Best new electric cars you can buy in 2016 – The Week UK

Posted: Friday, August 19, 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.

While many motorists will be better suited to a hybrid car, trading off some running costs and cleanliness for ranges on par with petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, new rules mean drivers can only opt for fully electric to net the full £4,500 government grant.

Presently, offerings from the likes of Kia, Renault, Volkswagen, Nissan and BMW make up some of the most popular choices, although brands such as Mercedes-Benz are hotly tipped to join in, while cult manufacturer Tesla is on the verge of releasing the Model 3, its first affordable EV.

For now, here are the choices critics single out as the best electric cars on sale:

BMW i3

The i3 is a small car but with a bold design and a very modern, minimalist interior. Auto Express says it’s “like the Apple iPhone of the car world – there are alternatives, but nothing is as stylish, desirable or as good to use”.

It now has more than just looks and desirability on its hands – BMW has just upgraded the i3 with an all new battery pack for a considerable boost in range.

With the 33kWh battery, the i3 can now do 195 miles on a single charge, says the company, up from the 80-100 miles of previous versions. If that’s not enough, BMW offers the i3 as a range-extender, too. It gets a 38bhp petrol engine, fitted purely to develop electricity for the battery pack. This option bumps the range up to 276 miles and the little petrol engine emits just 12g CO2/km.

Faster DC charging capabilities are now standard and there are some new trim options. Prices start at £27,830 after the £4,500 government grant for the pure EV i3, rising to £30,980 for the range-extender version.

Tesla Model S

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.

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.

Sitting alongside the new 60 cars are the Model S P90 and P90D – range-topping, high-performance variants. Tesla claims the 90kWh vehicles have a range of more 300 miles and, when equipped with the Ludicrous mode option box, the P90D does 0-62mph in a ballistic 2.8secs.

Nissan Leaf

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.

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

Kia’s Soul EV is a small electric crossover entry from the South Korean firm, which Auto Express calls a “great choice for city commuters” – the benefits of quiet, comfortable electric motoring tied in to the Soul’s funky design.

There’s only one version – priced at £24,195 after the government grant and fitted with a 27kWh battery for a claimed range of 132 miles.

“Look past the limited badge appeal, and you’ll find that the [Soul] EV promises a lot of car for the money”, says Auto Express. Its range is respectable, the level of kit and tech offered as standard is plentiful and it comes with Kia’s seven year warranty.

Sat nav, keyless entry, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and DAB digital radio are all offered as standard equipment, and the interior is largely carried over from the standard combustion powered Soul. It’s Kia’s first electric car, but given the brand’s reputation for reliability, ownership should be largely fault free.

Renault Zoe

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

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

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 X

Alphr lists the Model X as its favourite electric car, saying it has the potential to be “the ultimate electric car”. Production niggles aside, Tesla’s recently-released crossover SUV represents the top of the premium EV ladder.

Starting from £71,900 after government subsidies, it certainly isn’t cheap. However, it boasts a claimed range of 259 miles on the New European Driving Cycle with its smallest, cheapest, 75kWh battery pack, with a 0-62mph time of six seconds and a top speed of 130mph. There are faster, more expensive versions available, too. A 90kWh car comes in at £82,400, while the range-topping P90D will set you back £99,800.

As Auto Express notes, the Model X won’t be troubling the likes of Land Rover in the off-road stakes, but the pace of its top model – 0-62mph in 3.2secs when fitted with the Ludicrous mode battery pack –means it will be one of the fastest SUVs on sale.

Inside, the cabin is typical Tesla and the enormous glass panoramic windscreen means the cabin is light and airy. It’s loaded with tech – the firm’s full Autopilot features can be specced – and the rear “Falcon” doors are something of a party piece, opening upwards.

Tesla has had a hard time getting the Model X out of the factory door and a late 2016 release looks like it could lapse into early 2017 for a full UK release. It’s a huge slice of electric luxury before the firm releases its cheapest car, the Model 3, later on next year.

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