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We run down the very best affordable electric city cars, superminis and family hatchbacks on sale today

If an electric car ought to excel anywhere, it’s in the supermini segment. Typically used for shorter journeys or as a second car, these machines aren't as reliant on a long legged range as larger models, while the combination of compact dimensions, silent running and zero emissions at the tailpipe makes them perfect inner city assault vehicles.

Admittedly, a small platform means less space for batteries, 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, especially important now the Government has completely scrapped its Plug-in Car Grant; and if we’re talking about urban runabouts that do only the occasional longer journey, it’s debatable just how many owners would need more than, say, 180 miles of driving range.

Best small electric cars 2021

1. Peugeot e-208

As a traditional combustion-engined supermini, the Peugeot 208 is only a little above average. However, in all-electric guise it’s one of the most appealing small cars there is, thanks to its mix of usable range, performance, value, practicality, style, perceived quality and driver appeal. Essentially, it deserves to figure highly if you’re shopping for your first electric car this year.

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, while in its higher-speed body movements it doesn't feel as heavy as key rivals. 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.

Save money on new e-208 deals from What Car?

2. Fiat 500 Electric

Fiat’s model range is now slightly confusing, because the old car lives on as the Fiat 500 Hybrid (despite only being a mild hybrid). The one you want, however, is the new electric 500. It might look familiar, but it’s only when you see them side by side that you realise the new electric 500 is completely new.

Fiat has done a marvellous job at retaining the modern-day 500’s cute retro looks, while making it into a car for the modern age. As it was developed as a purely electric car from the outset, it has a fairly sizeable (for a small car) 42kWh battery and a theoretical WLTP-lab-test range of 199miles, even if that translates into more like 140 miles in real-world use. There is a cheaper ‘Fiat 500 Action’ model with a 24kWh pack, but the savings aren’t great enough for that version to be recommendable.

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The electric Fiat drives substantially better than any other 500 as well, with its 117bhp motor making it surprisingly zippy and fun for a city car. Yes the steering is quite light, but there’s plenty of grip and an absence of body roll - and while it’s not exactly at home on the motorway, it copes remarkably well.

The interior is also a massive improvement over previous 500s. It’s still quite plasticky, but it looks great, the seats are comfortable and the infotainment is logical and responsive. It’s not great for tall drivers, though, and it goes without saying that you shouldn’t plan on carrying adults in the rear very often.

Prices start at just over £20,000, but we’d suggest splashing another couple of grand if you can on the larger battery models. That’s a fair chunk of change for such a tiny tot, but very decent value for a fashionable and thoroughly usable EV.

 

Save money on new Fiat 500 deals from What Car? 

3. Vauxhall Corsa-e

Vauxhall's sibling to the Peugeot e-208 doesn't quite have the style or claimed WLTP range of its French relation, doesn't have the imaginatively configured interior and isn't priced quite as keenly.

But don't let that fool you into believing this Vauxhall isn't worth a test drive. It might be a little plainer than the Peugeot but it still looks handsome enough. The car's driving experience combines genuine 180-mile everyday battery range with keen and competent handling and a comfortable ride, while 100kW DC rapid charging compatibility as standard should also be a selling point. Vauxhall also has purchase incentives for a free home charger installation and access to a special home energy tariff.

Vauxhall's large UK dealer network has also helped make this one of the UK's best-selling EVs, converting people who hadn’t considered electric motoring thus far. It's certainly good enough to leave the right kind of impression.

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4. Mini Electric

The Mini Electric brings all of the fun factor you expect of the brand to the compact EV segment – albeit packaged with a few equally typical usability restrictions.

Based exclusively on the three-door Mini bodyshell, the Mini Electric adopts the powertrain from the BMW i3S, giving it a very healthy 181bhp and 199lb ft of torque. Performance is notably stronger than many of the cars you might compare it with in this list, while handling is grippy, darty and agile in the enduring dynamic traditions of the Mini brand. We like it a lot.

Range is the catch. Mini claims 144 miles, but in reality, depending on how and where you drive it, you’re more likely to get between 100 and 120 miles. And that’s in a car with a pretty small boot, whose back seats are tricky to access and of little use for anyone but younger kids in any case.

This is still one of the more enjoyable small EVs, but the short range is no longer good enough to be at the top of this list.

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5. BMW i3S

If the i3 can’t quite claim to have brought the concept of EV ownership to the mass market (step forward the Nissan Leaf, introduced in 2010), then it can at least claim to have shown that such cars could be interesting and genuinely characterful.

Since 2013, BMW’s motorshow-esque city car has gained in range, power and interior technology, even if along the way the plug-in range-extender that offered owners a safety net has been ditched, so now the model is pure-electric only. Official range is 188 miles, which is a little disappointing in 2022, particularly for the price. 

What we love about the i3 is, springy body control aside, its sense of refinement, easy-going drivability, nicely weighted controls and interior ambience. With that carbonfibre-reinforced plastic architecture and standout design, it also somehow manages to still feel avant-garde and exciting.

