22 May 2015

Smaller, more affordable electric cars

Some of you may be thinking about looking to electric power when it comes to your next car, to do your bit for the environment. A lot of the attention tends to shine on pricier electric sports and prestige cars, like BMW’s i8 and the Tesla S, but more affordable all-electric cars are out there, so I thought I’d bring you the low-down. Not one of them could be labelled the small electric car equivalent of Ussain Bolt, so we’ll skip the power figures and focus on what matters – range, charging time and price.

Volkswagen e-up!

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Volkswagen e-up


I’m a Yorkshireman so couldn’t resist starting with Volkswagen’s e-up!  Okay, the abrupt styling at the back looks a bit like the designer dropped a guillotine on it, but the overall appearance of this 5-door is cute and desirable complete with VW’s awesome C-shaped LED daytime lights – plus being a Volkswagen, it’ll be built to last. Inside, the e-up! is pretty plush, too, along with enough gadgets to shame your local electronics retailer. Priced from £24,000, it takes upto 9 hours to charge if you plug it in at home, 6 hours if you get a special wall box installed, or 30 minutes from one of the UK’s few superchargers; and the range is 100 miles in theory, but more like 70 miles in reality.

Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Smart ForTwo Electric Drive


If you want a green car for travelling backwards and forwards from college, university or work and tend to drive on your own, this is one of the smallest purely electric cars around and perhaps one of the silliest-looking – but each to their own. The theoretical range of the electric Smart is 90 miles but always expect to achieve around 20% less with any electric car, if you use the air con or drive on hilly roads. Charging takes 7 hours from your household mains, 6 hours if you get a wall box fitted or just 1 hour from a public charging point, which is just perfect for grabbing a skinny latte while you top up the battery. Ideal for the city as they’re so dinky and hence easy to park, they’re priced around £15,000.

Renault Zoe

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Renault Zoe


One of the most normal-looking all-electric cars on the market, the Zoe is still undeniably very French in its design, with a streamlined image and a cartoony face. Depending on the trim chosen, the interior is futuristic and also good for your wellbeing, the Zen version coming with an ioniser, toxicity sensor and active fragrances, ensuring it smells good inside. Hill start assist is useful for young or new drivers and as with other all-electric vehicles, the Zoe has an automatic gearbox. You can hire or buy the battery and the monthly cost depends on your mileage and how long you sign up for. Charging a Zoe from a British Gas wall box takes 3-4 hours. Rapid supercharging takes just 30 minutes, whilst using a public charging point takes anywhere between 1 and 8 hours, with no option to plug it into your household sockets. Prices are pretty competitive considering Zoe is a decently-sized family car, ranging from £13,000 to £15,000. Range is appealing, too, the latest Zoe said to last upto 121 miles, which is double the original’s ability and should mean a realistic 100 miles.

Nissan LEAF

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Nissan LEAF


This is another fully electric car that would be suitable for young families or for those who often ferry their mates around. I think it looks ever so slightly like a fish from every angle but still attractive all the same, and they’re a rare sight on the road. Most manufacturers admit their batteries can’t be charged back up to 100%, typically reckoning they work to 75% or 80% capacity; but Nissan states that 12 hours may be enough to recharge back to 100%, plugged in at your house, next to your smartphone if you wish. You can pay a bit more and get a beefier battery pack, charging takes 4 hours at home or using a public charge point, or you can recharge to 80% using a less common rapid charging point, taking only half an hour. Three LEAF trims are available, from Visia at £16,500 and Acenta at £18,600, to Tekna priced from £20,600. Nissan reckons a LEAF provides a range of upto 124 miles of leisurely driving at an average 38mph with air con switched off, down to 76 miles if you’re on the motorway at an average 55mph in the summer heat with air con turned on.

Citroën C-Zero

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Citroen C-Zero


This dinky electric car would look right at home in a sci-fi film, that’s for sure, and they admit it’s really meant for urban driving. The C-Zero’s top speed is 80mph, it’s got a range of upto 93 miles and like many other electric vehicles (EVs for short) it tops itself up on the go, each time you brake, for example. This is a process called regeneration. You can charge a C-Zero at home, taking from 6 to 12 hours, once again meaning that overnight is your best bet. It’s a genuine four-seater with a good boot holding upto 166 litres and prices start at £16,400. Bear in mind that the Citroën C-Zero is the same as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Peugeot iOn. The Peugeot costs from £26,000 and the Mitsubishi from £28,500 at face value, but digging deeper, what Citroën do is display the price after they’ve awarded a special £4,800 discount and subtracted the Plug-in Car Grant (PICG) sum of around £5,000 that electric car buyers can request from the government. In reality, each car in this trio costs around the same.

Renault Twizy

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - Renault Twizy


If you thought the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive looked like a case of ‘honey, I’ve shrunk the car’, you’ll be gobsmacked when you see the Twizy, a 2-seater, quirky-looking car that is so tiny, it can be parked sideways. If you want to attract even more attention in the city, you can choose optional gull-wingscissor doors. You don’t get an awful lot of metal for your money, so as you’d expect, Twizy prices start relatively low, from £6,900 for an entry-level Expression model to £7,600 for a Dynamique trim version. Just like the Zoe and other electric cars, you rent the battery in addition to the cost of buying the actual car, the cheapest battery rental tariff being £45 over 36 months if you limit your driving to 4,500 miles per year. Don’t expect to see a range of more than 45-50 miles, but at least a Twizy is small enough to sneak into tighter charging spaces out there.

KIA Soul EV Electric Car

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - KIA Soul EV Electric Car


I’ve always loved the styling of Kia’s chunky little urban warrior and the electric version looks even cooler, with fancy lights and a distinctive grille. Priced from £25,000, the Soul EV is packed with technology, from DAB digital radio and a tasty 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, to dual-zone climate control and a reverse parking camera, useful for inexperienced drivers. Only two colours are available, blue and white, and it comes supplied with a domestic fast charger, meaning it takes a competitive 4 hours to top up. Kia states the range of the Soul EV as anywhere between 60 to 132 miles depending on driving style and environmental conditions.

BMW i3

Small compact afforable electric vehicles cars EVs blog - BMW i3


In case you’ve got a few quid extra in your savings, we’ve included BMW’s luxury electric car, the i3, which looks fantastic with two-tone paint jobs, front nostrils with a blue glow and very cool turbine-like alloy wheels. I once spent two days promoting one in a Midlands shopping centre and it attracted loads of attention. BMW reckons the i3 is the most fun electric car to drive, whilst still providing zero-emissions and noise-free motoring, good for your inner peace as well as the environment. With a 125PS electric motor, it’s the most powerful small electric car around and takes 6 hours to charge from your normal mains, or 3 hours using a wall box. Prices start at £30,000 but don’t forget the government grant of upto £5,000, meaning you can own one for around £25,000 before monthly battery rental fees.

It’s clear to see, then, that the future lies in electric vehicles and that more and more manufacturers are getting in on the act – but they’re currently still not what you’d call cheap. Recharging an EV isn’t as convenient as pulling into a filling station and topping up with petrol or diesel and you need to carefully plan whether you’ve got enough range to complete a journey. If you do most of your driving locally and live near a city, electric vehicles are certainly something to think about, as they’re London Congestion Charge exempt, too.

We wish you all an enjoyable bank holiday weekend and if you have any questions about electric vehicles, give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook.

Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.