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We run down the very best affordable electric city cars, superminis and family hatchbacks on sale today
Autocar
News
10 mins read
19 August 2020

Electric cars have certainly been a long time in rising to prominence, but this looks like the year when they finally might hit the big time. And why wouldn’t they? An electric vehicle (EV) lets you travel in silence and produces zero emissions. You don't have to pay road tax, London dwellers don’t need to worry about the Congestion Charge, and the government will even give you a grant to buy one

As the range between mains charges increases and the charging infrastructure improves, an EV becomes a more viable alternative to petrol- or diesel-fuelled models almost by the month. Choice has been slow to grow so far, but is set to mushroom in 2020 as debutant EVs from Mini, Honda, Peugeot and others all arrive.

Having first appeared around ten years ago, the market’s first EVs were cars with around 80 miles of usable range, priced at a 50 per cent premium over their petrol-fuelled counterparts. Today, in many cases, real-world range has more than doubled and that price premium has almost disappeared.

This is a list of our top ten affordable electric cars compiled considering factors such as range and usability, driving dynamics and value for money. Some are still subject to relatively high prices compared to combustion-engined cars, but their premiums can be offset against lower running costs

Best Affordable Electric Cars 2020

1. Kia e-Niro

The Kia e-Niro redefines how much real-world range and family-friendly usability we should now expect from an electric vehicle towards the more affordable end of the price spectrum. For around £35,000, the car’s 64kWh battery pack enables it to comfortably travel 230 miles on a single charge; and further still if you stay off the motorway or around town. A few years ago, that would be the sort of range you’d be expecting from something far pricier, and probably with a Tesla badge on its nose.

That genre-challenging relationship between range, usability and affordability isn’t the sole reason why the e-Niro now crowns this list. Indeed if it was, the Hyundai Kona would be right up there, too. Where e-Niro pulls ahead, though, is that it also remains a thoroughly practical, dynamically well-resolved and pleasant-to-drive electric vehicle. It’s roomier than almost every other EV at the price, and it rides and handles with a greater level of sophistication and accomplishment than most. It may lack some of the accelerative potency of it rivals, but as a well-rounded, truly usable affordable electric vehicle, the e-Niro is going to take some beating.

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2. Volkswagen ID 3

As Volkswagen looks to move on from the fallout of Dieselgate, the ID 3 is set to take centre-stage as the marque’s environmentally friendly wunderkind. This Golf-sized hatchback also gets the new ‘ID’ sub-brand off the mark, and aims to do so with the kind of mass-market sophistication and class-leading usability for which Volkswagen is rightly famed.

Built on an entirely fresh rear-engined platform, the ID 3 benefits from a long wheelbase, boosting cabin space, and is powered by a rear-mounted motor with up to 201bhp and 229lb ft. It excels in terms of maneuverability and low-speed response and, although heavy by compact car standards and rolling on wheels as big as 20in in diameter, it would seem to hit the company’s high standards for ride sophistication too. Handling is surprisingly agile, balanced and nimble.

Although early versions of the car cost close to £40,000, ID 3 prices will eventually start at around £28,000 for a car with range and performance comparable with electric superminis at that price point, but better packaging and first-rate urban maneuvrability.

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3. Peugeot e-208

The all-electric version of the 208 supermini is one of several PSA Group compact EVs coming to market this year, but it's the best-priced and also the most visually appealing. For its mix of usable range, performance, value, practicality, style, perceived quality and driver appeal, it clearly deserves to figure highly if you’re shopping for your first electric car this year.

Unlike more low-rent-feeling EVs, the car’s materially rich interior distinguishes it just as clearly as the stylish bodywork. Practicality is on a par with the Renault Zoe and better than in a Mini Electric, refinement beats both of those key rivals also, and performance is fairly strong.

The car rides with a suppleness missing from some smaller EVs, which often struggle to contain their body mass on the road. The steering is striking for its directness, although body control deteriorates a little bit if you drive more enthusiastically. Even so, it’s the roundedness of the e-208’s driving experience that really impresses.

