Top five city cars Take a look at the best five electric-powered vehicles for the most urban of environments. Plug in and play: the best zero-emissions urban runabouts you can buy.
Both literally and metaphorically, the city car has come a long way. Once upon a time, these compact cars were best left in the urban jungle, with only the brave and foolhardy venturing beyond the city limits. Today, we expect these little runabouts to be consummate all-rounders, offering big-car tech, comfort and performance, along with an ability to venture into the outside lane of a motorway.
City cars are well-suited to an electric car makeover, as daily and annual mileages tend to be lower, so you are unlikely to have the need to call upon a public charging point. Just charge your electric city car overnight, then drive to and from work or the railway station without a thought for range anxiety.
That is not to say that the small electric car segment is brimming with options, though, and we would suggest looking at the class above if you are after greater flexibility and more space. For example, the new Nissan Leaf is much improved, and offers an official range of 235 miles. Other options include the Hyundai Ioniq and Volkswagen e-Golf, both of which are entirely suitable for urban duties. Here are our top five small EVs…
5 KIA SOUL EV
Price now: $25,995 after PiCG (Plug-in Car Grant)
Funky styling and Kia’s seven-year warranty make the boxy Soul EV an attractive proposition
We include the Kia Soul with one significant caveat: the aforementioned Leaf, Ioniq and e-Golf are superior in most departments. So why is it here? Firstly, it looks and feels closer to a city car than its larger rivals, while the lofty driving position is a real boon in urban environments. The box-like styling will not appeal to all, but the straight edges ensure that the Soul EV is easy to park and manoeuvre without fear of picking up dents or scratches.
Launched in 2015, the Soul EV remains Kia’s first and only all-electric vehicle, although it is possible to buy plug-in hybrid versions of the Optima and Niro. Crucially, the Soul EV retains Kia’s excellent seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, which presents a reassuring USP in the segment, and should deliver some peace of mind to buyers questioning the longterm suitability of an electric car.
Early Soul EV models offered a range of 125 miles, but this has since been extended to 155 miles from a single charge. The EV’s batteries have an energy storage capacity of 30 kilowatt-hours, while the electric motor develops 81.4kW and 210lb-ft of torque, both available from standstill. The result is a car that can accelerate to 60mph in 11 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 90mph.
Using a domestic power supply, the Soul EV can be recharged in 11-14 hours, while a wallbox or public fast charger reduces this time to around five hours. Use a rapid charger, and up to 80 per cent of capacity can be delivered in 33 minutes. At a little under £26,000 after a government grant, the Kia Soul EV is not cheap, but its warranty, roomy cabin and space for five adults make it ideally suited for those in search of something a little different.
Price now: $21,140 after PiCG
4 The e-Up retains all of the things we love about the standard Up city car, making it one of the coolest EVs on the market
The e-Up was Volkswagen’s first mainstream electric car, and is based on what is arguably the best city car money can buy. At first glance it’s not easy to spot the e-Up’s environmental credentials, but look closely and you will see a set of bespoke 15-inch alloy wheels, signature C-shape daytime running lights, bespoke badges and a blue and chrome strip below the bonnet line.
To drive, the e-Up is almost identical to the conventional version – that is to say, a tremendous amount of fun. The batteries might add around 200kg to the weight, but 60kW and 155lb-ft are available from a standstill, so at 12.4 seconds to 62mph, the e-Up is faster than the lower-powered petrol versions. Not even a supercar can dart into a roundabout with such vigour and sharpness, although the e-Up maxes out at 80mph. You are better off going easy on the throttle, maximising the claimed 99 miles of range before the batteries go flat.
Charging the e-Up via a domestic socket will take nine hours, but this can be reduced to six hours with a wallbox. Using a public fast charger will deliver up to 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes. It might be a strict four-seater, but there’s enough room for four adults, while all electric Ups feature five doors. With the rear seats folded up, you will find 251 litres of boot space, which can be extended to 951 litres with the seats folded down. So what’s the catch? Quite simply, the price. At £21,140 after the government grant, the initial cost cannot be ignored. On the flipside, we would expect the e-Up to retain its value better than most electric vehicles.
3 SMART EQ FORTWO
Price now: from $16,420 after PiCG
It’s as cool as the latest smartphone, is good fun to drive, and looks great. The EQ Fortwo is like a Tesla for the city
If you are looking for a car that will venture no further out of the city than the suburbs, and you only need to carry a single passenger, the Smart EQ Fortwo might be the most attractive option in our top five. It is as cool as the latest smartphone, and so small you can park it practically anywhere, while the electric Fortwo retains the same jaw-dropping 6.95-metre turning circle of its conventional sibling, which makes city centre driving an absolute hoot.
Formerly known as the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, the little EV is one of three cars to wear the EQ badge for the Mercedes electric sub-brand, the others being the topless Fortwo Cabrio and larger Forfour. The Fortwo feels exceptionally quick, especially from the get-go, with the 60kW electric motor making light work of hauling the 1,085kg EV to 62mph in 11.5 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 80mph. But be warned: the official 99-mile range will take a hit if you attempt too many sprints, although this is true of any electric vehicle.
