Ten best electric cars rated

City dwellers are coming round to the idea that electric cars aren't just gutless eco-wagons designed for attention-seeking celebutants and stinky-haired hippies. Here's our top ten

Driving an electric car in London instead of a petrol one can save you over £4,500 a year. That's about £375 per month, or £12 every single day of the week -- enough, remarkably, to buy a barely used Ford Fiesta*.

Not many people have cottoned on to this fact, but an increasing number of city dwellers are coming round to the idea that electric cars aren't just gutless eco wagons designed for attention-seeking celebutants and stinky-haired hippies.

Electric vehicles are exempt from road tax and London's congestion charge, and are free to park in many areas. They also have low insurance costs, absolutely no petrol or diesel costs, and can be topped up overnight for mere pennies.

With this in mind, and given the fact that we've driven most of them, we've decided to share our views on which electric motors you should be investing in. So, without further ado, let's kick off our top ten list of electric vehicles, starting with the car at the bottom of the pile, the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid

We start our electric-car countdown with a car that isn't exclusively an electric car. It actually uses dirty, seabird-murdering petrol to power an internal combustion engine, but it also has an electric motor that can operate independently in EV mode.

Design

The Prius has one of the most polarising designs on the market. Toyota would argue its appearance is a direct consequence of its supreme aerodynamic efficiency, but there's no denying its bizarre, wedge-shaped profile and space-age, wedge-on-wheels design has put off many potential buyers.

Technology

The Prius makes other cars -- electric or otherwise -- look as if they were designed in the era of the horse-drawn cart. It comes with a whole host of standard features, including power steering, air-conditioning and dynamic stability control, plus some rather futuristic non-essentials.

The top-spec models have a truly awesome head-up display that projects your speed and nav instructions on to the windscreen in front of you. They also have a hard drive for ripping your CDs, and can even parallel park themselves, as you can see for yourself in our Prius video review.

Performance and batteries

The Prius plug-in hybrid has the performance of an ordinary car. That might not sound like much of a compliment, but most electric cars fall way short of this norm. The time it takes to accelerate from 0-60mph is 3.3 seconds slower than that of the standard Prius, which can do it in 10.4 seconds. That's due in part to the larger, heavier lithium-ion battery pack, but it'll still go from 0-62mph in a... yawn... respectable 13.7 seconds.

Its top speed in electric mode is a useful 62mph, although its range in this mode is rather pathetic. The standard non-plug-in Prius could run in electric mode for a little over 1.2 miles at up to around 30mph, and, while this plug-in model ups the ante to 12.5 miles, that's barely enough to get most people to work and back. Inevitably, you'll have to fall back on the petrol engine.

Pricing and availability

The plug-in Prius won't be available for purchase until 2012, and, even then, we're expecting its price to be in the region of £30,000. In the meantime, Toyota has a fleet of around 600 taking part in a global trial. Keep an eye on the company's Web site to snag yourself a trial car.

Should I buy one?

The standard Prius is a magnificent car, but the plug-in model seems like something of an afterthought. Currently, its limited electric range and high projected price point make it difficult to recommend, although we'll reserve final judgement until the car is released in 2012.

EV rating: 2/5

Click 'Continue' below for 9 electric cars that put the Prius plugin in its place.

*Based on spending £50 per week on petrol, Band M vehicle tax and an annual congestion-charge spend of £1,696.

The G-Wiz, known as the Reva in the rest of the world, is the most iconic electric vehicle on London's streets today. Like it or loathe it, it's been flying the flag for zero-emission motoring for almost five years now, and it's only growing in popularity.

Design

It's difficult to know what the designers of the G-Wiz were smoking when they penned the blueprint for this car. It's probably the ugliest thing on four wheels since the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ditched their nags for unicycles. Whatever they were inhaling, it apparently caused them to forget about installing many safety features. The G-Wiz is so flimsy it doesn't conform to the minimum occupant-protection standards required of a car. As a result, the government classifies it as a quadricycle, or four-wheeled motorcycle. Gulp! Get in one at your own risk.

