Find out about the benefits of buying an electric vehicle (EV), how to insure one, and which are the best electric car models for 2020
The 2020 Coronavirus lockdown has forced many of us to reconsider our mobility choices and costs. British drivers and families are voting with their wallets: EV car sales have surged during the pandemic.
The latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the body responsible for compiling new UK car sales, says the UK saw a 262% surge in pure-electric registrations in the first half of 2020.
Electric vehicle (EV) battery range has vastly improved and the government still has its £3,000 plug in car grant on the table – though it won’t be around for ever, you’re warned – to ease the buying burden.
For those lacking the courage to make the full EV leap, hybrid car sales are taking up some of the slack nicely. Some hybrid models even switch automatically to ‘EV mode’ when entering urban areas. Diesel sales for the first half of 2020, in contrast, are down more than 25% on an already poor previous year.
A few years ago, owners of electric cars might have struggled to find an affordable insurance policy. Insurers base their premiums on previous data, including claims history, for types of vehicle. But when electric car tech was new, there was less historical data to work from.
And because electric cars were an unknown quantity for many insurers, some declined to cover them. Fewer insurers meant prices were less competitive.
No more. Electric car insurance is now increasingly mainstream as EV sales accelerate. The fastest way to find an insurer and compare deals from several different insurers remains through a price comparison website like Uswitch.
Cost of EV car insurance will vary depending on the usual range of criteria: your age, driving history and postcode. The type of people who bought electric vehicles in the past have often were deemed more responsible, helping snip premiums in some cases.
Most electric cars are likely to be equipped with safety features and crash avoidance tech that older cars simply lack, cutting accident risk further. While electric car acceleration is often rapid, EVs often have substantially lower top speed, further lowering risk.
However, while EVs have far fewer moving parts, some components are highly expensive to repair following an accident. Also, far fewer motor technicians are qualified to work on EVs compared to conventionally powered cars. In some cases that means higher staff pricing and costs – for the moment, at least.
But although you might find that insurance is more expensive for an electric car than its standard equivalent model, the cost over the time you own it could be offset by the savings you make on fuel and tax.
Although you may not save hugely on insurance, there are many financial benefits of buying an electric car. It’s important to consider any savings over the lifetime of the car (or for the time you will own it). Think long-term overall cost, not just the cost to buy.
Firstly, you’ll save on the purchase price of a new electric car thanks to the government’s Plug-in Car Grant which covers 30% of the cost of a new electric car up to £3,000, depending on model (be aware that most list prices take this grant into account however).
For the moment, all UK-registered electric cars are exempt from paying VED (road tax). Until 5 April 2020 you paid VED on an EV if it cost more than £40,000. No more – no electric car pays VED. But one of the idiosyncrasies of the system means you still have to apply for road tax each year before not paying it.
Realistically the government can’t afford to sustain this VED freebie as EVs get more commonplace and fuel duty receipts fall. As cars get more connected, one revenue raiser possibility is road pricing, so watch this space.
For the moment EV owners can also get up to £350 off the cost of installing a home charger through the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme. Charging from home costs about £3-5 in electricity for a full charge. There’s also a growing number of public charging points, so you can recharge on the go.
Talking of charging, electric cars charge quickly up to 80% capacity. The last 20% slug is always slower to preserve battery life. It’s not your EV being annoying.
If you want to go electric, consider some of the below popular models, which include SUVs, as well as smaller electric cars. Few of us bother with the recommended retail price (RRP) of a car these days with most of us opting for a finance deal, but RRP is still a good line in the sand for quick reference.
Always shop around and don’t just focus on the monthly payment. Push for a list price discount first before negotiating a finance deal.
We start at the ‘value’ end of EV ownership.
Prices start at £24,900 after UK government £3,000 plug-in car grant
Range up to 145 miles
If all-out range isn’t important but fun is buy a Mini Electric (though it’s the only three-door on this list). Like other EVs, your range in reality will be lower than claimed: think a real-world range of 125 miles, perhaps less if your commute involves high-speed dual carriageways.
Driving dynamics are strong though out-right performance isn’t super-zippy. Where the Mini Electric scores is with fit and finish. The interior is in a different class compared to Far Eastern EVs like Hyundai’s Kona or MG’s ZS.
While there’s plenty of cockpit high-tech you’ve still got physical toggle buttons for heating and ventilation. There’s also a good amount of storage space for oddments. You’ll need to get used to the car’s electro-drone to warn pedestrians of your proximity but it’s not a big deal. For some households, this is the perfect city car.
Prices start at £26,495 after UK government £3,000 plug-in car grant
Range 180-245 miles
Renault’s Zoe starts from £26,495 after the government’s £3,000 plug-in grant. The standard Zoe claims an almost 250-mile range but this slips to under 200 miles in winter – lower temperatures make EV batteries work harder. Use air con a lot your and range will be further undermined.
