Richard Cree 3 Aug 2017 04:43pm

Get ahead of the battery pack

As governments around the world proclaim the future of the car to be electric and Tesla announces its most affordable model to date (the Model 3), Richard Cree examines some of the options for those wanting to go electric ahead of the pack

Caption: BMW i3 is a brilliant all-round performer which is about to get its first major facelift

1. BMW i3 (from £30,250)

If you live in a city, there’s a chance you will have seen an i3 making its quiet way along the street. BMW got into electric cars early, offering an electric Mini for a pilot scheme. What it learned from that (as well as other test projects) fed into 2013’s i3, which is about to get its first major facelift (the next generation launches at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show). The i3 was built from scratch as an electric car, rather than squeezing motors and batteries into an existing model. This meant BMW had to invest in some clever new technology including a carbon fibre composite shell that’s light but tough and helps offset battery weight. It’s drives brilliantly, is an ideal city car, but boasts 125 miles of range (with an option for a range-extending small engine in the rear) and has a quick-charge option that gets an extra 100 miles in about 40 minutes. The interior is modern, but uses familiar BMW in-car systems and offers excellent space. If you don’t mind the statement looks, the i3 is already a brilliant all-round performer that will doubtless get even better when re-launched.

2. Mercedes B250e Electric Art (£33,670)

Mercedes has not to date bet as heavily on electric as BMW, but this electric B-class offers an a great package of high performance and stylish Mercedes interior. One concern with electric versions of standard cars is the space and weight of batteries will compromise the car. Here there are no such concerns. It handles and drives beautifully and the cabin and boot offer a surprising amount of space, aided by flat-folding seats that allow for extra storage where needed. The Electric Art styling adds leather seats and two-zone climate control, as well as slightly bigger alloys, to an already well-equipped car. If the electric B-class has a weakness it is the combination of a range of just 124 miles and a recharge time of nine hours (using a standard domestic supply).

3. Tesla Model X (£78,000)

The success of Elon Musk’s electric car venture must have played a part in convincing governments around the world that the future for cars might be electric. The Model X is the second production model from the Silicon Valley business that sees itself as a tech firm more than a car company. The Model X builds on the success of the Model S saloon and offers the same blend of brilliant design and clever engineering. Lavish falcon-wing doors mark it out (and improve access to the two rows of rear seats), while the signature tablet screen controls most aspects of the car and helps to create the feeling you’re in a car from the future. When authorities allow, autopilot only adds to that sense. There are fun touches for drivers, too. Select “insane” mode and put your foot down to experience the full joy of electric, especially in the most powerful model. Here the Model X, a full-sized SUV, can hit 60mph from a standstill in under three seconds. That’s supercar performance for all the family to enjoy. With a range of over 350 miles (assuming you don’t drive with your foot flat to the floor all the time) and an expanding network of fast-charging stations, it won’t leave you stranded either.

4. VW e-Golf (£31,025)

There’s little that says “business as usual” in the motoring world like the Golf. Ignoring the jibes that at least this is a VW we can trust to produce low emissions, the arrival of an all-electric Golf, with a range of 186 miles, marks a step on the way to making electric cars more commonplace. This is not a good thing. The Golf is all about reassuring drivers that electric cars can be just like the ones they already drive. In its review of the e-Golf, Autocar described it as offering, “all the implied reassurance of an astronaut ration pack made by Marks & Spencer”, which sums things up perfectly. The electric version has much the same boot space as the conventional version, losing only a small bit to batteries and it is business as usual elsewhere. It is more or less like any other VW Golf, just electric. It will hearten politicians everywhere (at least those who want all cars to be electric) to show the world that electric cars don’t have to be exotic, flamboyant or different. Rather they can be steady, practical and entirely familiar.

5. Renault Zoe (£18,045)

Renault is another company that's invested a lot in electric. The Zoe is almost the perfect expression of some people’s expectations of electric cars. In other words, it is a nothing special to look at city car that is perfect for lots of short-distance runs at low speeds that with its zero emissions can help clean-up city air. The Zoe feels like any conventional city run-around, and while it won’t wow anyone with looks, performance or acceleration, it won’t disgust or disappoint. The refreshed 2017 model boasts the option for a better battery that with a range of 250 miles (compared to 149 miles for the standard battery) offers to take the Zoe out of the city (or will just keep it going longer between charges). For anyone who doesn’t need to carry lots of baggage or passengers looking for an affordable and clean way to get around, the Zoe is one of the best options available.

6. Jaguar iPace (£55,000 est.)

Finally, here’s one for the future. Jaguar’s iPace is all set to land next year and with the firm on a roll in recent years, there’s every reason to expect this will be worth the wait. The plan is for the iPace to be an attractive, all-electric SUV going directly up against Tesla’s Model X. In order to compete, Jaguar is promising the iPace will be four-wheel drive, with the four motors (one for each wheel) generating almost 400bhp, a 0-60mph time of four seconds and a battery that will have a range over 300 miles. Early prototypes and models point to a clean, crisp, modern interior with bags of space and the sort of touch-screen gadgetry that’s fitting for the first Jaguar of the future. It’s clear this is an important car for Jaguar and at every motor show since late 2016 it has unveiled a tweaked version. Reviews from those who have driven prototypes have been extremely positive and, as the final model gets closer to production, this will be one to watch.