Technology

Despite its hi-tech propulsion system, the G-Wiz is pretty basic. The car has a stereo, offering a DAB radio tuner and CD and MP3 playback, which is a great start. Air conditioning is optional, but we wouldn't recommend it since it's a big drain on battery power. That, sadly, is where the features end. If you're a fan of tech, look elsewhere.

Performance and batteries

Fans of performance cars should probably look elsewhere too, because the G-Wiz is painfully slow. It's fine on city roads -- it'll get all the way up to a heady 51mph -- but you'll want to say a prayer amid fast-moving traffic, because the G-Wiz simply can't compete with anything more powerful than a Flymo lawnmower.

Its range isn't terrible though -- at least not for city dwellers. The lithium-ion version of the car can take you up to 70 miles before requiring a recharge, with top-ups taking in the region of 6 hours via a standard household electrical outlet.

Pricing and availability

The G-Wiz Li-ion is available to buy now, but it doesn't come cheap. Its lithium-ion batteries push its price up to a whopping £15,795, which is around £5,000 more than the standard G-Wiz i, which sports a lead-acid battery.

Should I buy one?

If you don't mind being laughed at, bullied by larger vehicles, blown sideways by the wind, or spending nearly £16,000 on a car that isn't strictly a car, then buy one by all means. Otherwise, steer clear.

EV rating: 2/5

Nice has been churning out electric cars for some time now. The Mega City 2+2, the company's best-selling product, provides space for up to four contortionists people and is being marketed as the ideal vehicle for commuting, shopping and the school run.

Design

The Mega City 2+2 is better looking than the G-Wiz, although so's the puddle of sick outside our office. To its credit, the Mega City 2+2 has a pair of seats in the rear, which the G-Wiz doesn't, so you can accommodate a couple of kids, two really flexible adults or a decent-sized weekly shop in the back.

Technology

An FM/AM radio and a CD player that can read rewritable discs come as standard. Those who wish to spend slightly more money can get a shedload of other extras. There's an uprated stereo that reads MP3 and WMA CDs, and has an auxiliary input for your iPod or other mobile audio device, and a stereo that lets you connect and control your iPod digitally.

Performance and batteries

It may be more attractive than a G-Wiz, but it doesn't beat its odd-looking rival for performance. Its ageing lead-acid battery pack gives it a cruising range of 60 miles, a top speed of 40mph and a charge time of 8 hours, which is pretty pathetic in this day and age.

Pricing and availability

To its credit, the Mega City 2+2 is considerably cheaper than a G-Wiz. In fact, at £13,295, it's the cheapest car in this round-up.

Should I buy one?

Those looking for a relatively cheap electric car with a couple of back seats should consider the Mega City 2+2. It'll take a huge amount of driving, with a vast number of people staring at you, before it starts to pay for itself though. You have been warned.

EV rating: 2/5

The Vauxhall Ampera is possibly the strangest car in this round-up. It's driven entirely by electric energy, but it isn't an electric car in the traditional sense. Power to its wheels is provided by a battery that's charged either via the mains or, more likely, via an on-board petrol engine.

Design

The Ampera looks good. Based on the forthcoming Astra platform, it eschews the Prius' bizarre wedge silhouette -- a shape adopted by many hybrid rivals -- for a more muscular, dynamic design. We're not too sure about the 'tears' streaking from the headlights but, on the whole, the Ampera has a design that's bold without looking too experimental.

Technology

Vauxhall hasn't skimped on the technology inside the Ampera. The car has a pair of video screens that provide all the feedback you'd get from a traditional analogue instrument binnacle. One screen, mounted behind the steering wheel, relays all the same information as a conventional set of gauges, while the other is a touch-sensitive infotainment centre that'll provide access to a wealth of multimedia sources, including your iPod.

Performance and batteries

Once topped up for 3.5 hours at the mains, the Ampera will run in electric-only mode, with its petrol engine switched off, for up to 40 miles. Following that, its internal combustion engine will kick into life, topping up the battery level so it can provide even more thrust -- for a maximum range of 350 miles.