Charging from a 7.4KW home wallbox gives you 30 miles range or so after an hour’s charge. If you try and re-charge from a standard UK domestic socket it takes almost 30 hours to re-juice, though this is the charging scenario for most EVs – a public rapid charger is far swifter.
Renault used to offer a monthly battery lease option but that has been ditched, even if it has driven the entry price higher. Although compact and diminutive the Zoe is a full five-door supermini.
Prices start at £30,150 after UK government £3,000 plug-in car grant
Range 180-278 miles
The Kona is a crossover – a hatchback mixed with SUV styling – and Hyundai has gifted it an exceptional range of nearly 280 miles. Though almost the size of a Focus or Golf, boot and cabin space is on the tight side. But it’s a fine car to get around town.
It’s affordable if you factor in overall running costs plus there’s much cutting edge electronic trickery, including standard adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, to keep you safe.
If your family is on the tall side, watch the raised floor space (to accommodate the battery); this is exacerbated with cars optioned with a sunroof. Some report that the Kona’s tyre noise is wearing on longer journeys, though this is the same for many EVs shorn of a conventional engine and generous sound insulation.
Prices start at £28,715 after UK government £3,000 plug-in car grant
Range up to 215 miles
Pert and pretty the e-208 can be topped up to 80% of its 215-mile range within 30 minutes if you have a 100kW rapid charging point nearby.
French cars traditionally mean soft suspension. However, the e-208 weighs almost half a ton heavier than the standard car, thanks to its high-tech drivetrain, which means a ride erring on the firm.
The less-than-plush ride quality can be exacerbated by 17-inch wheels on higher trim levels, so try before buying.
There’s good quality materials deployed inside though the ‘i-cockpit’ driver ergonomics and dinky steering wheel, sitting well below the instrument cowl, isn’t for all. Watch those thick windscreen pillars, making visibility tricky at roundabouts and intersections.
Some families will welcome the Isofix anchor points on the front passenger seat. Steel wheels are standard on the base model – a bit mean.
Prices start at £33,795 after UK government £3,000 plug-in car grant
Range up to 280 miles
Bigger than a Hyundai Kona the e-Niro is a Swiss army knife do-it-all workhorse, with a larger boot (451 litres versus a Kona’s 322 litres). You can fast-charge the e-Niro to deliver 80% of its 280-mile range within 75 minutes while a home wallbox takes around 10 hours.
Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist is standard and there’s good levels of performance, right down to the entry-level 134bhp model. Long-term reliability is unknown but the e-Niro should retain 80% of its battery range by the time it’s five years old, underpinning resale values.
As with many modern electric cars, there is cacophony of audible warning bongs when starting and getting underway. A seven-year 100,000-mile warranty is highly reassuring as a long-term ownership prospect. The problem with this car is getting your mits on one – demand is huge.
Prices from (approx) £32,000
Range up to 340 miles
The shortly-to-be released ID.3 – the name denotes VW’s third technology era Beetle, Golf, ID.3 – may be more important than Tesla and any other car on this list. That’s because the ID.3 is what VW thinks a car for most people most of the time should look like.
Having sold 35 million Golfs, VW has experience of what works. The ID.3 will cost from around £30,000 with a range of up to 340 miles, depending on model.
The ID.3 is roomy inside helped by an absence of a transmission tunnel: this is a car designed from the ground up without an engine or gearbox, liberating packaging creativity.
Crammed with safety kit, including an augmented reality windscreen display option, the ID.3 could be the most well-rounded EV you can (shortly) buy, even if pricy, high-end versions arrive first.
It looks sharp and goes well but fiddly capacitive slider controls – think fan speed, for example – means taking your eyes off the road to use. A physical knob is safer and more practical. Voice commands are offered even if the software is said to be a bit buggy (for now). Do you really need that Golf?
Prices from £38,900 including plug-in grant
Range 250 miles (standard model) but Long Range model delivers 340 miles
The Model 3 gives you a range of up to 340 miles, depending on model. The interior is more akin to a spaceship and dominated by a large tablet and absolutely no buttons.
Locating on-screen controls for basic functions can be difficult to adjust to so a Model 3 may be a touch-sensitive usability nightmare for some, particularly older people. For others, Tesla’s most affordable model is The Future. Much of the car’s functions can be outsourced to your phone – for example, locking and unlock the car.
Fit and finish are good if a bit off BMW/Audi standards. The boot is pretty generous though the opening is small. One huge safety boon is Tesla’s standard-fit (since last year) Autopilot, allowing the car to steer, brake and accelerate automatically inside its lane.
Thanks to wide use of aluminium panels, the Model 3 is relatively light at 1,645kg – so not much heavier than Peugeot’s far smaller 1,530kg e-208. The Model 3 is also four-wheel drive and its pace and presence is phenomenal.