Have electric cars gone mainstream?

July 21, 2014 | By | In Buying Guides
Have electric cars gone mainstream?

If we had a pound for every time we’d heard that electric cars had finally come of age, we’d be able to afford our own electric car – and charging point. However, electric cars may truly be about to take over UK streets. Or at least one street; Downing Street.

The Government has taken the plunge and decided to fit a set of charging points outside number 10 – and to supply 150 electric cars to staff – all in attempt to “lead by example”. Newspaper reports suggest that a further 135 electric vehicles may be added to police, council and NHS fleets later this year.

But are electric cars now a realistic prospect for Mondeo Man, as well as those in Whitehall?

Increasing choice of electric cars

With current electric and hybrid vehicles ranging from a sub-£7,000 two-seater city nippers to potent luxury models and 900bhp plug-in supercars, buyers have a wide choice of lithium-powered machines.

Options range from pure electric cars that run solely on batteries, to petrol and diesel plug-in hybrids which you can plug into the mains at home for limited zero-emissions running, and conventional hybrids which simply have electric motors to give the engine a helping hand.

Thanks to this increasing choice, sales of electric and hybrid cars are ramping up, according to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. 2,558 pure electric cars flew off the shelves in the first half of 2014, compared to just 1,049 last year. Plug-in hybrid sales have also nearly doubled, while conventional hybrid sales are up by around 40 per cent.

Pricey models offer powerful motors and useful range

If you’re after the maximum range from an electric car Tesla’s Model S puts up a strong case, with a real world range of over 250 miles – plus impressive acceleration figures; all models need less than six seconds to hit 60mph from a standstill. You will need to stump up £57,300 for the privilege though.

BMW’s i3 gives buyers the choice between a pure electric model which can cover around 100 miles and a range extender, which has a small petrol model to give a more useful total range of around 186 miles. Prices for both start north of £25,000 however – a high price for a Ford Fiesta-sized car.

More affordable models have limited range

Not all electric models come with a price premium though; the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plug-in model costs exactly the same as an equivalent diesel, after the government’s £5,000 electric car grant. The hybrid accelerates more quickly too – and you benefit from 148mpg claimed economy.

One of the cheapest electric machines on the road is Renault’s Twizy. This two-seater is available from just £6,895 with owners paying £30 to £75 for monthly battery hire – depending upon mileage. With an official range of 62 miles and a top speed of 50mph, the Twizy only really works around town though.

Renault’s larger Zoe supermini is available from just £13,995 and is claimed to travel 130 miles per charge. Take to real roads however and Renault states that this could drop to as little as 62 and 90 miles – reducing its appeal for many drivers. As with the Twizy though, buyers have to pay £45 to £113 per month for battery rental.

The larger Nissan Leaf can be bought from £21,490 – not dissimilar to equivalent petrol and diesel models – though real world range may be as little as 76 miles ranging up to a maximum of 124 miles.

Appealing options if you can compromise on range or price

Whether you want a nippy urban runabout, a comfortable mid-priced medium car or a premium model which can handle around 250 miles between charges, you should now be able to find an electric car that fits the bill. Provided, that is you can charge at home, or have access to a compatible charging point.

Plug-in hybrids offer a good compromise between eco-credentials and range, though most current models aren’t particularly cheap. If however, you want an affordable electric car capable of covering large distances on one charge, you may still be waiting for the right car for the job.

Maybe we’ll wait to see how Whitehall gets on with its electric cars before we take the plunge…

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