Using a domestic supply, an EQ Fortwo with a 7kW onboard charger can be recharged in up to six hours, but this drops to 2.5 hours when using a wallbox. Upgrade to the slightly more expensive 22kW charger, and this reduces to just 40 minutes, which makes it an essential upgrade if you intend to make regular use of fast charging points. Throw into the equation a range of personalisation options, a useful 350-litre boot and a semi-competitive price tag, and you have the makings of a compelling proposition. Any drawbacks? Well, the range will drop if you venture too far from the city centre, and it is obviously of no use if you have to carry more than one passenger. Fortunately, the larger Forfour has space for four.
2 RENAULT ZOE
Bridging the gap between a full-size EV and a city car, the Renault Zoe remains a strong choice, even five years after its launch
Price now: from £18,420 after PiCG (Plug-in Car Grant)
In 2017, the Renault Zoe was Europe’s bestselling electric vehicle for the third year running, with sales growing year-on-year since the car first appeared in the UK in 2013. Along with the larger Nissan Leaf, the Zoe is credited for taking the EV into the mainstream, and it is not hard to see the appeal. Crucially, the Zoe has been updated for 2018, with Renault keen to minimise the impact of the new and much improved Nissan Leaf.
To this end, the 2018 Zoe features a new R110 electric motor, which is the same size and weight as the previous R90 version, but delivers 80kW compared to the 68kW of old. The increase has reduced the acceleration time from 50mph to 75mph by two seconds, without affecting the charging times or driving range. This means you can expect up to 250 miles of range, although the real-world figure is likely to be closer to 190 miles. At lower speeds, the Zoe makes use of 184lb-ft of torque from a standstill, making it quicker off the line than some smaller Evs.
Other upgrades for 2018 include the introduction of Android Auto to the infotainment system and a new dark metallic purple colour for the higher-end models, which can also be equipped with a purple interior pack. Much has changed in the five years since the Renault Zoe first arrived in the UK, but it remains one of the best EVs you can buy, even in light of some newer models. If buying outright, Zoe prices start from £24,020, or £18,420 when leasing the batteries. Monthly costs range from £59 a month for up to 4,500 miles, rising to £110 a month for unlimited mileage.
1 BMW I3
Price now: from £29,570 after PiCG
It is not cheap, but the BMW i3 features a cutting-edge chassis, a distinctive interior and class-leading dynamics.
It is by far and away the most expensive car here, and it has been on sale since 2013, so what right has the BMW i3 got to be sitting in the number one position? Put simply: five years on, this groundbreaking electric vehicle still looks like a vision of the future, and remains one of the most appealing new cars on sale today. It helps that the BMW i3 was designed from the ground up to be an electric car, which means no compromises regarding structure, weight, interior layout and performance.
Development work started way back in 2007, with BMW using the i3 to launch its eco-focused ‘i’ sub-brand. It is roughly the same size as a Mini hatchback, but while the Mini is inspired by the past, the i3 is a glimpse into the future.
The aluminium chassis and carbon fibrereinforced plastic body combine to create a strong yet lightweight car, while the low and central positioning of the battery pack creates a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Cleverly, the electric motor is mounted near to the driven rear axle to improve traction, too. The result is a car for the city which is as satisfying to drive as it is rewarding, and is arguably the best driver’s car in the EV segment. The Tesla Model S might be quick, but the BMW i3 is more fun to thread along a congested city street.
The i3 draws its power from a 33kWh lithium-ion battery, offering up to a claimed 186 miles of range. In the real world, this is likely to be closer to 125 miles, which remains ample for the majority of city car drivers. A range extender version is offered, with a 37hp motorcycle engine adding 90 miles of range. However, unless you regularly travel long distances, we would stick with the quieter and lighter pure-electric version. The electric motor produces 170hp, with is enough to complete the 62mph dash in 7.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 93mph. The new i3S model, introduced in 2018, features a more powerful 185hp motor, which helps to shave 0.4 seconds off the 0-62mph time and adds 6mph to the top speed.
The i3S – which is around £3,000 more expensive than the standard i3 – also boasts sports suspension, a 10mm drop in ride height, an additional 40mm of track width, black wheelarch extenders and 20-inch alloy wheels to create the sportiest-looking i3 to date. All models were given a facelift in 2018, with reshaped front and rear bumpers, new LEDs, black roof pillars and a revised choice of colours. However, while the economy, performance and styling enhancements are impressive, the interior remains one of the i3’s key selling points.
More than 80 per cent of the visible surfaces are made from recycled materials or renewable resources, including natural fibres and open-pored, unbleached eucalyptus wood. The dashboard is cool and uncluttered, while the absence of a central pillar, combined with backwards-opening ‘suicide’ rear doors, makes it easy to access the rear seats. Sure, it is a strict four-seater, but the flat floor and high roofline create a light and airy ambience. At 260 litres, the boot is similar to the size you would find in a city car, but this can be increased to 1,100 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The i3 is not cheap, but it should hold its value better than the more mainstream EVs currently gracing today’s market. It is also one of the most distinctive and cutting-edge cars at any price, which makes its £30,000 price tag (after the all-important government grant, of course) seem a small price to pay for this fantastic car.
The BMW i3 features a class-leading interior, while externally, all models were given a facelift for 2018.
“FIVE YEARS ON, THIS GROUNDBREAKING ELECTRIC VEHICLE STILL LOOKS LIKE A VISION OF THE FUTURE, AND REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST APPEALING NEW CARS ON SALE TODAY”