The Ampera may have a huge, 181kg lithium-ion battery pack and an equally hefty internal combustion engine, but it's pretty nippy. It'll finish the 0-60mph spring in 9 seconds and carry on until it reaches a top speed of 100mph.

Pricing and availability

The Ampera will go on sale in 2012 for a price somewhere in the region of £35,000.

Should I buy one?

The Ampera is an intriguing prospect. Its ability to run on electric power for up to 40 miles makes it a credible rival to electric-only vehicles, and its 310-mile range in petrol-to-electric mode will give drivers peace of mind.

EV rating: 3/5

The C1 ev'ie, or Evie as we like to call it, was born when the British-based Electric Car Corporation got hold of a Citroen C1, gutted it, and fitted it with an electric motor and batteries. It is, with all due respect to the Mega City 2+2, the first proper pure-electric four-seater in the UK.

Design

The C1 ev'ie is based on the Citroen C1, so it looks like a normal, run of the French mill supermini. That's a good thing, as many customers, ourselves included, have grown tired of the oddly styled, uber-futuristic electric norm. Don't get it twisted, the Citroen C1 isn't a particularly pretty car, but it is at least something you can drive without feeling like a complete douchebag.

Technology

The C1 ev'ie isn't the most high-tech car on the market, but it does come with a few essential creature comforts. It's one of very few pure electric cars that offers electric windows, central locking, and anti-lock brakes. The car has side-impact door protection, pre-tensioning and force-limiting seat belts, rear door locks and Isofix multi-location points so you can attach a car seat. It also has a stereo with AM/FM radio, CD and MP3 playback.

Performance and batteries

The ev'ie delivers sterling performance for an electric car. It has a range of 60-75mph depending on what sorts of roads you're driving on, and it'll reach 60mph -- if its occupants aren't particularly fat. What's more, because it uses a lithium-ion battery, it'll recharge fully in a mere 6 hours.

Pricing and availability

All that performance and extra equipment don't come cheap. The ev'ie is available to buy now for a wallet-pillaging £19,860.

Should I buy one?

Anyone looking for a cheap second car might initially balk at the ev'ie's near £20,000 price tag, but it'll start paying for itself almost immediately. If you're the sort of person who spends hundreds of pounds every month on petrol and regularly frequent London's congestion-charge zone, it's almost a no-brainer.

EV rating: 3/5

If ever a car was ideal for conversion from petrol to full electric, it's the Smart. Daimler, Smart's parent company, is fully aware of this, and has been readying a zero-emissions version of its quirky, iconic car for the past few years.

Design

The Smart fortwo ED looks bizarre, but no stranger than the millions of Smart cars already trundling through our streets. The design is so well etched into the motoring world's collective psyche that nobody will bat an eyelid in your direction whether you're driving a petrol or full-electric model. Whether this ubiquity is good or bad depends on your point of view, but nobody could call these cars hideous.

Technology

There really aren't many toys to be found inside the Smart fortwo ED. Its audio system lets you play the radio -- AM and FM, no less -- and you can even chuck a CD containing MP3 files into that horizontal gash just above the radio preset buttons. But that's about it in terms of creature comforts.

Given the public's negative perception as regards safety in small cars, Smart's had to take safety matters pretty seriously. The fortwo ED retains all the safety features of a standard petrol car, including electronic stability control, ABS brakes, two airbags and seat-belt pre-tensioners.

Performance and batteries

The fortwo ED's range is relatively decent. It'll take you up to 68 miles on a single charge and can reach a heady top speed of 75mph. Like the best -- and most expensive -- electric cars, the fortwo ED will take approximately 8 hours to recharge, thanks to its lithium-ion batteries.

Pricing and availability

The fortwo ED has been on trial for some time now in the UK. If you live in London, you may have seen some being used by the Metropolitan Police, and 100 or so others being tested by partner companies and journalists.

Should I buy one?

