Mobile phones used to be ruinously expensive and came with a briefcase-sized battery. Considerable development has made them far more affordable and practical, and similar innovation is bringing about a revolution in small electric vehicles.
Electrifying a small car makes perfect sense because an EV’s instant power delivery makes nipping into a gap in the traffic a breeze. Plus, not producing any nasty exhaust emissions in heavily built-up areas means we can breathe more easily.
Also, because small cars aren’t expected to be mile-munchers, they can have smaller and, therefore, cheaper battery packs. And a smaller pack will take less time to charge, so they won’t need the expensive componentry required for ultra-rapid charging speeds, further increasing their affordability.
With that in mind, we’ve picked the 10 best choices currently on the market today, ranking them from 10 down to the best option available.
Aquariums and cars have never gone together, but they now can, thanks to the Honda e.
The Honda e has a bank of screens across the top of the dashboard that can be customised to display a digitised version of a tropical fish tank. However, we prefer connecting a games console to them and amusing ourselves with a quick game while waiting to charge up.
There won’t be time for a long game, given the small 36kWh (28.5kWh usable) battery. Given the steep price, we’d like more range, but the Honda e gains some ground over rivals like the Mazda MX-30 in having proper rear doors to put passengers through. Furthermore, its tight turning circle, nippy performance and darty handling make driving a breeze in the city.
It's great fun, but that price and limited range relegate it to the bottom of our list.
Pipping the Honda e in this list is the MINI Electric, and while there is an all-new version coming soon, this current version is still a classy electric city car that’s worth considering if it fits your lifestyle.
That means a lifestyle that doesn’t require a long-range EV. Its marginally greater usable capacity (28.9kWh) allows it to go farther than the pricier e, but not by much.
However, it has one of the best quality interiors around, and it comes with a slick infotainment system (borrowed from BMW) which is one of the best we’ve used at any price point.
It isn’t the most practical small EV around being a three-door only car and having a tiny boot, but that doesn’t hold people back from buying a regular MINI now, does it? And no traditional Mini is as refined as this all-electric model, nor are they as punchy away from the lights thanks to the electric motor providing instant power. So if you can live with the impracticality and the limited range, the Electric still makes for a fine premium small car option. There is an all-new version just around the corner, but it's likely to be pricier.
Kia is on a roll with electric cars, and this, the Kia Soul, is the brand’s cheapest EV available in the UK.
We’ve chosen the entry-level Urban model with the smallest 39kWh battery pack. Despite being the least expensive, you still get plenty of standard safety and technology features, such as adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera.
We’re not too fussed about the smaller battery because our experience of Kia EVs is that they’re generally very efficient, so it’ll have no trouble outrunning the MINI Electric or Honda e for range. It may not be as fun to drive as either of those rivals, but the Soul is far more practical than either and comes with one of the longest warranties around, making it a great all-rounder for the money.
The Renault Zoe has been around for ages, but low pricing helps keep it competitive with fellow EV rivals.
The Zoe has a big battery pack for the money, and you should get 200 miles of range between charges. We’ve decided to be ruthless and opt for the cheapest non-’Boost’ model, which means slower 22kW charging, but you can spend a couple of grand more to get up to 50kW rapid charging if you need to tackle long trips in your Zoe.
Aside from that, the Zoe is a practical EV that’s easy to drive and, for the most part, comfortable. A poor EuroNCAP result lets it down, so if you’re after an EV with a better safety score, take a look at the other choices on this list.
True, a revised Peugeot e-208 is coming later this year, but even this current version is an excellent small EV pick.
Like the revised Vauxhall Corsa Electric, there will be styling changes, but the bigger news is that there’ll be a choice of two EV ‘engines’: a 136bhp motor with a 50kWh (47kWh usable) battery and a new 154bhp and 51kWh (48kWh usable) battery. We doubt the additional range will be great enough to justify the additional expense of the latter, so we’ll stick with the 136bhp version.
The current car's bold interior design and plush material choices will remain, which is good since the e-208 has a premium feel few rivals at this price can match. It’s also nicely refined at motorway speeds and provides a decent drive with plenty of grip.
