Best electric cars: Top choices 2016

Ever-growing numbers of mainstream manufacturers are joining the electric-car race, with more motorists than ever choosing to ditch trips to the petrol station.

The technology improves every year and many models on sale now offer decent ranges and performance figures and can be bought at affordable prices – due in part to the government’s drive to get more motorists driving one. Switching to an electric car is getting easier and easier thanks to the expanding network of charging stations and the growing number of cars designed to go a reasonable distance on a single charge.

Electric cars now come in various shapes and sizes. You can choose from small city cars that are well suited to battery power, large executive saloons and family hatchbacks powered by electric motors. Efforts are being made to make them more affordable. Buy a brand new electric car and the government will subsidise your purchase to the tune of £4,500.  Manufacturers like Renault, Nissan, Volkswagen, BMW and the electric car specialist Tesla have some of the best choices on the market right now, with other car firms like Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar set to join in soon.

BMW i3

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The BMW i3 was released in 2014. Thanks to a round of recent updates, the small, futuristic, desirable BMW is now one of the best premium electric vehicles available.

There are two different powertrain choices. You can have the i3 with a purely electric drivetrain – a 170bhp electric motor mated to a 33kWh battery pack that claims to be capable of 195 miles on a single charge – or you can have the range extender.

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The i3 range extender has the same battery pack and electric motor, but it’s mated to a 32bhp petrol engine. This isn’t used to drive the car, but instead generates additional power for the batteries, increasing the car’s range to a claimed 276 miles.

Eye-catching looks and an upmarket, minimalist interior are two of the car’s biggest draws. It’s “like the Apple iPhone of the car world – there are alternatives, but nothing is as stylish, desirable or as good to use”, says Auto Express. Prices start at £27,830, with the range extender priced from £30,980.

Tesla Model S

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Elon Musk’s Model S gets a new look for 2016 and boasts some extra tech and a powertrain option.

The facelift is only a minor nip and tuck, but noticeable from the front. The black fascia has gone, replaced by a flatter nose featuring the same small moustache grille you’ll find on Tesla’s Model X crossover SUV and steering it a little closer towards what we’ve seen so far in terms of the Model 3.

In the cabin, the Model S has what the company calls a “bioweapon defence mode”. It’s actually an optional HEPA air filtration system. The interior itself is dominated by a huge 17ins portrait touchscreen sitting in the middle of the centre console. Other tech highlights include a secondary screen behind the steering wheel, creating a digitised instrument cluster rich with information, plus on-board wi-fi, keyless entry, reversing camera and parking sensors.

In terms of tech, Tesla’s autopilot software tops the bill. It’s an adaptive cruise-control system that can effectively drive the car autonomously on motorways. There’s also self-parking plus a “Summon” feature.

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Tesla has recently introduced two versions of the car: the Model S 60 and 60D. The former starts from £53,400 and makes use of a 75kWh battery pack for a claimed 248 mile range, 0-62mph in 5.5secs and a top speed of 130mph. The 60D is an all-wheel drive with slightly more range and faster from 0-62mph.

Above the 60kWh cars are more powerful variants with longer ranges. The P90 and P90D models have a claimed distance of more than 300 miles, but a Model S with an even bigger range is set to join the line-up soon.

Tesla has revealed that a P100D version sporting a 100kWh battery pack will soon arrive on sale. It’s set to be expensive, but it should offer the longest range of any electric car, alongside searing performance – the company claims 0-62mph in 2.5secs is achievable.

Nissan Leaf

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The Nissan Leaf is one of the bestselling electric cars of all time, with more than 200,000 units sold worldwide since its introduction in 2010. As Auto Express notes, it was the first fully electric car to sell in significant numbers in the UK.

Nissan has refreshed the Leaf with a handful of new additions, most importantly a new 30kWh battery pack unlocking a larger 155-mile range. This doesn’t replace the standard car, though – the cheapest versions still boast 24kWh packs and can go for a claimed 124-miles on a single charge.

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Buying plans for the Leaf are flexible. From £21,530, you can have the car in its most basic Visia trim, although this price can be reduced even more by opting to lease the batteries, cutting £5,000 off the list price but adding a charge of more than £70 per month for the cells.

