Electric cars have been a long time in rising to prominence, but they’ve now well and truly arrived. There are more options to choose from than ever before, which helps to bring prices down, and smarter battery technology means you can travel further on a single charge, too.
Add in the fact that electric vehicles (EVs) let you travel in silence and produce zero emissions, are exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge, and (largely) qualify for a government grant to help make them more affordable and you get an idea of just how well placed they are to really assert themselves on the car-buying masses in the coming years. As the range between mains charges increases and the charging infrastructure improves, an EV becomes a more viable alternative to petrol- or diesel-fuelled models almost by the month.
Having first appeared around 10 years ago, the market’s first EVs were cars with around 80 miles of usable range and priced at a 50% premium over their petrol-fuelled counterparts. Today, in many cases, the real-world range has more than doubled and that price premium has almost disappeared.
This is a list of our top 10 electric cars for families, compiled considering factors such as range, usability, driving dynamics, and value for money. Some EVs are still subject to relatively high prices compared with combustion-engined cars, but their premiums can be offset against lower running costs.
10. Peugeot e-2008
As far as pure style appeal is concerned, the electric version of Peugeot’s second-generation 2008 crossover has most of the cars on this list licked. That it’s also decently practical, largely comfortable, and fairly viceless to drive should help to further solidify its appeal, too.
Like the equally handsome e-208 supermini, this larger model is based on the PSA Group’s modular e-CMP platform. A 50kWh drive battery powers a 134bhp electric motor and lends the French crossover a WLTP-certified range of 193 miles – although we saw an average figure closer to 150 miles when we put it through the full Autocar road test. Compared with the Kia e-Niro, Hyundai Kona Electric and Volkswagen ID 3, that performance is likely to come across as underwhelming, particularly when mid-range versions of the e2008 are priced closely to those longer-legged rivals.
But for those not necessarily set on running an e-2008 as their primary family car, that comparatively limited range is unlikely to be a massive turn-off. They’ll find the e-2008 a largely comfortable-riding car that’s refined at a cruise and easy to place on the road, if one that’s a little lacking in outright punch and driver engagement.
09. Citroën e-C4
In true Citroën fashion, the French manufacturer has taken the styling of its new-generation electric car in a decidedly quirkier direction than its PSA Group counterparts. Nevertheless, we think the e-C4 is a fairly charming-looking thing, with identifiable stylistic nods to notable Citroëns of old. Surely, we aren’t the only ones who can detect a hint of GS about its rear three-quarter profile, are we?
As with Peugeot’s e-2008 compact crossover, the e-C4 sits on PSA’s e-CMP architecture. So it gets the same 50kWh battery, as well as the same 134bhp motor driving the front wheels. But whereas the Peugeot has a claimed range of 193 miles, the Citroën is rated for 217 miles on the WLTP combined cycle.
Performance is okay, and the ride is relatively comfortable. But there isn’t much here for the keener driver to get excited about, due in no small part to its exceptionally light and numb steering. Practicality is decent enough, though, and the cabin follows the exterior’s lead in adopting a left-field approach to design. With prices starting at £29,180 (after the £3000 government grant), it’s fractionally cheaper than its Peugeot relation, too.
08. Volvo XC40 Recharge P8
Although the XC40 is a familiar shape by now, this P8 version is, in fact, Volvo’s first fully electric production vehicle. Beneath that recognizable exterior sits the same sort of hardware you’ll find in the recently released Polestar 2. There’s a 78kWh battery pack to lend a 260-mile WLTP range, while electric motors at both axles combine to give a system output of 402bhp.
The result is a surprisingly swift turn of pace. The XC40 P8 will hit 62mph from a standstill in just 4.9sec, and on the road, it feels every bit as quick as that number suggests. That said, its potential for speed doesn’t quite feel natural – or, indeed, welcome – in the context of the car’s softer suspension set-up. There is pronounced pitch under acceleration and deceleration, while faster corners extract a good amount of body roll, too.
At £59,985, it’s also expensive – and it doesn’t qualify for the government’s electric car grant. Still, it impresses on a technical level and is a promising sign of things to come from a company that is expecting EVs to account for 50% of its global sales by 2025. We just think that the forthcoming cheaper, slower versions will suit the XC40’s inherently laid-back character a bit better.
07. MG 5 SW EV
Don’t let this latest MG’s rather dowdy, generic looks fool you into thinking it’s in any way a bad car. In reality, there’s really quite a lot to like about the 5 SW EV – the Chinese-owned brand’s second electric vehicle.
For starters, it’s priced very competitively. The entry-level Excite model kicks things off at £24,495 once the £3000 electric car grant has been taken into account, while the range-topper is £26,995. Meanwhile, its practical estate car body houses a 464-liter boot and enough passenger space to seat a young family comfortably, and its 52.5kWh battery allows for a WLTP-certified range of 214 miles – although we saw closer to 160 miles during testing.
It rides comfortably, as though it has been specially tuned to deal with the UK’s occasionally terribly surfaced roads, and there’s enough performance on tap for it to keep pace with (and in some instances better) its key rivals. Of course, its interior isn’t particularly flash looking and build quality seems to be of only a relatively average standard. But as an affordable, functional no-frills electric car, it works quite nicely indeed.
06. Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf, in the first-generation form, set the mold for the affordable electric car almost a decade ago – and in new second-generation form, it’s still right in among the list of contenders who are following in its tread marks.
Battery capacity has been boosted so that, in standard guise, the Nissan has a WLTP-certified range of 168 miles – still not much by today’s standards. However, this rises to more than 200 in the case of the range-topping 64kWh e+ version. It’s also got significantly more power and torque than its direct predecessor performs fairly keenly feels like a more rounded car to drive generally and has one of the strongest showings here on daily-use practicality for a small family. Its interior is starting to look and feel pretty dated, though.
