Electric Vehicles (EVs) sales have really taken off in 2020. Environmental concerns, social pressure and the government announcement of the banning of sales of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars in...
News that the UK government has confirmed that it will be banning the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, followed by plug-in hybrids in 2035, knowing as much as possible about electric cars has never been more important.
The good news is that here at Parkers, we live and breathe electric cars - and as well as reviewing the latest models, we also keep them for longer-term reviews and work out the real-world cost of running electric cars, when using public chargepoints, or topping them up at home. If you have any questions about electric cars, you will find all the answers here, including advice about the latest and upcoming models, and which are the best cars to buy now.
What is an electric car (EV)?
An Electric Vehicle, also known as an EV, or sometimes BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), uses at least one electric motor as its only source of propulsion. An EV is powered by electricity contained in a battery pack, which is stored in the car, generally under the boot or interior. As EVs are reliant purely on their battery pack for 'fuel', they need to be efficient, and capable of supplying a decent range. Car companies are developing increasingly efficient motors as well as battery packs capable of storing more energy.
Electric cars can be topped up by a regular three-pin socket, but for the most part this is done by using a dedicated chargepoint. These can be installed at your home assuming your domestic wiring is up to it. An increasing number of public and workplace charging stations are being rolled out across the country, and this is set to continue as EVs become more popular.
Find an electric car review
Battery-powered load-lugger focuses on value
Familiar looks for all-new all-electric Fiat city car
All-electric family hatch is comfortable and stands out from the crowd
The only sound is the wind in your hair
This electric van-based MPV is expensive but good to drive and ride in
Skoda's first dedicated EV could be a gamechanger for the brand
It's an ID.3 on stilts, and all the more appealing for it
Vauxhall's reinvented the Mokka SUV as a stylish electric car
Interesting niche electric car majors on style, not range
Volvo's first full EV comes in the shape of the XC40 SUV
The electric-only Smart is immensely fun around town
VW’s first purpose-built electric car is a brilliant all-rounder
Cute electric city car is a loveable urban runaround
The Polestar 2 is the best reason yet not to buy a Tesla Model 3
Electric sports saloon delivers engaging handling and speed
Electric SUV with added lustre of the three-pointed star
Vauxhall's fully-electric car is an excellent gateway to EVs
MINI is great to drive in electric form, but battery range could be better
Appealing electric city car now has a longer range
Great small electric car for people who don’t want to shout about it
Electric hatch blurs the line between piston-power and high-voltage
Impressive value on offer from all-electric SUV
Super cool electric SUV with excellent performance and range
Excellent EV that still leads in terms of range and usability
There was a good reason we named the Tesla Model 3 our Electric Car of the Year for 2020... as well as Best Company Car, Best Safety, and overall Car of the Year. Put simply, it moved the game on – offering impressive range for a reasonable price, as well as some of the most advanced technology you can get on the roads today. For 2021, it still bagged our award for the Best Large Electric Car.
With up to 335 miles available on a single charge, and access to Tesla’s super-fast Supercharger network, the Model 3 is just about the most compelling option for people who do big mileage or a lot of long journeys.
Tesla loads its cars with technology and the Model 3 doesn’t disappoint, with an infotainment system capable of streaming music, playing games and even hiding so-called ‘easter eggs’ deep within the interface. It’s also fitted with Autopilot, the firm’s semi-autonomous driving systems intended to improve safety.
Add in a remarkably low leasing cost and the Model 3 suddenly becomes an affordable route into premium EV ownership. Oh, and did we mention the Performance model will do 0-62mph in less than four seconds?
Kia’s affordable e-Niro isn’t as glamorous as the Tesla Model 3, but it’s stonking value and offers a remarkable range of 282 miles on a full charge.
With 204hp at its disposal, it’s no slouch, and better yet it’s based around a practical SUV body – so there’s space for all the family and their luggage, too.
Plan to keep your car for a long time? Kia’s warranty is seven years and 100,000 miles, one of the best in the business. Don’t want to stand out? The e-Niro hardly looks any different to a standard car, so it flies under the radar perfectly.
The I-Pace is Jaguar’s first venture into the world of electric cars, yet it’s a true Jag through and through – with space, grace and pace (the company’s three hallmarks) in equal measure.