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Real-world range is good for 170 miles of real-world mixed use, although it may be slightly lower if you spend extended periods of time at motorway speeds. For an EV of this size and price, that’s very good.

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4. Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh

Until quite recently, an electric car good enough to combine a genuine 300-mile daily-use range with a sub-£30,000 price point seemed an awfully long way off. The Hyundai Kona Electric made it a reality only a couple of years ago, however; quite a coup for its aspiring Korean maker.

By wielding what must be a sizable competitive advantage on battery buying power, Hyundai has delivered this car to the road with a sizable advantage on onboard electrical storage than plenty of the car’s it’s rivalled by in this list. That’s enough for more than 250 miles of range at typical UK motorway speeds, or more than 300 at a slightly slower clip or around town. And, in this car, it comes packaged with much stronger accelerative performance than its nearest rivals. The Kona Electric is quick enough, even, to live with some hot hatchbacks away from the traffic lights.

That the car’s slightly low-rent, restrictive interior doesn’t make it quite the match of a full-sized family hatchback on practicality is a bit of a disappointment. Also, there’s some frustration to be found in the car’s ride and handling, which both feel somewhat compromised by its weight and the low-friction tyres it uses. But if you want outright range for a small outlay, this is probably still where to get it.

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5. Mini Electric

Mini has been a long time preparing to enter the electric car market; but now that it finally has, it has certainly brought all of the fun factor you expect of the brand - albeit packaged with a few equally typical usability restrictions.

Based exclusively on the three-door Mini bodyshell, the Mini Electric adopts the powertrain from the BMW i3S, giving it a very healthy 181bhp and 199lb ft of torque. Performance is notably stronger than many of the cars you might compare it with in this list, while handling is grippy and darty and agile in the enduring dynamic traditions of the Mini brand.

Range is the catch. Mini claims 144 miles; in reality, depending on how and where you drive it, you’re more likely to get between 100- and 120-. And that’s in a car with a pretty small boot, whose back seats are tricky to access and little use for anyone but younger kids in any case.

This clearly isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sort of electric offering, but it’s priced surprisingly competitively and, if its limitations aren’t bothersome to you, could be the very car to show you how rewarding electric motoring can be.

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6. Kia Soul EV

Kia’s boxy compact crossover is back for a third-generation, but this time around the Soul will be offered exclusively as an electric vehicle in European markets.

While not particularly sporty, it rides well, performs strongly and doesn’t make too much of a point of its 1682kg kerb weight. And because it makes use of the same powertrain as the slightly bigger e-Niro, it promises a WLTP-certified range of 280 miles when equipped with a 64kWh battery.

UK prices start from £33,795 after the UK government incentive, so the car will only be a few thousand pounds cheaper than the Kia e-Niro, which offers slightly more in the way of practicality. It's one of the more pricey compact EVs on the market, clearly, but has more alternative styling appeal than the e-Niro, and should easily appeal to people who can afford to pay a premium and don’t need quite as much space as an e-Niro affords.

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7. Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf, in first-generation form, set the mould for the affordable electric car approaching a decade ago – and in new second-generation form, it’s still right in amongst the list of contenders who are following in its tread marks.

Having had a 25 per cent boost on battery capacity, the Nissan now leads some of its rivals with a WLTP-certified range of 168 miles - rising to more than 200 in the case of the range-topping 64kWh 'e+' version. It’s also got significantly more power and torque than its direct predecessor; performs fairly keenly; feels like a more rounded car to drive generally; and has one of the strongest showings here on daily-use practicality for a small family.

A value proposition that’s also improved, and is now on a par with that of a mid-market, conventionally fuelled family hatchback once you take the government’s £3000 PiCG grant into account, cement the car’s strengths. It’s our default recommendation for anyone looking to simply replace their fossil-fuelled family hatchback with an electric one well-capable of doing the same job – and doing it well.

