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The luxury EV market has rapidly transformed from almost empty to chock-full. Here are the main protagonists
Autocar
News
11 mins read
17 December 2020

It’s a mark of the maturity of electric car technology that there is now a very fast-growing market for what we might call premium-branded luxury EVs. It was a segment created a decade ago by Tesla, but plenty of manufacturers are now desperate to be seen to be at the very forefront of it.

Some of them are offering a luxury angle, others a performance bias, some the capability and convenience of a SUV bodystyle – and some a combination of all of those things. Some cars charting here are big, others not so big. And while some come from established automotive industry powers, others are from newer and more ‘disruptive’ outfits you might not have heard of. 

If you’re looking for the some of the longest-legged and most usable electric cars in the world, this chart is where you’ll find them. This is where Teslas do battle with Mercedes EQs, BMW i cars, Audi eTrons, even new-groove Fords and Polestars. If you've got a bigger budget to spend on an electrically powered family car to use and rely on for any kind of trip, then, with claimed ranges of up to 400 miles and beyond, these are your main contenders.

Best Luxury Electric Cars 2021

1. Mercedes-Benz EQC

An outright triumph in our electric SUV group test in September 2019 heralded the arrival of a new all-electric champion for people looking to combine practicality with performance, and luxury with sustainability, in their next big car purchase – while also securing a car that can easily be used on a daily basis on UK roads. The Mercedes EQC 400 brushed aside challenges from Jaguar, Audi and Tesla en route to its big moment, overcoming all by virtue of its technology-laden and upmarket interior, its impressive blend of comfort and driver appeal, and its first-rate infotainment and navigation systems.

Sharing its platform with the related GLC, the EQC has twin electric motors, torque-vectoring four-wheel drive and combined peak ouputs of 402bhp and 564lb ft. WLTP-verified battery range is 259 miles officially, with our tests suggesting that between 80% and 90% of that is reproducible in mixed real-world driving. That's not quite as much cruising range as the most long-legged EVs, but it's a competitive showing all the same.

The EQC has plenty of driving modes, and there’s much complexity to get to grips with in configuring its many battery regeneration settings and semi-autonomous driver assist systems to your liking. But negotiate that hurdle and you’ll find the car very drivable and rounded at its best, as well as every bit as classy and luxurious as you’d want a £70,000 family car to be.

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2. Jaguar I-Pace

The first luxury electric car from a mainstream manufacturer to directly challenge Tesla at the high end, the I-Pace delivers on its brief with standout handling dynamics, first-rate interior quality and a striking design that’s slightly more SUV than saloon. It sets the standard for ride and handling among its all-electric peers, delivers strong performance from its twin 197bhp motors, and feels like a premium-branded electric car should: an unshackled, clean-sheet design.

The I-Pace will rapid charge at up to 100kW, but its slightly disappointing real-world range dents its potential as a long-distance tourer somewhat: 220 miles is not a result worth celebrating - and moreover the I-Pace's slightly buggy charging software seems to trip it up more often than other EVs are when you're out and about, trying to get plugged in. If you’re unlikely to rely on public rapid charging facilities or routinely to trouble the outer limits of the car’s electric autonomy potential, this a car we’d consider before any rival. It's that impressive to drive, as well as really interesting and appealing to behold. It just doesn't have such a complete array of qualities as the EQC in real-world use.

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3. Ford Mustang Mach-E

The Blue Oval is 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 equally appealing real-world range potential and a more affordable price than some of the cars listed here.

Available from just over £40,000 in the UK - and in WLTP-accredited 379-mile Extended Range form from less than £47,000 after a UK government purchase incentive - the Mach-E clearly isn't cheap; and yet it's a proper, usable family car that beats premium rivals by up to 30% on both claimed range and value. We're yet to test one in detail on UK roads, but if that upper range figure delivers real-world autonomy of more than 300 miles on a charge, this will be a car that's easy to recommend for both rational and more 'emotional' reasons.

Perceived quality and luxury appeal are a little lower here than in the Mach-E's opponents, but practicality is good. The driving experience mixes punchy performance with nicely balanced handling, although ride refinement is firmer and less comfortable than some. 

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4. Tesla Model S

The car that persuaded the world an electric saloon could be a viable alternative to a combustion-engined one, and made the EV break into the luxury-car big time, is still our pick of Tesla’s model catalogue for its combination of performance, usability, price and range.

In its most potent form, the Model S can accelerate with the ferocity of a super-saloon, and handles tidily enough – although without the tactile involvement you might expect of such a fast car. Overall, the Model S certainly makes a better luxury car than a driver’s car.

All models have a futuristic-feeling cabin topped off by a mammoth touchscreen infotainment system. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Supercharger network enables easier and more convenient long-range driving than many would imagine possible in an electric car, and practicality is exceptionally good thanks to useful-sized boots at both ends of the car and an extra rearward-facing pair of jump seats available in the boot.

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In Long Range Plus form, this car is the only one here with an WLTP-cerfified range of more than 400 miles. In that form, it's an expensive option, costing only a whisker under £80,000. But if you need the most usable EV going and you've got the budget to pay for it, there's no mistaking that it's still Tesla that offers it.

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5. Tesla Model 3

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.

The car’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.

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6. Polestar 2

You may remember the Polestar 1: the muscular but oh-so-svelte 600bhp plug-in hybrid GT built by Volvo's environmentally minded subsidiary. Well, it is the smaller and cheaper Polestar 2 that really demonstrates the kind of the car this young brand wants to make.