The range-topping 30kWh car in Tekna trim, featuring the extended range and a strong line-up of standard equipment, can be had from £22,230 if you choose to buy this way.

Car magazine says the Leaf is “a paragon of saintly silence” – it’s quiet, comfortable and there are “few more relaxing cars to drive”, although the claimed 155-mile range won’t be seen by many.

Overall, it “still feels like an electric pioneer” and the upgrades mean it’s like “Moores’ law playing out on four wheels”, it adds.

Kia Soul EV

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The Soul is Kia’s small city-dwelling crossover. While most of the versions you’ll see on the road are petrol or diesel powered, the electric Soul sits at the top of the range. It’s a car that could be a brilliant choice for city commuters who want to save money over buying a BMW i3.

The Soul has a similarly boxy and eye-catching design, though its interior isn’t a match for the BMW’s. The cabin is lifted straight from the regular Soul, but is made from recyclable materials. There are no optional extras, as the electric version is the range topper and comes with everything as standard, such as intelligent air-con as well as a touchscreen navigation and infotainment system.

Power is supplied by a 27kWh battery and the electric motor mated to it produces 109bhp. Kia claims a range of 130 miles on a single charge, with a 90mph top speed. Compared to the likes of the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, the purchase price is high at £25,495. However, the car does come with a seven year, 100,000 mile warranty.

Renault Zoe

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For a more conventional Renault, the Zoe hatchback offers an everyday go at an electric car. Overall, it’s fairly well-equipped with a decent interior and design. The Zoe is also slightly larger than the Renault Clio on which it’s based, offering a 338-litre boot.

But it’s the price that’s one of the greatest pull factors: the Zoe starts at £13,945 after the government grant, although you do have to pay a monthly rental charge for the batteries. There are flexible plans, depending on how many miles you intend to drive per month, and prices start at £70 a month.

The electric motor is an 87bhp setup, with an Eco mode that reduces it to 60bhp for more range. A range of around 90 miles is what you’ll be getting, says What Car. “It’s so like a normal car to drive that only the reduced range make it less practical than an ordinary supermini,” says Auto Express. Renault customers buying new will be offered a free 7kWh wall-box charger, which can charge the Zoe to the max in up to four hours.

Volkswagen e-Golf

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The MK7 Golf platform has been made with an electric version of VW’s popular family hatchback in mind, representing the best choice if you’re after familiarity with your new electric model.

But while some will be tempted by the idea of keeping things as close to combustion engine normality as possible by buying the electrically converted family favourite, there are one or two drawbacks. Biggest of these is range: Volkswagen claims you can do up to 118 miles, but Auto Express says you’ll likely only get 80.

That aside, there’s barely any difference between the electric Golf and its conventionally powered siblings in terms of practicality and on shorter journeys, it drives in much the same way.

Prices for the e-Golf start at £27,150, after the £4,500 grant

Volkswagen e-Up

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Alternatively, another VW choice exists in the form of the e-Up – an all-electric version of the Up city car offering something different if you hanker after an EV resembling an already established model.

Despite being a small runaround, the e-Up is not cheap. Prices start at £20,575 after the £4,500 government grant, making larger, cheaper options with better ranges, such as the Nissan Leaf, seem tempting. However, for your money, you get a well-made, well-designed and good to drive car with plenty of equipment.

Volkswagen claims the e-Up comes with an electric range of 93 miles and the 81bhp motor has a top speed of 81mph. It’s at home in the city, being small, nimble and, thanks to electric power, surprisingly quick off the lights.

The standard equipment list is huge, with parking sensors, cruise control, sat nav, automatic emergency braking, climate control and heated seats. Nor has practicality been hampered by the electric powertrain – clever packaging means the interior space is exactly the same as you’ll find in a regular Up and so is the 250-litre boot.

Tesla Model 3

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Although Tesla’s next car won’t arrive until the end of 2017 at the earliest, it’s worth including in our list, given that some 400,000 customers have placed pre-order deposits. Musk revealed the pre-production prototype in March – a small, electric saloon said to be capable of 215 miles on a single charge and priced from around £30,000. Autipilot self-driving capabilities are expected to feature in some way, although full autonomy will probably be an optional feature – if at all. The Model 3 is the electric car currently stealing all the headlines, but there’s still a lot to find out before it launches – including when that will be.