You can't buy one as yet (delivery is expected in 2010 according to last estimates), but you can apply to try one out if you get in touch with Smart. Truth be told, that's probably the cheapest way to experience an electric car because when the Smart fortwo ED finally gets released here, it's likely to cost in the region of £20,000.

EV rating: 3/5

Mitsuhishi chooses some pretty badass names for its cars. It's already released the mighty Evolution X rally car and the no holds barred L200 Barbarian. When it announced it was to release an electric car, we expected something along the lines of 'Voltron' or 'Death Shock'. Instead, we got the iMiEV.

Design

The iMIEV looks like it came straight from the future -- a future where humanity has fallen in love with benign, androgynous superminis. Still, if you like your cars inoffensive and meek, it's arguably a better bet than the G-Wiz or Mega City 2+2, as it'll hold four adults in relative comfort.

Technology

One of the convenience features listed on the official iMiEV Web site is a 'driver's footwell'. For those who aren't au fait with next-generation car technology, that's where the pedals go. As an added bonus, you can rest your feet there, too -- if you don't fancy hanging your legs out the window.

It also has some other gadgets, including active stability control to stop you skidding off the road, Isofix child-safety anchor points for a baby seat, ABS with electronic brake distribution, a funky digital speedo and side-curtain airbags to protect you in the event of a t-bone accident.

Performance and batteries

Despite its odd looks, the iMiEV is a decent performer. Its lithium-ion batteries give it a range of 80 miles and its motor provides a top speed of 81mph, meaning it could feasibly make it two thirds of the way around the M25 motorway before leaving you stranded on the hard shoulder. Recharge time is a mere 6 hours from a standard household electrical outlet.

Pricing and availability

The iMiEV is available now -- but only if you live in Japan or Hong Kong. There, it costs around HKD395,000, which works out at a whopping £33,630. Hopefully it'll drop in price and the government will provide a subsidy when it arrives here in the UK in 2012.

Should I buy one?

Spending £33,000 on a car that doesn't come with rocket launchers and a jacuzzi is never a great investment. But if you're filthy rich and you intend to keep your electric car for a very long time in order to recoup your investment, it's worthy of consideration.

EV rating: 3/5

The Nissan Leaf is currently making huge headlines. It's being heralded as the great white hope of zero-emissions motoring thanks to its impressive equipment levels and the backing of Nissan -- a big-name manufacturer.

Design

Sadly, it's ugly. It looks as if Nissan took a giant duck-billed platypus, gutted it, and stuffed it with windows, seats and a set of wheels. Its styling probably has something to do with aerodynamic efficiency or some such nonsense, but that's no excuse.

Technology

Luckily, the Leaf excels in the tech department. The car will come with a cellular data radio and SIM card built in, so when it's sat at a charging station, it'll be able to send updates to your phone telling you when it's had its fill of wholesome electrical energy.

The Leaf's data system will also be linked to its futuristic sat-nav. Should you be running low on battery power, it'll seek the nearest charging station online and guide you there post haste. A full range of safety features such as ABS, airbags and stability control also come as standard.

Performance and batteries

With a top speed of 90mph, and a claimed 100-mile range, the Leaf puts most other electric cars to shame. Its lithium-ion battery takes up to 8 hours to charge on standard electrical outlets, though Nissan says the car has an input for 400W DC outlets, which can provide 80 per cent of a full charge in as little as 25 minutes.

Pricing and availability

The Nissan Leaf will cost a frightening £28,350 in the UK. Government incentives will take £5,000 off that price, leaving you with a £23,350 bill. That's a bitter pill to swallow, considering our US chums pay around $25,930 (£17,940) after government incentives and tax. It'll be available from February 2013.

Should I buy one?

The Leaf is, without question, one of the best electric cars. Buy one if you're loaded, but if not, you might want to wait until the price makes like a leaf and falls.

EV rating: 4/5

BMW, says that, unlike some manufacturers, it's chosen not to bury its head in the sand over the issue of climate change. Instead, it's facing the challenge head on -- it's gone the full electric route by ripping the petrol-sipping guts from one of its most iconic marques, and replaced it with batteries and a motor.

