Electric car buying guide 2017: Range, EV charging, charger types and more explained

In 2040 the UK government wants us all to be driving hydrogen or electric powered cars, but there’s no need to wait until then. The electric car market is already growing rapidly, and new technology means EVs are better than ever.

More and more manufacturers have entered the scene with their own electric cars, and that means EV buyers have more choice, too. There’s the BMW i3 now, Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt to name a few, but with so many options now available, how do you decide which electric car is best for you? In this article, we’ve put together a list of the factors you need to care about when buying an EV.

And if you need inspiration, here are the best electric cars available in the UK.

Buying an electric car

We used to think of EVs as slow-moving and boring, but brands such as Tesla are rapidly changing that conception. If you enjoy the thrill of driving, something like a Model S or i3 will provide good performance with decent economy. Even cars such as the Renault Zoe offer nippy handling up to 30mph, and if driving in the city is all you do, that’s more than enough.

Range

Probably the most crucial factor for many people, the range is the distance that an EV can travel on a single charge. Smaller EVs can offer around 100 miles of driving per battery, while larger saloons such as the Model S can offer closer to 300.

However, the model you should buy depends on your unique usage scenario. If you intend to use your EV little and often – perhaps in an urban setting, with easy access to chargers – a range of 100 miles may be more than sufficient. In the same way, those who intend to use their EVs for longer journeys will be better off with a longer-range car. The number of electric chargers is growing on a weekly basis, so the coverage of charger – particularly if you live near a major city centre – is only getting better.

Of course, if you’d prefer to remove range anxiety altogether, there are now a good range of hybrid cars on the market. Using electricity for increased efficiency, these cars also make use of a petrol motor and benefit from a more conventional range as a result.

Types of electric charger

Chargers can be split into Slow, Fast, Rapid DC and Rapid AC types, and although fast chargers make up around 7,000 of the 12,000 chargers in the UK, they still take three to four hours to fully charge an empty battery. Rapid DC and Rapid AC chargers can offer 80% of charge in around 30 minutes but only account for around 2,000 of the 12,000 chargers in the UK.

Before you get an electric car, you should check the type of charger it has. If you’re sure you won’t need the top-up and go functionality you get with rapid chargers, that’s fine – but if you’re after 30 min charging times you’ll need a car with Rapid DC or AC charger compatibility.

Connectivity

Cars are quickly becoming another device for us to use and connect to, and there’s no better example than EVs. It’s vital to know the charge of your electric vehicle, particularly when charging or before driving. As a result, most EVs come with an app that makes it easier to check just how much life is left in your car.

What’s more, these apps also come with added features such as cabin preconditioning and keyless entry, and even the ability to look for charging stations. While this isn’t the most important factor when buying an EV, apps such as the BMW i3’s make the whole experience a slicker, smoother affair.

Price

Price plays an important role in any buying decision, and it’s a good starting point when choosing between EVs. Most electric cars cost slightly more than their traditionally powered counterparts, but current EVs take two different approaches. While cars such as the i3 and Tesla Model S represent high-end, premium vehicles, the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf are best for cheap thrills and economical driving.

Home-installed electric chargers can cost anything between £80 and £450, so it’s worth adding that to your budget as well.

Incentives

To encourage more people to drive electric cars, and manufacturers to make more, the UK government is offering grants to reduce the price you pay for brand new electric and hybrid vehicles. The amount of money you can get depends on the CO2 emissions of the car you want to buy, and EVs count as category 1 cars, which mean they get the largest grants. 

Category 1 includes cars which have CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km and can travel at least 112km (70 miles) without any CO2 emissions at all fall into the first category. These include:

  • BMW i3
  • BYD e6
  • Citroen CZero
  • Ford Focus Electric
  • Hyundai IONIQ Electric
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
  • Nissan e-NV200 (5-seater and 7-seater)
  • Nissan LEAF
  • Peugeot iON
  • Renault Fluence
  • Renault ZOE
  • Smart fortwo electric drive
  • Smart forfour electric drive
  • Tesla Model S
  • Tesla Model X
  • Toyota Mirai
  • Volkswagen e-up!
  • Volkswagen e-Golf

The government grant covers 35% of the purchase price for these vehicles, up to a maximum of £4,500.

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