Electric vehicles (EVs) have been a long time in rising to prominence, but they’ve now well and truly arrived, with more options available to buyers than ever before. Because the battery pack is usually hidden in the floor, most are SUVs, but there are some hatchbacks, saloons and even an estate to choose from as well.
Battery technology has come a long way, too, which has brought down prices of new EVs and also means that range anxiety is much less of a problem than it used to be. Charging infrastructure still leaves much to be desired, but if you can charge at home, you may never need to visit a public charger.
Add in the fact that EVs let you travel in silence and produce zero emissions, are exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge, and qualify for a government grant if they cost less than £35,000, and they start to become a truly viable alternative to petrol- or diesel-fuelled models.
While we have yet to see many true driver’s cars with electric power, the instant, silent punch, uninterrupted by gearchanges that even fairly basic EVs offer will surprise and delight many drivers used to conventional powertrains.
This is a list of our top 10 electric cars for families at the more affordable end of the market, 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.
20 years ago, it would have been surprising to see a list like this dominated by Hyundai and Kia, but the Korean duo have not only managed to build a range of impressive mainstream cars, they were also quick out of the gate with electric versions of regular cars.
The Ioniq 5 is the start of them getting truly serious about EVs, and it’s built on a bespoke EV model platform with 800-volt electronic architecture. An 800v system allows for much faster charging and the only others doing something similar are the Porsche Taycan and Audi E-Tron GT. Pretty good company.
It’s not just a technical exercise. The Ioniq 5 draws attention with its distinctive retro-futuristic design and modern, high-quality interior.
We were impressed with the rapid dual-motor version when we drove it. Although it is too big and soft to be truly engaging, it proved a lovely relaxing cruiser, with good noise suppression, a comfortable ride, and a really convincing luxury aura that suits an electric car perfectly. Good packaging means that space in the back is more than generous, with a usable boot.
The long-range rear-wheel drive version narrowly saw off the Skoda Enyaq in a recent group test, proving a more engaging drive and winning over our tester with its more daring design. The range starts from £36,995 for a 168bhp rear-wheel drive car with a 240-mile range, rising to £41,945 for a 281-mile, 214bhp version, and £45,145 for the 302bhp dual-motor range-topper – so it’s competitive value, too.
Skoda often takes Volkswagen Group mechanicals and wraps them up in an even more sensible, spacious package that’s better value to boot. So too with the Skoda Enyaq iV. It uses the same VW Group MEB electric ‘skateboard’ platform that underpins the VW ID 3 and ID 4, and the Audi Q4 E-Tron. Clever design choices ensure it hits a sweet spot in the EV SUV market, though.
It impresses with a roomy and cleverly thought-out cabin that is a match for the Audi’s on tangible quality and personalisation. The chassis set-up proved very mature during our road test: it won’t appeal to keen drivers, but feels medium firm and fairly tightly controlled to inspire confidence without any meaningful detriment to the range.
The 201bhp ‘80’ version we tested showed performance that should satisfy most drivers and the 333-mile range makes the Enyaq very usable on longer journeys, too. For the more budget-conscious, Skoda offers a ‘60’ model with a 58kWh battery pack that yields a 250-mile range. An even smaller 50 exists but isn’t available over here at the moment. The 80X Sportline adds a front motor for extra power and all-wheel drive and details of the range-topping vRS with 302bhp and all-wheel drive are to be announced soon.
Only the added character of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and a handful of awkward design decisions, some slightly annoying active safety features and a slightly mean standard equipment tally keep it from finishing at the very top of this list.
3. Kia EV6
Kia has come closer than anyone so far to bringing real driver appeal to the market for usable, affordably-priced, ‘normal’ electric cars. With the EV6, sister car to our class champion the Hyundai Ioniq 5, it has taken a state-of-the-art electric-specific model platform, clothed it in a handsome body, thrown in a good-sized cabin, and finished the package with keen-feeling ride and handling delivered by a natively rear-wheel drive chassis that feels significantly more interesting and involving to drive than so many EVs have thus far.
