Electric cars have been around for a few years now, although if we're being technical, they've being around since the 19th century. But the first electric car of the modern era, and the first highway legal production all-electric battery powered vehicle was the Tesla Roadster, first developed in 2004.
When Tesla's contract with Lotus ran out - the Roadster was based on the Lotus Elise - the company produced the first Model S in 2012. Since then, electric car sales have sky-rocketed. Note that we're talking about all-electric cars here, and not hybrid or plug-in hybrids that combine an electric motor with a fuel-powered engine.
It's easy to see why they're so popular now. The range of vehicles have improved and increased considerably, so it's now possible to go further than the end of your road before you need to plug it in again to charge up.
How do I charge my electric car?
The network of public use car chargers is increasing all the time as well. Zap-map, which keeps a live database of the number of chargers in the UK, says there are currently 4,356 charging locations nationally, with 12,333 connectors.
There are four different types of charger for electric vehicles: Slow, which connects to a standard 3-pin plug in your home. The initial rollout of public chargers used this connection too, but they're slowly being replaced by Fast and Rapid chargers. A full charge using a Slow connector will typically take between six to eight hours.
A Fast charger doubles the amount of current supplied compared to a Slow charger, and as a result, halves the charge time to between three to four hours.
We then move on to Rapid AC chargers, which can supply up to 43kW of power to charge a typical electric vehicle to 80 per cent in around half an hour. There are currently 648 Rapid AC chargers around the UK.
Finally, there are Rapid DC chargers, which supply up to 50kW of power and can also charge a car up to 80 per cent in half an hour. There are more DC chargers around the UK than the AC variant, with 1,370 connectors at the time of writing.
Technology for home charging units has been enhanced so you can recharge the battery of most cars completely in up to nine hours. So putting it on overnight will nearly always result in a fully charged car when you step into it in the morning.
How much do electric cars cost?
The price of electric cars is now firmly in the affordable category too, with basic models costing around £13,000. The UK Government is still running an incentive scheme that will see you get up £4,500 off the price of an electric car that meets the set criteria. You can read more about the criteria for electric vehicles, and how much you could receive, on the UK Government website.
So buying an electric car is now more achievable and affordable than ever, and the range of cars now caters for all areas of the market, whether it be a city car to get easily around town, a high-performance saloon or even a seven-seater for all the family.
But what cars are available in the UK right now? Read on to find out.
- Four-seater city car
- Prices start at £33,070
- 125 mile range, top speed of 50mph
The BMW i3 certainly turns heads due to its somewhat unusual looks. But under that boxy exterior, the i3 is every much a BMW as any of its regular, fuel-powered cars. It will accelerate you to 62mph in 7.3 seconds, so it doesn't exactly hang about and keep you going for up to 125 mile on a single charge. It can make full use of Rapid AC and DC charging, giving you 80 per cent juice in 40 minutes.
- Four-seater city car
- Prices start at £12,495
- 93 mile range, top speed of 80mph
Citroen already has a city car in the form of the C1, but the C-Zero throws out the petrol engine in favour of a 14.5kWh battery that will keep you moving for up to 93 miles on a single charge. It offers regenerative braking, which takes the kinetic energy created under braking, and transfer it to electric power that's stored in the battery.
Ford Focus Electric
- Family hatchback
- Prices start at £31,680
- 100 mile range, top speed of 85mph
The Ford Focus Electric is, quite literally, an electric version of Ford's popular Focus hatchback. It costs a fair bit more than the most basic petrol powered version, but you can be safe in the knowledge that you're helping the environment, and you have instant power from the electric motor.
There's a Butterflies feature that's part of a new Smartgauge service that helps you to drive more economically. The better you drive, the more butterflies will appear on the screen with the instrument cluster.
- Family saloon
- Prices start at £24,500
- 174 mile range, top speed of 103mph
The Hyundai Ioniq is available in all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants. The all-electric version has plenty of range from a single charge to get you to most destinations, but if you do need to top up the electric tank on a journey, it will replenish 80 per cent of battery in 30 minutes from a DC charger.