A value proposition that’s also improved and is now on a par with that of a mid-market, conventionally fuelled family hatchback once you take the government’s £3000 PiCG grant into account cement the car’s strengths.
05. Volkswagen ID 4
The ID 4 is the second Volkswagen to be launched on the group’s MEB platform, following on from the ID 3. It’s a bigger, pricier car than that earlier model, but also one that will nonetheless play a crucial role in helping VW become a dominant player in the global EV market. The world is, after all, crazy for SUVs, and Volkswagen claims the ID 4’s packaging allows it to offer Touareg levels of practicality in a Tiguan-sized package. That sounds like a winning combo.
In practice, it works pretty well, too. There’s loads of space up front, and its 531-liter boot is larger than a Tiguan’s. The only slight niggle is that the battery’s positioning means the rear bench sits a bit higher than you might like, which restricts headroom.
Speaking of the battery, two sizes will be available and they correspond to the output of the rear-mounted electric motor. The 146bhp and 168bhp models come with a 52kWh unit, while the 201bhp model we’ve driven has a 77kWh battery that’s good for a WLTP range of 324 miles. A dual-motor, four-wheel-drive GTX performance model is set to join the line-up from April 2021, too.
Performance is usefully brisk up to about 50mph or so, and at cruising speeds, the ID 4 is exceptionally refined. It’s agile at low speeds, too, and it rides in a sophisticated and well-controlled manner – at least on smooth German roads, where we’ve driven it. We’ll have to wait and see how it rides in Britain.
There isn’t a huge amount here for driving enthusiasts to get excited about, but on the grounds of sheer usability, the ID 4 is pretty tricky to a fault. The £59,950 First Edition model we drove is pricey, but the lower-powered models should strike a more appealing balance between price and usability when they arrive in February 2021.
04. Hyundai Kona Electric
Until relatively recently, an electric car good enough to combine a genuine 300-mile daily-use range with a sub-£30,000 price seemed an awfully long way off. However, the Hyundai Kona Electric made it a reality a couple of years ago – quite a coup for its ambitious Korean maker.
By wielding what must be a sizable competitive advantage on battery buying power, Hyundai has secured this car a sizable advantage in on-board electrical storage compared with plenty of its rivals on this list. It has enough capacity for more than 250 miles of range at typical UK motorway speeds, and more than 300 at a slightly slower clip or around town. And, this car, comes packaged with much stronger accelerative performance than its nearest rivals. The Kona Electric is quick enough, even, to live with some hot hatchbacks away from the traffic lights.
That the car’s slightly low-rent, the restrictive interior doesn’t make it quite the match of a full-sized family hatchback on practicality is a bit of a disappointment. Also, there’s some frustration to be found in the car’s ride and handling, which both feel somewhat compromised by its weight and the low-friction tires. But if you want outright range for a small outlay, this is probably still where to get it.
03. Kia Soul EV
Kia’s boxy compact crossover is back for a third generation, but this time around, the Soul will be offered exclusively as an electric vehicle in European markets.
While not particularly sporty, it rides well, performs strongly, and doesn’t make too much of a point of its 1682kg curb weight. And because it makes use of the same powertrain as the slightly bigger e-Niro, it promises a WLTP-certified range of 280 miles when equipped with a 64kWh battery.
UK prices start from £33,795 after the UK government incentive, so the car will be only a few thousand pounds cheaper than the Kia e-Niro, which offers slightly more in the way of practicality. It’s one of the more pricey compact EVs on the market, clearly, but has more alternative styling appeal than the e-Niro and should easily attract people who can afford to pay a premium and don’t need quite as much space as an e-Niro affords.
02. Volkswagen ID 3
As Volkswagen looks to move on from the fallout of Dieselgate, the ID 3 is set to take center stage as the marque’s environmentally friendly wunderkind. This Golf-sized hatchback also gets the new ID sub-brand off the mark and aims to do so with the kind of mass-market sophistication and class-leading usability for which Volkswagen is rightly famed.
Built on an entirely fresh rear-engined platform, the ID 3 benefits from a long wheelbase, boosting cabin space, and is powered by a rear-mounted motor with up to 201bhp and 229lb-ft. Two battery sizes are currently available, depending on the specification you opt for. A 58kWh pack lends a WLTP range of 261 miles, while the larger, pricier 77kWh battery ups that to 340 miles.
It excels in terms of maneuverability and low-speed response and, although heavy by compact car standards and rolling on wheels as big as 20in in diameter, it would seem to hit the company’s high standards for ride sophistication, too. Handling is surprisingly agile, balanced, and nimble.
Although early versions of the car cost close to £40,000, ID 3 prices now start at just under £30,000 for a car with range and performance comparable with electric superminis at that price point, better packaging, and first-rate urban maneuverability.
01. Kia e-Niro
The Kia e-Niro redefines how much real-world range and family-friendly usability we should now expect from an EV towards the more affordable end of the price spectrum. For around £35,000, the car’s 64kWh battery pack enables it to comfortably travel 230 miles on a single charge; and further still if you stay off the motorway or around town. A few years ago, that would be the sort of range you’d be expecting from something far pricier, and probably with a Tesla badge on its nose.
That genre-challenging relationship between range, usability, and affordability isn’t the sole reason why the e-Niro now crowns this list. Indeed if it was, the Hyundai Kona would be right up there, too. Where e-Niro pulls ahead, though, is that it also remains a thoroughly practical, dynamically well-resolved, and pleasant-to-drive EV. It’s roomier than almost every other EV at the price, and it rides and handles with a greater level of sophistication and accomplishment than many of its rivals. It may lack some of the accelerative potency of its rivals, but as a well-rounded, truly usable affordable EV, the e-Niro is going to take some beating.