’s the new BMW i3s, a sportier version of the car, which has a little more power and slightly faster acceleration. Larger tyres and tweaked suspension give the car more grip and makes it more responsive when you want to change direction.

Smart EQ ForTwo

List price from £16,915 (including grant, before discounts)

Electric Smart cars were renamed EQ in early 2018; before then, they were known as Smart Electric Drive. Apart from the name, little has changed.

That’s not a bad thing, because the battery-powered versions are the best Smarts available. Unlike the petrol-powered cars, these are nippy to accelerate and considerably quieter.

The car is best in cities, where its quick steering and tight turning circle help you to glide through traffic and into small parking spaces.

The car’s real-world range in the city is somewhere between 60 and 80 miles, but on faster roads, that’ll drop considerably as the little motor is forced to work overtime.

Despite its small two-seat layout, the little Smart is fairly practical; by ditching a passenger and folding down their seat, you can slide a big suitcase, or even a set of drawers in.

VW e-up!

List price from £21,140 (including grant, before discounts) 2016 cars typically from £16,000

Fitting batteries and an electric motor to the up! has had quite an impact on this little Volkswagen’s price.

The expensive conversion means that it’s almost the same price as a much larger Nissan Leaf, and considerably more than the Smart For Two. It’s had a considerable impact on sales, in the sense that very few people buy one.

If you do see one of the used models for a decent price, though, it’s worth a look because it’s an excellent car. Its electric motor provides faster acceleration than the petrol-powered up! and the low-mounted batteries barely affect the car’s manoeuvrability and agility in corners.

Unlike many cars that have been converted to electric power, boots pace in the e-up! has not been affected, so you’ll still have 251 litres, which is plenty for a weekly shop.

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