The car comes with a choice of three trim levels, and in either single-motor rear-driven- or twin-motor four-wheel drive form. Power outputs range from 226- to 321bhp, with a range-topping GT version coming soon with close to six-hundred horsepower to call upon (imagine that). Public rapid charging at up to 239kW is possible in the car (where available), at which pace the car’s 77.4kWh battery can be topped up roughly the time it takes to order a cup of tea and consume an iced bun; while range extends up to 328 miles on the WLTP lab test standard.
The EV6’s package has a few limitations, one of which is price (this isn’t the most affordable electric option among its peers). Because it’s a bit sporty, it’s also not the smoothest-riding, refined EV of the current bunch; cabin quality isn’t nearly as rich or inviting as that of the car’s Hyundai relation; and lifeless, numb steering takes the edge of the car’s dynamic appeal a little.
Nevertheless, the EV6 is remarkably agile-handling, its performance is spirited (even in the case of single-motor models), and it gives plenty of heart to keen drivers who have assumed that zero-emissions motoring wouldn’t nurture their enthusiasm quite like they’re used to.
The Blue Oval was a little late to the full-sized electric car market, but has made something of a splash in any case by appropriating its much-loved Mustang sub-brand for its first battery-electric production model. The Mustang Mach-E isn’t a square-jawed muscle coupé, though, but a proper five-seater with an appealing-looking crossover bodystyle, as well as impressive real-world range potential and a more affordable price than some of the cars listed here.
It’s available from just over £40,000 in the UK, so it’s not as affordable as some key rivals. If you want the WLTP-accredited 379-mile Extended Range version, you’ll need almost £50,000. However, it’s a proper, usable family car that beats premium rivals by up to 30% on both claimed range and value.
In Extended Range RWD form, Ford’s first proper EV doesn’t dazzle with warp-speed acceleration. Instead it is the chassis that brings some driving satisfaction, with its appreciable poise and even a little playfulness when the moment takes you. Outright fun? Like its rivals, the Ford is too heavy for that, and its steering too synthetic, but this is certainly one of the more pleasing driver’s cars of its ilk.
Fears that the Mach-E would be very much ‘style over substance’ are further dispelled by what is a truly spacious and airy cabin, even if the look of the place is somewhat unimaginative and perceived quality a rung or two below what you’ll find in European rivals.
5. VW 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 play just as crucial a 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-litre boot is larger than a Tiguan’s. Even better, since locating the battery under the floor allows for clever packaging, space in the rear is similar to a Mercedes E-Class. The only slight niggle is that it also means the rear bench sits a bit higher than you might like, which restricts head room.
Speaking of the battery, two sizes are 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 has a 77kWh battery that’s good for a WLTP range of 324 miles. A dual-motor, four-wheel-drive 295bhp GTX model tops the range, though it’s more of a fast cruiser than a true GTI for the electric age.
Performance of the normal 201bhp version is usefully brisk as well, and it’s very refined, even on big wheels. But there’s also enough character to ensure that it doesn’t leave you cold: neatly tuned control responses, sharp initial performance, interesting little design cues and a sense of maturity on the move.
The ID 4 offers a neat, simplified and intuitive electric-car experience, though the interior ergonomics have been simplified a bit too much. Despite a very appealing ambiance inside the ID 4, the loss of most buttons means it’s not very user-friendly – a common complaint with modern Volkswagens.
The biggest name in electric cars has its sights set on becoming a real global heavyweight with the Model 3, and spreading its wings to lower price points and greater annual production volumes than it has ever reached before.
By the time this car hits full stride, it’s aimed to transform its maker into a company turning out more than half-a-million cars a year – and it has now arrived in the UK market, already bringing Tesla ownership to a sub-£40,000-paying audience. In Standard Range form, meanwhile, the Model 3 is expected to make entry to the brand even more affordable very soon.
