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, not hybrid or plug-in hybrids that combine an electric motor with a fuel-powered engine.
How do I charge my electric car?
Most people will charge their electric car at home overnight, with public charging only needed on long journeys. The network of public car chargers in the UK is increasing all the time. Zap-Map, which keeps a live database of the number of chargers in the UK, says there are nearly 6,000 charging locations nationally, with over 17,000 connectors (at the time of writing). These are in common locations - shopping centre car parks or motorway service stations for example.
There are really three different types of charing for electric vehicles at the moment (although things aren't standardised, so there's lots of variation):
- Slow (AC, 3kW) - most cars will come with a 3-pin plug cable to charge from a standard domestic wall socket
- Fast (AC, 7kW-22kW) - from a domestic wallbox or public charging station, you should get a cable with the car
- Rapid (AC, 43kW; DC, 50kW; Tesla, 150kW) - the fast chargers you'll find on the motorway, the cable is attached to the charger. Can charge a car to 80 per cent in around 30 minutes.
For home charging, a wallbox is the best solution - not only can you get a government grant for installation, but it charges your car faster than a 3-pin socket, talking to your car to manage the flow of current. If you're buying a car, the manufacturer might have offers for wallbox installation - some are offering it free.
Public charging gets a little more complicated, as you'll need to ensure it's the right type of connector for your car - although adapters are available. There isn't a defined standard yet - but generally speaking, the type 2 connector is supported on most vehicles for slow/AC charging. For rapid DC charging, you have CCS (likely to be the European standard) and CHAdeMO (likely to be the Japanese standard) as well as the Tesla Supercharger.
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 and new luxury models offering the experience to fit their price tag. 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.
As for the electricity costs themselves, that will depend on the charging network tariffs or your domestic electric tariff (home is where most of the charging will happen, in which case, the Energy Saving Trust estimates you'll be paying around £2-4 per 100 miles. Increasingly, there's a push towards solar panels and domestic energy storage to take you off grid - with the likes of Nissan and Tesla both pushing this as an option.
Best electric cars available in the UK
- 300 mile range, 90kWh battery
- Prices from £63,495
The talk of electric town right now is the Jaguar i-Pace. Completely electric, totally new and very Jaguar. The i-Pace pushes into SUV styling, giving you space and practicality inside, but with a sporty drive. It's very much the luxury electric car to excite. There's oodles of tech, but it's the smoothness of the driving that really makes this car feel like the embodiment of an electric future.
What it lacks is any sort of commitment to a charging network (something that Audi promises to crack with the e-tron), but if you're looking for a grown-up electric car with few compromises, the Jaguar i-Pace sets a new standard.
Tesla Model S
- 304-393 mile range, 75-100kWh battery
- Prices from £64,700
If you were looking for the daddy of electric cars, it has to be the Tesla Model S. It marries the economic and environmental benefits of electric power, with a serious helping of luxury and speed. It also has an intelligent Autopilot mode that can keep you in lane on the motorway whilst monitoring cars around you adapting your speed and changing lanes for you.
The Tesla Model S was wowing with its speed and huge interior touchscreen while electric cars were still a twinkle in many other manufacturers' eyes. While most have focused on small car or SUV, the Tesla Model S cuts a swathe through the executive saloon segment. It can get expensive however.
- High-roof hatchback
- 120 mile range, 33kWh battery, range extender offered
- Prices from £33,070
The BMW i3 certainly turns heads with its somewhat unusual looks. But under that boxy exterior, the i3 is as much a BMW as any of its regular, fuel-powered cars. One of the first pure electric - and designed to be electric first - cars, the BMW i3 is also one of the most popular on the roads. It's not got the size of an SUV, instead being a high-roof hatchback design.
It's practical, it's comfortable, it's futuristically designed - and it's a reasonable performer. The reality the range is about 100-120 miles from a full charge and, in modern terms, the battery is now a little small. The range may sound small compared to Tesla or Jaguar, but it's half the price. There is a range extender version, but this adds a petrol engine, so it's technically a hybrid.
- 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, although we were hitting closer to 125 miles per charge. That it accepts a DC connector for super-fast charging at a compatible station is very handy, plus there's regenerative braking to help top-up the battery.
If electric cars are going to make the step into the mainstream, they're going to have to start to feel normal. Which is where the e-Golf really comes into its own: right now it's probably the easiest way to slip into the electric car groove. After all, it's a Golf – probably the best family hatchback on the market – that just happens to be electric. It's as simple as that.