Design

The Mini E, like its illustrious forebear, looks fabulous from just about every angle. BMW's added a couple of ridiculous Mini e decals to the roof, sides, front and rear, but even with these touches it still manages to be more stylish than its ridiculous-looking rivals.

One thing the Mini E doesn't have over its chums is space in the back. BMW's chosen to rip the rear seats out and, in their place, installed a battery pack that it reckons gives the car better range and performance than its rivals.

Technology

As far as we're aware, the Mini E is the only electric car in this group to come with big pimpin' 16-inch alloy wheels, meaning it should win by default. To those tyres, Mini has attached a set of pressure sensors to warn you when you've got a flat, or when tyre pressure is too low for optimum electric cruising. The car also comes with air conditioning, bi-xenon headlights, and a CD player.

There are plenty of safety features inside this car, too. Dynamic stability control comes as standard, as do airbags, and the usual assortment of goodies you get in the standard Mini.

Performance and batteries

The Mini E manages to deliver some of the best performance statistics of any car in this group, thanks to its enormous battery pack. Mini reckons it'll reach a top speed of 95mph. What's more, it says the car will have a whopping 155-mile range under ideal conditions, and a 104-mile range under 'normal' conditions. Recharging is estimated to take 4.5 hours, which is less than half the time some of its rivals take.

Pricing and availability

The Mini E is unavailable right now, but Mini regularly runs field trials, with a second six-month trial from September 2010. Prices for final retail models are unconfirmed.

Should I buy one?

When it's released, we'd stake our houses on the Mini E being one of the very best electric cars on the market. Mini may have to make some compromises on the position of the battery (it'd be useful to carry more than one passenger) but everything else looks spot on.

EV rating: 4/5

When the Roadster was first concieved, most people figured it was destined to fail. After all, how could a small startup produce an electric car that was good looking, had a long range and offered better performance than a Ferrari F40? With great difficulty, as it emerged, but Tesla's done it.

Design

The Roadster is a stunning-looking car, but many people can't get over the assumption it's based heavily on the Lotus Elise. According to Tesla, however, less than 7 per cent of the Roadster's parts are shared with the iconic British car. If you were to convert an Elise to a Tesla Roadster and started throwing away parts that aren't shared, you'd end up with a windshield, dashboard and airbags, front wishbones and a removable soft top.

Technology

The Tesla is well-equipped. Its showcase feature is a centrally-mounted touchscreen that provides feedback on a variety of the car's systems and allows changes to various settings. It'll let you specify when the car should begin charging in order to take advantage of cheaper night rates and let you know how much you've saved by driving electric.

There's also a range of the latest safety features including the aforementioned airbags and (slightly lethargic) ABS. It also comes with a stereo that supports CD/MP3 playback with a Bluetooth module that lets you play music wirelessly via your mobile phone.

Performance and batteries

The Tesla is, hands down, the fastest, most brutal electric car money can buy. Its top speed of 125mph isn't impressive in sports car terms, but it'll leap from a standstill to 62mph in a Ferrari-murdering 3.7 seconds.

With that much performance, one would expect the Roadster to have a range of about 100 metres, but that's not the case. Its enormous battery pack, which consists of 6,800 individual cells, gives it a range of around 236 miles. Sadly, as with all electric cars, charging those batteries is a nightmare. Topping up from the Universal Mobile Connector takes 6 hours, though you can cut this to 4 hours if you purchase the optional home connector.

Pricing and availability

The Tesla Roadster doesn't come cheap. The standard car will set you back a whopping £86,950, while the Roadster Sport -- which is slightly quicker, has adjustable suspension and performance tyres -- costs an additional £14,950. All are available to buy now.

Should I buy one?

The Roadster costs an awful lot of money, but petrol sports cars with similar acceleration usually cost a hell of a lot more to buy and run. If you're looking for a high-performance car that's cheaper to maintain and run than a small hatchback, the Tesla Roadster is our pick of the bunch.

EV rating: 5/5

 

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