It’s unusually proportioned for an SUV, with a large passenger compartment and short overhangs front and rear, but it’s still a handsome beast with a good amount of interior space for its size.
Performance is of course important in a Jaguar and the I-Pace doesn’t disappoint. It has 400hp on tap, giving it impressive acceleration, yet will achieve a range of 292 miles on a full charge.
Externally, the latest Renault Zoe doesn't look as though it's changed much since it was launched way back in 2012. Under the skin and on the inside, though, it's been heavily updated and is so good we awarded it our Best Small Electric Car of the year 2021.
The Zoe is small - only a bit larger than the Renault Clio - so it's ideal for those with a tight garage or who live in cities. There's plenty of room inside, though, and the interior tech is great - a high-res infotainment screen, plenty of safety and entertainment features, all wrapped up in an attractive and high-quality dashboard.
Better yet, a range of 245 miles from a full charge is enough for all but the most demanding drivers, and there's the option of CCS fast charging to make it easier to top up when you're out and about. Finally, it's attractive and good fun to drive. What's not to like?
Trust Porsche to take the latest electric car technology and then over-engineer it until it's one of the most remarkable vehicles on sale today. There's no denying the Taycan is a seriously expensive car but it has a combination of performance, luxury and sheer driving pleasure you won't find anywhere else.
With its five-door luxury hatchback shape, the Taycan takes aim at the Tesla Model S, offering similar performance and range, but it justifies its higher price tag by eclipsing any Tesla product in terms of quality and dynamics.
More importantly for buyers, it can manage up to 280 miles on a full charge - and is compatible with super-fast 800V chargers, which futureproofs it for a significant time hence.
How much money do you save now with your EV?
In terms of buying a new Electric Vehicle, the cash and PCP prices are above what you’d expect to pay for an equivalent petrol- or diesel-powered car. Having said that, currently, there aren’t too many models out there (Volkswagen Golf/e-Golf, Hyundai Kona, Kia Niro) that are available in Internal Combustion Engined (ICE) and EV forms. But taking the Golf as a typical example, the EV version is 50% more expensive than a 1.0-litre TSI SE per month on PCP. The gap is much closer on Personal Leasing (PCH), but it’s still stacked in favour of the ICE car (although the gap is closing).
In terms of running costs, electric vehicles are far cheaper per mile than even the most efficient petrol and diesel cars. Charging up in the most cost-efficient manner (at home, usually overnight on an Economy 7 or similar tariff) could more than half your fuel costs. Charging when out and about is significantly pricier, especially for the top-tier rapid chargers - but even these are cheaper than refuelling a petrol or diesel car.
Electric cars attract no road tax at present, qualify for free entry into London's congestion charge zone and owners don't typically pay much more in insurance, either.
Do EVs drive differently to conventional vehicles?
Yes, but not as differently as you might think. And most importantly, most people find that once they’ve travelled a few miles in an EV, they no longer notice anything’s changed. If you compare an EV with a typical automatic petrol, and the differences are quite subtle. The most obvious contrast between the two is when you fire them up – the EV is completely silent. Although it sounds obvious, this takes some getting used to in the first instance.
The next thing you’ll notice is how responsive the EV feels. Other than that – and depending on the car, there are few other differences. What you will notice, though, is when you jump back into a petrol or diesel car, they will feel slow, unrefined and dead on their feet. This is completely normal.
Can electric car batteries be recycled?
Yes. All new EVs sold since the 1990s have been powered by Lithium Ion (LiOn) batteries, which have been recyclable for years. The old days when electric vehicles such as milk floats and some ancient electric cars were powered by Lead Acid batteries have long gone. These are recycled just like your mobile phone or laptop batteries, just on a larger scale.
Most homes in the UK use about 2kWh of energy in a day – this varies, of course, but electric car batteries are being recycled by firms like Tesla to store energy from local renewable/environmentally sources to be used when grid demand is higher, or sources like solar or wind power might not be able to power the development.
At this stage, that's about the most environmentally friendly option for the battery - a prolonged life as a low-demand storage unit for homes, after the intense life as a car battery. The Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe - the longest-established EVs offered in the UK - are approaching ten and seven years old now, and most users are reporting acceptable battery health and overall, much better reliability and lower service costs than a conventional car. The compromises - and impact of producing a new battery - are still worthwhile while EVs are the minority. When every British motorist needs a 30-70kWh power cell for their car, then we may have a problem!