Hyundai Kona Electric
- Crossover, SUV style
- Prices start at under £25,000
- 39.2kWh battery (194 miles); 64kWh battery (range-extender, 300 miles)
The Hyundai Kona is perhaps the most accessible all-electric car available on account of its sub-£25k asking price. For that you get a lot of tech and safety gear, plus ample space for a family of four thanks to the SUV styling.
The Kona EV comes in two flavours: the standard model, which is said to be good for 194 miles (we found it more like 140 miles per charge); and the range-extender mode, said to be good for 300 miles (we found that close to 210 miles per charge).
Even if the real-world figures aren't quite on point, you'll be able to hit the 150 miles mark for about £6 - which is a whole lot less than a £40 tank. That's the beauty of electric and, in this Hyundai form, it might be the best price proposition we'll see for some time.
Tesla Model X
- Up to 7-seater SUV
- 259-351 mile range, 75-100kWh battery
- Prices from £71,350
The Model X is the fastest SUV on the planet and will catapult you to 60mph in 2.9 seconds. The other talking point of the Model X is the falcon wing doors, that open up and out the way to allow passengers to easily access the second and third rows of seats. What Tesla has really done, however, is make electric cars sexy and it's very much a car of the moment.
You get long range, access to Tesla's Supercharger network and the infamous Autopilot - as well as the chance to own a Tesla. But the price is high and the competition is getting stronger all the time, with rival luxe brands starting to flex their marque muscles. None yet will match the speed, however.
Kia Soul EV
- 105 mile range, 27kWh battery
- Prices from £25,995
The Soul EV was the first all-electric SUV in Europe and unlike many others on this list, Kia took an IC engine car and converted it for electric. It also took a slightly odd car in the Soul, with looks that divide, but we have to admit we love its larger than life toy-like looks.
As it's old the capacity of the battery is a little lower than some and there aren't quite as many tech toys - but it's a solid electric car for those who want zero emissions for cutting around town. It's fun to drive, has great SUV-style visibility lots of space and it's pretty affordable too.
- 174 mile range, 28kWh
- Prices from £25,345
The Hyundai Ioniq is available in all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants. The all-electric version has a fairly small battery, but impressive range with about 120 miles in the real world. That makes the Ioniq a popular choice for those wanting saloon practicality but can't stretch to the Tesla Model S.
Being a Hyundai it comes loaded with tech so you get a lot for your money and there's no risk of running away with the options list - as there really isn't one. Pick your trim and drive away in a comfortable and affordable electric saloon!
Nissan Leaf (2018)
- Up to 235 mile range, 40kWh battery
- Prices from £21,990
The new Nissan Leaf builds upon one of the best selling electric cars in the UK, firmly lodged in the hatchback segment. A brand new design, a bigger battery with longer range and a great drive give the Nissan Leaf plenty of appeal. There's options for trim - without getting too expensive and a drive that's positive and fun.
There's oodles of tech - including the option for ProPilot for semi-autonomous driving - in a package that's plenty refined. Looking for a small electric hatch? It's probably the Leaf you want.
- Up to 250 mile range, 22-40kW battery
- Prices from £18,420 plus £49/59 monthly battery rental
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. The price is pretty low, but the cheapest models require ongoing battery leasing at £49 a month for the 22kW battery, or £59 a month for the 40kW battery - and they come with milage limits etc, which need to be factored into ownership.
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
- 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.
However, with equally competent electric car rivals available for less money and with the bigger e-Golf available for just a few grand more, the e-Up's charms fail to outweigh the fact it doesn't make the greatest financial sense for a private buyer.
Smart ForTwo Electric Drive / ForFour ED
- Coupé and convertible models
- Prices from £20,920 / £21,415
- Up to 99 mile range / Up to 96 mile range, top speed of 80mph
Smart has electrified its popular supermini city car, and given it a new lick of paint in the process. It has electric recuperation tech to help recharge the battery and the companion app will let you set the climate control temperature before you get in. A full charge will take just under four hours from a public charging station or Wallbox and the infotainment system has USB, Aux, SD and Bluetooth connections.
If the two seat Smart ForTwo isn't big enough for you, but you still want to go electric, then the ForFour ED is for you. The overall range is slightly lower than its smaller sibling, but the extra space makes up for it. Charging times, connectivity options and companion app compatibility are the same as the two seater model.
Peugeot iOn / Citroen C-Zero
- Four-seater city cars
- 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.
The Peugeot iOn is essentially a rebadged Citroen C-Zero.