It’s a question that crops up all the time: “What is the best electric car?”
Of course, it seems like a straightforward question. It is, on the face of things. But there are so many caveats here it could take us all day to get through them.
The truth is that electric cars, just like their petrol-powered alternatives, are so diverse that you really have to fill out a questionnaire before you can get a solid answer.
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That’s because there is no one size fits all electric car, or there would be only one. You need to find what is the best electric car for you.
So ask yourself:
- Do you need the best electric car range?
- Do you want the fastest electric car?
- Do you want the best electric car lease deal?
- Do you want a budget electric car?
- Do you need a fast charging electric car?
If you’re confused by the market, we’re here to help you make your decision. We’ve simplified the issue by leaving out the plug-in hybrids that can further confuse things and we’ve come up with a list of the best electric cars on the market.
1. Tesla Model S
We’re struggling to think of a better all-round electric car than the Tesla Model S and it makes the rest of the motoring world look a little stone-aged right now. It’s just that good.
The likes of Mercedes, BMW and Audi are struggling to catch up and this battery-powered leviathan even dominated serious sportscars on the dragstrip.
It comes with a premium price tag, but then it’s a premium product and Tesla will soon have the Model 3 for the masses. The Model S is a fast, luxurious sedan with a 312-mile range and a serious lick of speed.
Inside, the Model S is a breath of fresh air with clean lines, no discernible instruments and a touchscreen that gives the driver instant access to the whole car. Add the likes of Autopilot, which is a brave step forward towards autonomous cars, and it’s easy to see why the Tesla Model S has stolen this particular show.
The P90D is the one you really want if you’re out to shame the neighbours. It’s a Tesla Model S turned up to 11 with an 90kWh battery, it costs $119,200 and it comes with the infamous ‘Ludicrous mode’ that means it can leave established sportscars trailing in its wake.
If money is no object and you need a brilliant all-round electric car to use on a daily basis, the Tesla Model S is as good as it gets.
2. Nissan Leaf
The base Nissan Leaf is still America’s best-selling electric car by a long way, despite Chevy’s ongoing efforts to topple the Japanese manufacturer.
Perhaps surprisingly, Tesla’s Model S sold 25,000 units in 2015, which dwarfs the Leaf’s 17,269 sales. But the Leaf is still the most successful electric car in the US because it’s been here since 2010.
Now it’s not all good news. The base model covers just 81 miles and the 30kWh versions manage 107 miles between charges.
That aside, the Nissan Leaf is a functional, elegant hatchback. It won’t set pulses racing, but then it’s not designed to. The Leaf is a simple electric car for the masses and, in its own way, it’s an icon.
It should get swept aside in the years ahead by the tidal wave of electric cars on the horizon. But the Leaf was one of the pioneers, it deserves its place in the electric car Hall of Fame and right now it’s still the best all-round budget electric car you can buy.
3. Rimac One
Price: $1 million
Effectively the Bugatti Veyron of the EV world, this 221mph electric car is a way for the 1% to show that you can still be better than everybody else in a zero emissions world.
With four electric motors and four separate gearboxes providing the equivalent of 1088bhp and a ridiculous 1200lb ft of torque, this breathtaking car can hit 60mph in 2.6s and tops out at Veyron-baiting speeds.
An exterior produced almost exclusively from carbon-fiber joins forces with an advanced four-wheel-drive system that uses computer algorithms to distribute force unevenly to keep this rocket in a straight line. The highlights just keep coming with a 4080lb kerbweight, regenerative braking, a carbon-fiber monocoque, carbon ceramic brakes and more.
It’s still a surprise that the car comes from Croatia and there were knowing smiles when it launched to a skeptical motoring press five years ago. A functional prototype has appeared at a number of rounds of the Formula E Championship as the Safety Car, though, and the company claims to have sold six of the 88 cars it intends to build.
The really good new? There’s a Concept S in the works with the electric equivalent of 1365bhp and 1328lb ft of torque. Predictably, it’s going to be faster…
The Rimac isn’t really a car, it’s a technical tour de force that shows the world just what science can do. We have to salute the little company from Croatia, it has really achieved something here.
4. BMW i3
BMW has redefined the small car genre with the i3 and there’s plenty more to come from this line of carbon-fiber/aluminium bodied machines.
A range of 81 miles is the limiting factor, although you can order your i3 with a range extender engine that turns it into more usable transport with a 150-mile range. In 2017, the i3 will have a range of 114 miles without petrol power.
It charges in 3 hours on a 220-volt outlet and with a rear-drive set-up it should be fun. Intrusive electronics and a 2600lb kerbweight mean it isn’t quite the pure driving machine that built BMW’s reputation.
It is, however, a premium city car that means people can enjoy zero emissions without slumming it. It’s a lifestyle statement and a fashion accessory, as much as a usable car, but the world still loves a designer label.
There are neat tricks on the i3, including regenerative braking that means you can leave the brake pedal alone if you plan your drive. It will also hit 60mph in 6.5s, which in the confines of the city is all you are likely to need.