Kia Soul EV
- Prices start at £29,995
- 132 mile range, top speed of 90mph
The Soul EV was the first all-electric SUV in Europe. It offers plenty of space inside, not least because it's an SUV, but also because no space is being taken up by a combustion engine. It offers plenty of mod-cons such as heated seats, sat-nav and cruise control. The regenerative braking system really works too, to keep the range of the battery as high as possible
- City car
- Prices from £12,995
- 79 mile range, top speed of 63mph
The Mahindra e2o make look a bit basic, but if you're after a small city car that runs on electric power, it more than fits the bill. There are two models available: City and TechX. The latter has a £15,995 asking price but offers plenty of upgrades over the City version. You get leather seats, alloy wheels, an emergency revive system that gives you an extra 8 miles of range, a reversing camera and touchscreen infotainment system.
Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
- Small hatchback
- Prices from £33,290
- 124 mile range, top speed of 99.5mph
If you want a bit more luxury from your electric vehicle, then the B-Class Electric Drive should be on your shopping list. Offering the same eye-catching exterior and sumptuous interior as the regular B-Class, the Electric Drive takes everything that's great about the original car, and gives it an instant 340nM of power. However, buyers should note that it can't be charged via a DC charge point, so the shortest charging time is around three hours with an at-home wall box.
- Small hatchback
- Prices from £21,680 plus monthly charge between £70-£113 for the battery
- 6 models
- 124-155 mile range, top speed of 89mph
The Nissan Leaf is one of the best selling electric cars available today, and has sold in excess of 12,000 units in the UK alone. It's offered in Acenta, or higher-spec Tekna variants, along with a Black Edition that looks like a planet-saving Batmobile. The Leaf also has a companion app that lets you monitor your driving range, activate climate control and start or pause charging.
- City car
- Prices from £12,495
- 93 mile range, top speed of 81mph
The Peugeot iOn is essentially a rebadged Citroen C-Zero. It offers the same 93 mile range, the same amount of power and the same looks. You get automatic air conditioning as standard, along with Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
We're not entirely sure how Peugeot has gone about pricing it though. The company's website says the car starts at £12,495, but a further look into the brochure says the on the road price is £15,995 after you get the £4,500 Government grant. You may want to quiz Peugeot over the pricing if you're looking to buy.
- Small hatchback
- Prices from £14,125 plus £59 monthly charge for battery
- Up to 250 mile range, top speed of 84mph
The Renault Zoe is well engineered, enjoyable to drive and - although the interior has a certain eco feel - not an unpleasant thing to be in. It's often forgotten in the sea of BMW i3s and Teslas, but as an everyday electric car, it barely puts a foot wrong. You get a decent amount of tech included in the asking price, and now that Renault has released a new battery that gives it up to a 250 mile range, it's one of the best electric cars on the market right now.
- Renault Zoe review: Electrical engineering
- The Renault Zoe can now go 250 miles, further than any other electric car
Tesla Model S
- 7 models
- Claimed range of up to 409 miles,
- Prices from £58,800
- P100D 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds
The Tesla Model S is perhaps one of the best known electric cars available today. It marries the economic and environmental benefits of electric power, with a serious helping of luxury and speed. It also has an incredibly intelligent Autopilot mode that can keep you in the same lane on the motorway, whilst monitoring cars around you and keeping up to a decent speed. The Model S can get really expensive depending on which model and options you choose, but you're getting an awful lot in return.
Tesal Model X
- 7-seater SUV
- 4 models
- Prices start at £76,700
- Up to 351 mile range, 0-60 in 2.9 seconds
The Model X is the fastest SUV on the planet, and will catapult you to 60mph in 2.9 seconds, making it hypercar quick. The other talking point of the Model X is its falcon wing doors, that open up and out the way to allow passengers to easily access the second and third rows of seats. Tesla says they work perfectly in car parks too, so you needn't worry about them hitting the ceiling and getting damaged.
- Prices start at £31,680
- 186 mile range, top speed of 87mph
The e-Golf takes the regular, well-selling Golf, rips the engine out and replaces it with an 115PS electric motor, with a 24.2kWh battery instead. It's 186 mile claimed range is pretty respectable, and it accepts a DC connector super fast charging at a compatible station. VW has implemented regenerative braking too, to help top up the battery when you slow the car down.
- City car
- Prices start at £25,280
- 99 mile range, top speed of 80mph
This 5-door city car comes with a plethora of kit as standard, with some extras available at affordable prices. It will get you around town with ease, and with 210nM of torque available on tap, it won't hang about at the lights, either. Like it's e-Golf bigger brother, the e-Up has DC charging that will recharge the battery in just half an hour.