Updated: Sep 27, 2018
The urban jungle is the perfect environment for an electric vehicle. Congestion means speeds are lower and journeys shorter while the lack of engine noise and simple gear-free driving makes traffic less stressful. Many cities have incentives to go electric too and there are usually plenty of charge points and dedicated parking options when you reach your destination.
And, of course, EVs have zero emissions and so you’ll be doing your bit to improve air pollution. In fact, some cities across the world are planning to introduce zero emission zones where only zero-emission vehicles will be let in to some areas. That means you’ll have to buy an EV at some stage, or get on your bike!
So which is the best EV for city driving? Here are our top choices.
Smart fortwo/forfour EQ
The tiny smart was born for the city, and EVs are perfect for town driving. So an electric smart would seem like the ultimate urban car. The 2.7m-long fortwo is the two seater model which is the car most people imagine when they hear the name ‘smart’. The latest ED (Electric Drive) has a 17kW battery, enough to give the smart a claimed range of 100 miles – or more like 75 miles in the real world. If you need four seats – perhaps for the school run – the forfour looks almost as funky and uses the same powertrain is its smaller brother. While both cars feel at home in the city, both feel out of their depth on faster roads and motorways. The other fly in the ointment is the price – starting at £16,000 after the government grant for the two seater. That’s a big chunk more than the petrol versions, so you need to make sure the economics work for you.
Price (from) £20,920
Real Range: 75 miles (approx)
Battery size: 17.6kWPro
Rating (Auto Express 3*- What Car 2*)
Renault’s funky-looking EV supermini looks good, drives well and has the option of 22 or 40kW batteries, the latter giving a massive 250 mile claimed range. That should be enough to ensure urban drivers only have to visit a charger once a week – perfect if you have to park on the street away from a charger. It’s pretty cheap too, especially if you opt for one of the ubiquitous finance deals offered on new cars. If buying used, beware of the battery lease cost which most Zoes are saddled with – even if you pay for the car outright, you still have to pay a monthly fee to use the power pack, with cost dependent on the number of miles driven. That monthly cost has to be paid for the life of the car too, which can make Zoes difficult to sell on to a new owner
Price (from) £18,420 + monthly battery hire cost of £50+Real
Range: miles (approx) 75 (22kW) to 160 (40kW)
Battery size: 22kW or 40kW
Pro Rating (Auto Express 4* – What Car 4*)
Can thousands of taxi drivers be wrong? Is a Prius the ultimate urban car? The taxi ranks (and Uber app pages) of big cities across Britain are filled with the Toyota Hybrids, and for those looking for more economy there is a plug-in version which gives a theoretical 30-miles of engine free driving on a full charge. Like all Prius's, the plug-in is easy and relaxing to drive and the back-up of a petrol engine will be reassuring for drivers who have to venture out of the city limits. It’s not a small car though, which may rule out tight parking spaces, but means there’s reasonable space inside for a family. In fact the only real downsides are the challenging looks and people trying to climb into the back seat when they assume you are a taxi.
Price (from) £29,195
Real Range: 25 miles (EV only, approx)
Battery size: 8.8kW
Pro Rating (Auto Express 4* – What Car 2*)
Volkswagen’s city car has had great reviews with a petrol engine, so does it make sense as an EV too? Generally, yes. It’s just as good to drive, doesn’t lose any practicality and has a clever ‘eco’ setting which allows you to harness braking power to put energy back into the battery. In the most extreme setting you can almost drive all of the time without needing the brake pedal – which makes crawling in traffic easy and efficient. The main reason the roads aren’t full of e-UP!s is the price – starting at £25,640, the little VW looks expensive compared to other, bigger EVs, many of which have better range and more performance.
Price (from) £25,640
Real Range: 75 miles (approx)
Battery size: 18.7kW
Pro Rating (Auto Express 3* What Car 3*)
While many EVs are converted from conventional cars, the i3 is built from the ground up as an electric car. Its unconventional looks hide a lightweight carbon-fibre shell and a sophisticated drivetrain which means it drives like a BMW should. The upright stance means it’s pretty spacious inside too, despite town-friendly compact dimensions. If you need to make occasional longer trips, there’s the option of a range extender version which has a scooter engine hidden in the back which fires up to power a generator to keep the battery topped up. As with most BMWs though, you will pay for all that technology – prices start at more than £33,000.
Price (from) £34,075
Real Range: 110 miles (approx)
Battery size: 33kW
Pro Rating (Auto Express 4*- What Car 3*)
BMW C evolution
This is perhaps the ultimate urban electric vehicle – because it’s a scooter. The C evolution uses the same battery technology as the i3 electric car to give a 60 mile range and performance which will embarrass some supercars away from the traffic lights. You’ll need a motorbike licence to ride one, but a quirk of the licensing laws means you can use the lesser ‘A1’ licence, which involves an easier test. Being a scooter you’ll be able to weave through the jams and park in motorbike bays at your destination, if you can cope with the weather and compromised safety of a motorbike. The big downside is the price – at more than £12,000 it costs more than many cars.
Even though it’s been around for a few years, the Twizy is still capable of turning heads – so is a great choice if you like being noticed or are advertising a business. Being small and much narrower than a conventional car, the Twizy can squeeze into gaps in traffic and into the tightest of parking spaces. You can even carry a passenger, in a tandem style. Weather protection is better than a scooter, but only just. Doors are optional and there’s nothing in the way of heating. On the plus side, the Twizy is great fun to drive and cheap to run, with a range of 60 miles. It only has a 13 amp domestic plug to charge though, which limits the number of public charging spots you’ll be able to use. Like some Zoes, the Twizy has a reasonable purchase price (below £7,000) but you have to pay a monthly battery lease charge which will limit its appeal in the longer term.
The G-Wiz has Toy Town looks and cracker-toy build quality too. And yet the tiny car saw moderate success when it was launched in 2002, becoming the most popular EV in Britain. The main market for it was London, where exemption from the congestion charge and free parking in the centre of the city made it worth the £10,000 price alone for many commuters. Many have been scrapped after the obsolete lead-acid batteries degraded to the point where they were useless. But there are still a few out there for sale and they are the cheapest way into EV ownership. If you can stand the ridicule, it’s marginally safer than a moped and will keep you dry when it rains.
In Japan, parking spaces are so rare that the government offers all sorts of tax incentives for cars which conform to certain size restrictions. As a result a whole class of cars exists which are just 3.4m long and 1.48m wide. Most are powered by tiny petrol engines, but the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is fitted with an electric car powertrain. It raised eyebrows at its launch with a whopping £30,000 price tag and as a result few were bought – but if you can find one on a used car forecourt then they are now much more reasonably priced. It looks odd but has four-door practicality and a useful 75-99 mile range. The i-MiEV can also be fast charged at motorway service stations using the CHAdeMO socket – a useful feature if you want to venture out of town.