In Depth

Best electric cars 2017: Smart, Tesla and more

From saloons to SUVs, here are the best electric vehicles coming out this year

Best electric cars: 2016's top EV's

24 October

Electric cars are becoming more and more viable as a form of everyday transport. Many mainstream carmakers now offer an electric model, or are actively developing one.

Several of the latest models offer all-electric ranges in the hundreds of miles, meaning that most motorists will find that EVs now meet their commuting needs. The technology is improving at a rapid pace with better electric cars appearing every year. The UK's charging network is also on an expansion path, making it easier to top up your electric car on the go. 

The market for electric cars is also fairly diverse. Luxury saloons, small city cars and even SUVs powered by electric motors are currently on sale and the good news is that buyers get £4,500 from the government towards the cost of their new electric vehicle. 

Here are some of the top choices:

BMW i3

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. 

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

The Model S is one of the most desirable saloon cars you can buy and also one of the most desirable electric cars on the market. 

The 2016 version – complete with facelifted exterior and new on-board technology – starts at £55,100. At that price, you'll get the Model S with a 60kWh battery pack that's good for a claimed 248mile range on the New European Driving Cycle, a 5.5 second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 130mph. A little more money will buy you an all-wheel-drive 60S model with a little extra range and performance. 

Similarly, there are two 75kWh options: the 75, which has a 298 mile range, and the 75D, which nudges up to a claimed 304 miles on a single charge. 

Three performance models – 90D, P90D, and P100D – sit at the top of the range. The P100D comes with a performance to rival supercars. It takes just 2.5 seconds to hit 62mph from a standing start and has the longest claimed range (381 miles). The car costs £118,900. 

Top Gear calls the Model S a big step forward for electric cars. This could be the vehicle that shows that "cylinders may have had their day".

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

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

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. 

At the moment, the Zoe uses a 22kWh battery pack with the equivalent of 87bhp for a claimed 150-mile range on the NEDC scale, although around 100 miles is more realistic.

If you're interested in getting one, it would be best holding on a few weeks.

The Paris Motor Show saw Renault unveil an updated Zoe with substantial improvements in battery technology and set to release next month.

The updated EV comes with a denser 41kWh battery pack for a theoretical 250-mile range. Renault themselves say in real world conditions, you'll get about 186 miles, but you can add an extra 50 miles through 30 minute charging with a standard socket. It won't completely replace the 22kWh car and will cost more, however.

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 3

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.

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