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The Polestar 2's fundamental architecture is shared with the Volvo XC40, but the stark exterior design, warm interior ambience, Android-developed infotainment and the 402bhp all-electric powertrain make it almost unrecognisable from any other Volvo-based car in terms of its character. The 78kWh battery is rated for 282 miles of WLTP range if you go for the Performance Pack, of which is delivered about 225 miles in real-world use; and the car can charge at speeds of up to 150kW. It does, however, lack the charging infrastructure of its closest rival, the Tesla Model 3.

What impresses us about the 2 is how complete it feels. The control weights are nicely judged, the cabin is comfortable and it's superbly easy to use, excepting its compromised rear visibility. There are more spacious cars on this list, but few that are quite so nice to use.

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7. Audi E-tron Quattro

Audi has distilled the various qualities for which its revered brand is known and given all of them a new future-proofed home in its first series-production electric car: the E-tron Quattro SUV.

Sized to fit in between the firm’s existing Q5 and Q7 models but offering interior space to rival the latter, the E-tron is powered by a separate electric motor per axle and develops 402bhp and 487lb ft of torque in ‘boost’ driving mode. A Jaguar I-Pace is smaller, lighter, torquier and faster – but the E-tron beats its close British rival on overall battery capacity, offering 95kWh of storage, which is good for a claimed WLTP combined range of 249 miles. In day-to-day use, expect to see between 210 and 220 miles of that before the battery goes flat.

Our first taste of the E-tron came in late 2018, on roads out in the Middle East, where the car impressed most with its classy and refined cabin ambience, its quiet cruising abilities and its Audi-typical apparent build quality. The driving experience was impressive, too, not least for its responsiveness and muscular feel up to motorway speeds, while precise and well-balanced handling completed the picture. Subsequent tests in the UK – not least with the recent Sportback variant – show that the car's ride quality is also a selling point.  

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So the regular E-tron’s strong suits make it a superb luxury car, although it doesn’t have quite as much driver appeal as certain rivals. Audi's solution to this has been to launch the 496bhp E-tron S Sportback, whose sensationally versatile rear-axle drive unit gives it a degree of handling adjustability and involvement beyond the basic E-tron. At nearly £90,000, it's pricey, but potentially worth it for pace, panache and the novelty factor of safely sending an electric SUV sideways on a whim.

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8. BMW iX3

BMW has changed tack on its strategy for electrification. Having conceived the i brand to contain its very first EV and plug-in hybrid, it is now spreading electric cars among its wider model range, and the iX3 is the first of its new-wave EVs to hit the streets. It's also the first car that BMW has produced in China for export markets.

Using a rear-mounted motor offering up to 282bhp, and with a battery of 74kWh of usable capacity for a maximum claimed WLTP range of 285 miles, the iX3 isn't quite as fast or as long-legged as some of its rivals; and priced from £62,000, it isn't cheap, either. But its trump card may prove to be DC rapid charging potential of up to 350kW as an option, which can restore an empty battery to 80% in little more than half an hour where a compatible charger is available.

Practicality, handling and luxury-level refinement are all very creditable, but there may not be quite enough else to make this car stand out in a fast-growing growing EV segment.

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9. Tesla Model X

The sheer size and bulk of Tesla’s biggest model, the seven-seat Model X SUV, is what penalises it relative to its stablemates.

It’s currently in a league of one as far as all-electric seven-seat SUVs are concerned, so it seems a bit churlish to criticise it in some ways. Nonetheless, if you’re expecting Model S range and performance in a bigger, more versatile package, you’re headed for disappointment. Our testing suggests even range-topping 100kWh versions of the car won’t go much further than 230 miles at typical UK motorway speeds, with the cheaper ones struggling to pass 175 unless you’re conservative with your cruising speed.

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Still, if that kind of range suits your purposes, you’ll find an awful lot to like here. With upper-level versions packing more than 600 horsepower, the Model X is well capable of beating 4.0sec to 60mph and can feel fast in a way you wouldn’t believe possible of such a large and heavy car. Handling is dulled somewhat by the car’s mass, but still more than credible enough to make the Model X feel coherent at pace. Cruising refinement and build quality come up a bit short, too.

Until you’ve seen a pair of all-electric gullwing doors opening automatically in a multi-storey car park and cleverly avoiding any nearby cars or masonry while doing it, though, you won’t fully appreciate the Model X’s party trick.

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10. Lexus UX 300e

The first all-electric offering from hybrid champion Lexus is what you might call a water-testing exercise. Already low fleet CO2 emissions mean Lexus can afford to take its time with EVs, finding out what works before committing all of its resources. 

Will the all-electric UX work? Well, it's a £40,000 EV with a disappointing sub-200-mile WLTP range, decent but unexceptional performance, and an interior that doesn't really compete with bigger cars for passenger space. It does at least look typically distinctive, and it's a refined and pleasant drive around town and on shorter inter-urban trips.

It's not, perhaps, the best way to test the appetite of your customers for a really usable all-electric ownership proposition, though; and not the most convincing all-electric family option, either.

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gavsmit 13 October 2020

How about the top ten best value-for-money EVs?

Oh yes, that's right - none of them represent good value for money.

FRI2 13 October 2020

Joke of a List

Besides this "report" being horribly outdated, having Autocar never taking price into account is not just poor journalism but down right lies. A $200,000 Taycan at #1 is a joke.

lambo58 17 December 2019

Nobody in the know takes this

Nobody in the know takes this article seriously ...Laughable

 

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