The Model 3 Performance has two electric motors combining to the tune of 444bhp and a 0-62mph dash of just 3.4sec, and it responds to throttle inputs in a way that really challenges your fine motor control as well as your neck muscles. Electric range should be better in other 75kWh versions of the Model 3, though: the Performance version delivers a real-world range closer to 200 miles than 300 in our testing experience. Opt for a Standard Range Plus, meanwhile, and some of the range-topping model’s pace is sacrificed, but plenty is left over. Its real-world motorway range is around 200 miles. In the Long Range version of the car, the WLTP range rises to 360 miles. And if your focus is on buying an EV with good public charging support, there is also Tesla’s supercharger network to consider: a huge benefit, and great enabler of longer-distance EV use.
The Model 3’s cabin is certainly of higher perceived quality than in Tesla’s earlier models, but the back row is a slightly tight squeeze for adult passengers and the boot isn’t as roomy or as accessible as a Model S’s. On-board refinement, meanwhile, is hamstrung by a particularly firm and slightly noisy ride.
7. Kia e-Niro
The Kia e-Niro redefined 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.
It’s now a few years old and looks a little dated both inside and out, and is due for replacement in 2022. Kia and Hyundai are starting to launch electric models on a dedicated rear-wheel drive platform that enables even faster charging too, making the e-Niro look even more ‘old hat’.
Nevertheless, this car’s genre-challenging relationship between range, usability and affordability means it still scores very highly. It also pulls ahead of the technically related Hyundai Kona because the e-Niro is 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 some, but as a well-rounded, truly usable affordable EV, the e-Niro remains a class act.
8. Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf, in first-generation form, set the mould for the affordable electric car almost a decade ago – and in new second-generation form, it’s still 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 £2500 PiCG grant into account, cements the car’s position.
9. MG 5 SW EV
Old-fashioned value for money remains a hard thing to find in the market for electric cars, but the MG 5 SW EV certainly supplies some. At the end of 2020, MG made waves by offering the family-hatchback-sized MG 5 (it’s an estate actually; a little bit like a mid-90s mkIII Vauxhall Aston wagon that’s been to the future) with a 200-mile range, for less than £25,000 after the UK government’s PiCG grant. Then, in mid-2021, it brought in a revised version of the car with a larger battery and some 250 miles of claimed range, and then made it available for very little more (from £26,495). If you’re buying a mid-range, petrol-powered C-segment estate in 2021, there’s a good chance you’ll be paying more for it than this.
The updated MG 5 can rapid-charge at up to 100kW, so it’s not the kind of EV you’ll be waiting hours for while it tops up from the mains. It’s got a drive motor with 154bhp and 192lb ft, so it’s a very respectable performer, too. And it’s got a 464-litre boot, which is enough for plenty of family paraphernalia.
Cabin quality is pretty low-rent; front-driven traction is modest at best; and body control can be quite loose on changable surfaces. But this is budget family EV motoring, after all – and since few other cars offer it at all, there’s definitely a place for it.
10. Cupra Born
The VW Group’s emergent performance brand Cupra has thought small with its first dedicated electric car, the Born. Instead of following sister brands Skoda and Audi and launching a crossover SUV related to the Enyaq iV and Q4 E-Tron, it has hitched its first EV to the smaller VW ID 3. So the Cupra Born is a hatchback rather than a full-sized family car, although it’s a slightly pricey one with strakey styling, and sporting intentions that it struggles somewhat to deliver on.
We’ve so far only driven the Born in Spain, with UK press cars expected early in 2022. On Spanish roads, the car failed to clearly differentiate its driving experience from that of the related VW ID 3. Although the car has evident maturity and refinement, it’s little more exciting or involving than its VW relation, and considerably less so than the likes of the Kia EV6 and Ford Mustang Mach-E.
UK prices will be confirmed soon, and are expected to start at around £32,000; with power outputs ranging from 148- to 228bhp, and batteries from 45- to 77kWh.