If an electric car ought to excel anywhere, it’s in the supermini segment.
Admittedly, a small platform means less space for batteries and so the range of the following cars will never match the potential of larger alternatives. But a small battery also means a lower asking price, and if we’re talking about urban runabouts that do only the occasional longer journey, it’s arguable just how many owners would need more than, say, 180 miles of driving range.
Best small electric cars 2021
The all-electric version of the 208 supermini is one of several PSA Group compact EVs that hit the market in 2020, but it's the best priced and also the most visually appealing. For its mix of usable range, performance, value, practicality, style, perceived quality and driver appeal, it clearly deserves to figure highly if you’re shopping for your first electric car this year. Higher, perhaps, than any other pint-sized electric car.
Unlike more low-rent-feeling EVs, the car’s materially rich interior distinguishes it just as clearly as the stylish bodywork. Practicality is on a par with the Renault Zoe and better than in a Mini Electric. Refinement beats both of those key rivals, too and performance is fairly strong. Certainly, you get an adequate dose of that electric-motor-enabled ‘zip’.
The car also rides with a suppleness missing from some smaller EVs, which often struggle to contain their body mass on the road. The steering is striking for its directness, although body control deteriorates a little bit if you drive more enthusiastically. Even so, it’s the roundedness of the e-208’s driving experience that really impresses.
2. Renault Zoe
Another French option, right at the sharp end of the field. The Renault Zoe was always an appealing short-hop electric supermini, even when it was offered with a 22kWh battery and had only 80 miles of real-world range. The car’s usability was enhanced during a mid-life update, however, by a 41kWh battery option that, on a warm day, turns the car into one good for 150 miles of mixed real-world use.
Now there is a comprehensively updated version with a significantly refreshed design plus a 52kWh battery and up to 245 miles of range on the WLTP cycle; or around 190 miles in mixed real-world use. It still offers strong value for money against its competitors, with the UK government’s PiCG incentive bringing the car’s entry price down to around £25,000. And it’s also still pleasing to drive: very nippy and fairly quiet, albeit with some leaden feel to the controls.
Whereas previously the Zoe couldn’t be rapid charged at the motorway services quite as quickly as certain rivals, CCS fast charging is now an option. It may have fallen behind newer EV rivals in some ways, but the Zoe remains an excellent entry point into EV ownership.
We could just have easily put Skoda’s Citigo-e iV in this slot, because these are mechanically almost the exact same car. But we prefer the Volkswagen for its slightly more playful demeanour and the fact that, well, it was here first.
Volkswagen’s smallest electric car predates the new ID range and was updated in 2020 with an enlarged battery that now gives 159 WLTP miles. There’s also been a cut to the asking price, which is now only just above £20,000 and makes the e-Up look good value compared with the recent rash of £30,000-plus small EVs. The latest model benefits from a camera-based lane-keeping system, too, and the light-hearted, airy interior remains.