How far can a typical EV travel on a single charge?
This really depends on the car that you’re considering looking at, and what type of journeys you’re using it for. For instance, the Volkswagen e-Golf can vary in its range between 80 miles on the motorway in deep winter to 140 miles of gentle summer driving around the city. In terms of what you might expect from a variety of popular cars, we’ve found this in real-world driving: Smart ForTwo EQ (80 miles), Volkswagen e-Up (85 miles), Honda e (100 miles), Nissan Leaf 40kWh (160 miles), Jaguar I-Pace (240 miles), Hyundai Kona Electric (250 miles), Tesla Model S Long Range (320 miles).
How do I know an electric car is right for me?
How long is a piece of string? First question to ask is how many miles you’re doing. If you find yourself on the motorway most days, and time is of the essence, then EVs probably aren’t for you. Equally, if you live in the middle of a city or don’t have access to a driveway for your own charger, a workplace charger, or a local chargepoint, then you might struggle. However, just because you can't charge at home doesn't mean you shouldn't have an EV - city-dwelling Tesla owners are getting into the habit of parking up at home and using nearby Superchargers to top up either at the end or beginning of their previous journeys.
How do I charge my EV?
There are several ways of getting juice into your EV. If you're at home, you can plug in via a traditional three-pin socket and use the lead that came with the car. However, that takes ages (more than 20 hours for something like a Tesla) and should be considered a last resort. If you get a home chargepoint fitted, you'll need decent electrics, and a recommended chargepoint installer, such as Pod Point. There are government grants to help you cover the cost.
If you're charging elsewhere, you'll be looking at one of the public chargepoints across the country. Currently, the UK infrastructure is growing, but it still has someway to go, if it wants to become as convenient as petrol or diesel. The good news is that these chargepoints are contained in convenient parking bays for EVs only. You can find your nearest public charger using an app or website such as Zap Map.
What happens if I run out of power?
It will go slowly, and then stop.
You'll be going some to run an EV out of juice, such are the number of warnings you get. But it's worth knowing what to do should the worst happen. First things first, if you're down to your last 20% you should start looking for somewhere to top up - Zap Map is an excellent tool for this if your in-built system isn't up to scratch. This will reliably lead you to your nearest public charger and advise if they are in use or not.
The best advice is not to run out if you can help it. It's not safe and in the worst instances, you can damage the car's battery pack, as deep discharging will drastically shorten its life. If the worst happens, let your breakdown recovery service know and that if they don't have a mobile recharge unit in place, then advise them that it will need transporting to a chargepoint on the back of a flatbed truck - and to avoid towing. Again, if you do this, it may damage the traction motors. You have been warned.
So, the advice is simple: just like a petrol or diesel car, it's best not to run out of power.
Do EVs cost more than petrol and diesel cars?
Prices are going down but there’s no two ways about it – an electric vehicle is currently more expensive than a comparable petrol or diesel car, whether buying outright or financing via PCP or lease.
What are resale values like of EVs?
The residual values for electric vehicles are not very strong, but are improving, so if you buy outright then you'll suffer heavy depreciation. This also affects a fleet manager's decision on whether to introduce EVs on to the fleet. This will change in the coming years as EVs become more accepted.
Are EVs really better for the environment?
There’s plenty of debate surrounding this but in short, electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly than a petrol or diesel car. While there’s plenty of CO2 involved in building them, particularly in mining the rare earth metals in the batteries, this is wiped out in just a few short years. The batteries are almost totally recyclable as well, and we expect to see this to improve in years to come as well.
EVs produce zero local emissions – that is to say, no fumes or exhaust like a combustion-engined car – and even if the electricity that powers them comes from a dirty source, total emissions are reduced compared to even the most efficient petrol or diesel car.
Better yet, an EV is as eco-friendly as the grid that powers it – and as the UK generates more of its electricity from renewable sources, EVs will become greener too. When’s the last time a diesel car became LESS polluting as it aged?
Useful links and further reading
- Used electric cars for sale
- Electric and hybrid car reviews
- Glossary: what is an electric car?
- Best electric cars and EVs guide: our sister site CAR magazine