The Citroën e-C4 has long been an excellent value choice given its practicality, strong equipment level and compelling price, but recent revisions look to further its appeal with buyers.
We’ve found the standard 136bhp electric motor and 50kWh battery pack version to be more than up to the task, but now the range has been updated to include the more powerful 154bhp motor and larger 54kWh pack from the revised DS3 E-Tense.
However, it’ll only be available on top-spec ë-Series trim, adding at least £5k to the price over our preferred Sense model. We doubt there will be any noticeable performance benefit (there certainly wasn’t with the DS3 we drove), and the additional 30 miles of range isn’t worth the price increase. No, the clue is in the title; the e-C4 makes the most sense in its most affordable Sense trim.
4. Volkswagen ID.3
Our pick: 58KWh Pro
Price: £37,115 (+£970 heat pump)
Range: 266 miles
The early revisions to the Volkswagen ID.3 (brought forward a whole year to counter initial criticisms) have meant that this car can still mix it in an increasingly more competitive market.
It’s still a pricey pick, but the nicer materials used inside finally make the ID.3 seem worth the money compared with the acres of cheap-feeling hard plastic used before. It’s a shame the larger infotainment screen won’t be ready until 2024, so for now, the Cupra Born remains - in our opinion - the better value choice.
Still, the ID.3 is an excellent pick for those who value comfort most with its slightly softer ride. Plus, anyone who regularly carries passengers will probably be interested to know that the ID.3 is more agreeable for those in the back: we found that the slightly sharper angle of the seat bench provided more thigh support for long trips.
As our Volkswagen ID.3 description mentioned, the Cupra Born remains the better choice as far as we are concerned.
We find it nicer to drive thanks to sharper steering and firmer suspension, which all helps make it feel more responsive when turning into a bend, and more connected with the road when dealing with lumpy country B roads.
The Born also remains the better choice because it has a larger, more intuitive infotainment screen that we’ve found easier to get along with.
Entry-level V1 trim is fair value, but we’d recommend going for V2 to get added luxuries such as heated front seats and steering wheel, plus a handy head-up display - the latter is great for seeing the speed you’re going without adjusting your eyes from the road. There isn’t much need to go for the e-Boost model, because you won’t notice the extra power around town. After all, the standard car is quick enough.
Not only is the dinky Fiat 500e among the best small electric cars you can buy, but it’s also the best car the brand makes right now.
It has the MINI Electric licked at any rate because the cheaper 500e has a slightly larger 42kWh battery (except for the cheaper, 24kWh version), so it’ll go farther on a charge. Furthermore, the 500e is the easier of the two to drive around town, thanks to the former being shorter and having lighter steering than the MINI, which helps when parking. We also feel the 500e has softer suspension and, therefore, has a more comfortable ride.
What’s more, the instant acceleration of the electric motor is a match made in heaven for a city dweller like the 500e, because it gives you such confidence that you’ll have enough power when merging into busy traffic. But it isn’t just that which we like about the 500e. Its classy interior looks the part and is filled with easter egg details that help lift this car above more humdrum EVs.
Given that the MG4 is one of the cheapest EVs around, it is remarkable that it covers as many bases as it does.
Firstly, you’ll be surprised at just how roomy it is inside. To be fair, it is a lot longer than a Fiat 500e, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s slightly bigger than the Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa Electric duo and it means the MG4 has space inside for four adults (five at a squeeze) with a reasonable boot as well.
We’re advocating the entry-level 51kWh SE model because it has a decent range and plenty of equipment for the money. It makes much more sense than the four-wheel drive, 429bhp, sub 4 sec 0-62mph XPower version. While the latter is undeniably amusing, the standard car is quick enough for most needs.
Keeping the price low helps to mitigate against some of the MG 4’s noticeable shortcomings, such as the very cheap feeling interior (we accidentally scratched the plastic on the doors just with our nails!). However, we can put up with that and the underwhelming heater because, for the money, nothing can touch the MG 4 in terms of range, performance, or practicality. And that’s before we get its quick rapid charging capability, which means the MG 4 can tackle a long trip occasionally without it becoming a real slog waiting for it to charge up.