It isn’t the total package, but it’s a good first attempt from BMW and a clear sign of what is to come.
5. Audi R8 e-tron
After six years of rumors, concepts and teasers, Audi’s electric sportscar is finally about to break cover.
Honestly Audi got lucky with the timing in terms of this list. The only other notable sportscars include the Mercedes SLS Electric Drive, which barely made it into double figures in terms of production numbers and was quietly shelved. BMW has stuck with a hybrid powerplant for the i8 and Porsche’s Mission E isn’t even close.
So despite the fact we’re still waiting for a price, the Audi R8 e-tron is still the best electric sportscar on the market right now, kind of…
It’s firmly based on the petrol-powered R8, offers a 280-mile range and the 0-60mph time should be in the region of 3.9s from this 340kWh machine.
That’s the equivalent of 456bhp and it comes with 679 lb ft of torque, so nobody will complain that this electric car isn’t fast enough.
The R8 e-tron is a gamechanger in the making and it’s about to land. When it does, look out for a landslide of orders from this stunning sportscar.
6. Chevy Bolt
GM will actually beat Tesla to the punch with a truly mass market electric car that can crack 200 miles between charges. We will have to wait until late 2017 for the Model 3, at least, but the pure electric Bolt should roll off the production line at the end of this year.
Until then we have the Spark to keep us company. But there’s simply no reason to buy one when the Bolt is ready to raise the bar.
Yes, the company that killed the electric car, according to one high-profile documentary, could be about to take the lead in the EV race.
That’s because the Bolt isn’t meant to be a revolution, it’s an actual car that people can use. It’s the workhorse PC compared to the iPads on offer at Tesla. It’s elegant, but it’s functional and it will consign range anxiety to history. That’s the critical part.
Also, this car is categorically going to be on the road on time. While Tesla has had trouble hitting production targets in the past, GM is a corporate juggernaut that understands product development cycles.
In another ironic twist of fate, the company that went bankrupt in 2009 and was held up as a shining example of American failure in the financial crisis could be the safe bet for cautious customers. Not everybody has bought into Elon Musk and the stock market never seems sure if the Tony Stark of the EV world is going to reign supreme or fall flat on his face.
That can be a big factor for the car buying public, because who will service your car if the company goes pop in a few months’ time?
GM has had its dark days and it’s going to be here. So will the Chevy Bolt and, while it might not be the most exciting EV on the market, it’s going to be one of the best for a good long while.
7. Kia Soul
Korean company Kia has managed to inject some, well, soul into the EV sector with this cute, diminutive SUV that has won legions of fans around the world.
It’s no rival for the Tesla Model X, but then that’s the point. It’s like an overgrown toy car with its clean, simple lines and the connector at the front with the sliding plate where the grille once was. It offers a fresh look at automotive design, its instantly recognizable and it’s a package that just works.
Kia has always appealed to the budget conscious buyer, but the Soul EV is a departure.
The base model, the EV-e, is only available in California, the rest of the country has to pay $2000 more for the standard EV. It is still relatively cheap and it offers some of the best electric car lease deals you can find with a $199 monthly payment after the initial balloon.
It’s roomy, well equipped for the price bracket and offers the traditional Kia values of economy and solid construction.
It offers a 93-mile range between charges and comes with a fast charge DC port, but the Soul won’t win many awards for truly groundbreaking innovation. What it has done is create a zero emissions car that people actually want to drive. That’s good enough for us.
8. Volkswagen e-Golf
The Volkswagen Golf is the second best-selling car in the world. Just a fraction of the hatchbacks that roll off the line are electric, but then this is a new adventure for VW and its smart business to start with a perennial favorite.
There’s nothing spectacular about the e-Golf, but then that’s why it could sell in big numbers. It’s just an electric version of a machine that has conquered the world.
You get 199lb ft of torque, 83 miles of range and that legendary VW build quality. It comes with three power maps and three levels of regenerative braking, too. In certain states you can get a $179 a month lease deal after the initial payment, which is less than some spend on gas.
For that you get an 85mph top speed, a 0-60mph time of 9.4s and a touchscreen infotainment screen. Audi’s e-tron range will offer a premium version, but the VW will be the volume seller that drives the VW group’s zero emissions movement. Now it just needs more range.
9. Tesla Model X
It has seating for seven, gullwing doors and, in P90D spec, it can slay supercars in a straight line. What’s not to love about the Tesla Model X?
This might be Elon Musk’s greatest effort yet. It’s a futuristic design, it has a supremely low drag co-efficient and those doors that open with a button on the fob will simply never get old.
Inside, there are three rows of seats and you basically get a minibus crowbarred into the wheelbase of a crossover SUV. With the largest 90kWh battery pack fitted, it has 250 miles of range. That is enough to get between Supercharger stations in vast swathes of the civilized world these days.
Don’t forget that Tesla had to create the infrastructure, not just the car, and the scale of this achievement is simply towering. The fact that Elon Musk managed to create a selection of killer cars along the way is close to a modern day miracle.