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8. Vauxhall Corsa-e

Vauxhall's sister version of the Peugeot e-208 doesn't quite have the style or the claimed WLTP range of its French relation, doesn't have the imaginatively configured interior, and isn't priced quite as keenly either. They're fine margins by which to relegate the car so many places in this top ten chart, but that's simply how competitive this varied class is becoming.

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But don't let that fool you into believing that this Vauxhall isn't worth a test drive, at least. It might be a little plainer than the Peugeot but still looks handsome enough. The car's driving experience combines genuine 180-mile everyday battery range with keen and competent handling and a comfortable ride, while 100kW DC rapid charging compatibility as standard should also be a selling point.

Vauxhall's still-large UK dealer network will likely make this car one of the UK's better-selling EVs, ready to convert people who haven't considered electric motoring thus far. It's certainly good enough to leave the right kind of impression.

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9. Honda E

Honda has taken a leftfield approach with its first all-electric car, the Honda E supermini - which is unusually compact for an electric car, and innovative in several ways. A rear-mounted motor promises packaging efficiency (although the car itself fails a little to follow through with it) while all-independent suspension heralds the ride and handling sophistication of a bigger car (which the car does a deal better to actually supply).

The car’s available in 134- and 152bhp forms, but neither has quite the battery capacity of rivals: 35.5kWh ‘gross’ is all you get here, which makes for claimed WLTP range of 137 miles maximum (with the car rolling on 16in wheels). In testing, we struggled to get much more than 100- from our 17in-equipped test car.

To drive, the Honda E feels plush, composed and easy to operate, with medium-paced steering but a tight turning circle, and moderate but responsive performance. It doesn’t excite and doesn't offer the last word in background body control; but it would make a relaxing city car, and its alternative styling should also do much to recommend it.

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10. Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe was always an appealing short-hopper electric supermini, even when it was offered with a 22kWh battery and had only 80 miles of real-world range. The car’s usability was enhanced during a mid-life update, however, by a 41kWh battery option which, on a warm day, turns the car into one good for 150 miles of mixed real-world use.

Now there is a comprehensively updated version with a significantly refreshed design plus a 52kWh battery and up to 245 miles of range on the WLTP cycle; or around 180- to 200- in mixed real-world use. It still offers strong value for money against its competitors, with the UK government’s PiCG incentive bringing the car’s entry price down to around £25,000. It’s also still pleasing to drive: very nippy and fairly quiet – albeit with some leaden feel to the controls.

Finally, whereas previously the Zoe couldn’t be rapid-charged at the motorway services quite as quickly as certain rivals, CCS fast charging is now an option. It may have fallen behind newer EV rivals in some ways, but the Zoe remains a good entry point into EV ownership.

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Read more:

10 Best Premium Electric Cars 2020

10 Best Hybrid Hatchbacks 2020

10 Best Plug-in Hybrid Cars 2020

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gavsmit 19 August 2020

The great EV conspiracy

EVs are introduced at huge prices despite demanding compromises (limited range, charging times, battery longevity etc.).

ICE car prices are greatly increased regularly to close the price gap with EVs. Everyone's expectation is that as EVs become more mainstream and batteries are cheaper to manufacture, EV prices will drop. They don't - ICE car prices just keep increasing to make the EVs look 'cheaper'.

Finance deals replace out-right purchases as gullible people look at monthly costs rather than huge list prices - they start treating a monthly car payment as 'just something you have to do like paying your mortgage'.

Energy companies get on the bandwagon, offering home energy tariff incentives for leasing an EV from them.

End result - everyone is conned into paying tens of thousands more for 'cheap to run' EVs than what a pre-price-fixing ICE car would have cost to buy and run.

Sujata 9 April 2020

Best Electric Cars

Great post, I was in search of this information. Thank you for this post.

stavers 8 April 2020

No MG ZS EV

Autocar had an MG ZS EV and it hasn't even made it on to this list when cars that aren't even on sale have - how does that work?

 

It also starts from £25.5k after the Government grant so it's significantly cheaper than a lot of the cars on this list.  OK - the battery is fairly small and the range isn't massive but I thought this was a list of affordable EVs?

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