The high-speed ‘Ludicrous Option’ is a $10,000 upgrade and it comes with a special 1500-amp fuse. That means the Model X ploughs all 713lb ft of torque through the wheels and you get a launch control function that means this 5594lb whale can hit 60mph in 3.2s, 100mph in 8.3s and 120mph in 13s.
It’s an irrational package that basically defies physics. We should celebrate the sheer insanity and salute one of the most groundbreaking cars on the road today.
10. Smart Electric Coupe
The Smart car has always been an oddity and the Mercedes sub-brand went through some serious growing pains, but suddenly it makes sense. Fitted with an electric motor it looks like the future of urban transport and it deserves a second crack of the whip.
Mercedes clearly agrees, because it’s getting a whole new line of Electric Drive Smarts ready for the marketplace. This time around, the new Smart FourTwo Electric Drive that will launch in Paris could be a smash hit.
It will use a modified version of the Renault Zoe’s 59kWh powerplant. That is a minor embarrassment that Mercedes has just decided to suck up while it focuses its effort on its second sub-brand.
You can park these cars facing forward against the pavement, most of our journeys only need space for two and you don’t need an awesome driving machine within the confines of the city.
So it’s pretty much perfect for the city commute, especially with the $139/month leasing deals on offer direct from dealers.
The world might finally have caught up with what was a revolutionary concept and this could be Smart’s time to shine.
11. Mitsubish i-MiEV
This is the cheapest EV on the open market. That’s the main USP of the diminutive Mitsubishi that should be kept firmly within the confines of the city.
It comes with a 62-mile range, which just isn’t enough for a serious commute. Its small size, an advantage on the city streets, would count against it on the highway as well.
There’s room for four inside, it’s a cute design and the i-MiEV does a lot of things right. It is slow, it takes 13s to hit 60mph and tops out at 80mph, but this car has real potential if all you need to do is drive to the office every morning.
Honestly it feels like a step back in time compared to the likes of the Tesla, but then not everyone can afford that kind of lifestyle statement and Mitsubishi offers no frills electric motoring with a low sticker price. There’s a place for that, too.
12. Ford Focus Electric
Like the VW Golf, the Ford Focus Electric is a solid electric interpretation of one of the world’s most popular cars.
It won’t rock your world, but then it isn’t meant to. This is a dependable, well-built electric car with the equivalent of 143bhp powering the front wheels. Again, the main issue is the range as the Focus is limited to just 76 miles. That is what separates the good from the great right now.
The fact that companies the size of Ford and VW are struggling to beat range anxiety shows just what a monumental shift the likes of Tesla and now Chevy have put in. These are vast companies with billions of dollars resting on the result and they have been left a long way behind.
A car with a 76-mile range is basically a dinosaur already, Ford has brought a knife to a gunfight. When the Bolt hits the market then the Focus Electric becomes more or less redundant. The 2017 Focus Electric will have a 100-mile range, but behind the scenes there is serious work going on at Ford right now.
Before it catches up in terms of range, Ford is going to have to come up with something special in terms of pricing, spec or even performance. The Focus, more than the likes of the Golf that has its own aspirational fanclub, has to win the fight with the Bolt on pure logic. Right now, we’re not sure it can.
13. Condor Electric Pick Up
You see, the Condor’s presence in this list confirms the power of being first. When the Tesla pick-up arrives then we’ll probably forget this truck even exists. But it does and, for now, it’s basically the best truck you can buy with a battery pack.
The front end looks like a mash-up of a Citroen 2CV and an old-school Beetle and it’s got a whiff of plastic about it. But then there is some clever tech, you can order it with a solar panel flat bed, or a number of other configurations, and it’s pretty much the best EV truck you can order right now.
It does 100 miles between charges, tops out at 80mph and carries up to 1000lb. It looks a little home-made, but it gets the job done.
14. FIAT 500e
It’s a design icon, it’s actually a fun car and it could sell on its looks alone. It’s a nostalgic look back at the original 500 and it’s a city car that people want to drive.
The range, at 84 miles, is a massive sticking point for a car that costs this much. The 24kWh motor can only power this cute little character to 60mph in 9.1s, too.
The FIAT 500e is a great little city car and FIAT knows its market. It’s pushing personalized color and an interior that is still unique to this day, even though the dashboard is just an adapted version of the one that wowed the crowds when the petrol-powered car launched in 2007.
Technically, the 500e isn’t really a contender. But character goes a long and the plucky little Italian has that in spades.
15. Mercedes Benz B Class Electric Drive
Mercedes had so many options to spearhead its electric revolution and nobody really knows why it settled on the much-maligned B Class. Perhaps it was because the car bombed so badly as with petrol power, but it was hardly the bold statement of intent we wanted from the German manufacturer.
A new sub-brand is on the way and Mercedes needs it. This B Class does 87 miles on a charge and the only really impressive parts are the 0-60mph time of 6.8s and the typically luxurious Mercedes interior.
It’s expensive, it really doesn’t have much of a USP and the only people that bought one simply wanted the Mercedes badge.
We want to see much more from Mercedes. We are sure it’s coming.
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Let us know your thoughts! What’s the best electric car out there?