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6. Honda E

Honda has taken a left-field approach with its first all-electric car, the Honda E supermini - which is unusually compact for an electric car, and innovative in several ways.

A rear-mounted motor promises packaging efficiency (although the car itself fails a little to follow through with it) while all-independent suspension heralds the ride and handling sophistication of a bigger car (which the car does a deal better to actually supply).

The E is available in 134bhp and 152bhp forms, but neither has quite the battery capacity of rivals: 35.5kWh ‘gross’ is all you get here, which makes for a claimed WLTP range of 137 miles maximum (with the car rolling on 16in wheels). In testing, we struggled to get much more than 100 from our 17in-equipped test car.

To drive, the E feels plush, composed and easy to operate, with medium-paced steering but a tight turning circle, and moderate but responsive performance. It doesn’t excite and doesn't offer the last word in background body control, but it's a relaxing zero-emissions city car and its alternative styling is exceptionally endearing.

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7. Mazda MX-30

Mazda has never been afraid to do things its own way, even when the rest of the industry appears to be doing something different.

The MX-30 is therefore not quite what you’d expect, but it's an appealing proposition all the same. Toy-car looks are wrapped around an unusually small battery pack – just 35.5kWh, giving an official range of 124 miles – because Mazda believes owners simply won’t need any more, and increasing the size of the battery would mean unnecessary cost.

The car is reasonably spacious within, has an SUV-lite body that is very much on trend, and is trimmed in interesting materials that give the cabin a singularly cosy and likeable atmosphere.Dynamically, the MX-30 also stands out - though only when you’re travelling with a bit of pace on an interesting road. With 143bhp and 199lb ft, the electric motor is never going to blow your socks off in a straight line, but the weighting of the MX-30's steering and the supple manner in which the suspension transfers weight while cornering are genuinely reminiscent of the MX-5 sports car. Around town, however, it can feel a little plain.

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Charging at up to 50kW is possible, and if the limited range works for you, there is plenty to like about the unusual Mazda MX-30. It could be an effective second car.

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8. Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe was never the most exciting EV, but the current generation was a significant step up compared to the original. With its 52kWh battery, it can cover up to 239 miles of lab-test range on a charge, and that’s rather embarrassing for some of the more expensive options on this list. Even if it’s more like 190 miles in the real world, that’s still very strong going. It can be charged at 50kW, which is no longer anything to write home about, but it’s better than the AC-charge-only provision of earlier versions.

Currently only the GT Line+ model is available, which starts at £31,995. For that cash, however, you do get the powerful R135 model and loads of standard equipment, so even without that Government's discontinued PiCG incentive it still represents decent value for money against its competitors, especially now that you no longer need to lease the battery from Renault.

It’s broadly pleasing to drive: very nippy, fairly quiet, and with a good ride around town. At higher speeds it can feel slightly unsettled and there’s a somewhat leaden feel to the controls. The interior and infotainment are substantially improved from the last generation.

However, crash test results published by safety body EuroNCAP at the end of 2021 awarded the latest version of the Zoe a zero-star rating, being critical in particular of its offset frontal and side impact protection. At one stage, the Zoe lead Europe's embryonic EV market; now, however, Renault's replacement for it - the much-anticipated new 5 - probably can't come quickly enough.

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9. MG5

Okay, so we know the MG5 isn’t small in the accepted sense, but when you consider its £29,695 starting price it undercuts some of the supermini entries here and has an EV range that will humble most, then its inclusion is justified and welcome. 

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Essentially the MG is a compact estate car that offers a no nonsense entry to EV ownership that majors on practicality, value and low running costs. Despite only being a couple of years old, the 5 has the look of something twenty years older, while the interior isn’t the last word in premium style or quality - although it is lavishly equipped, with a slick touchscreen infotainment system, climate control and adaptive cruise.

 It’s not particularly exciting to drive, its skinny tyres and soft suspension struggling meaning it's better suited to an easy-going gait than all-out back road attacks. That said, body movement is reasonably well controlled, the electronic stability control is well calibrated to keep things in check without becoming intrusive and the 154bhp electric motor serves up brisk acceleration.

Yet it’s the MG’s practical side that will endear it to budget conscious motorists. Its interior is roomy, while with the rear bench folded flat the boot has a generous 1456-litre capacity, which is almost enough to swallow the Smart ForTwo that sits below it in this list. Then there’s that 250-mile range, while 50kW charging means the battery can be replenished from 10-80% in a biscuit over an hour.

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10. Smart EQ Fortwo

Mercedes' old fashion brand Smart has now become an electric mobility brand rather than a conventional car-seller, and has a much cut-down model range than once it had - but you can still buy a diminutive Fortwo EV. You'll need to be confident that all of electric motoring will be done in the city, though: as well as being a strict two-seater with a small boot, the car only has an 80-mile WLTP range, which turns into more like 65 miles if you venture out of town.

For a car costing not far shy of £25,000, a usable range like that is a bit of a joke. The car's styling and interior are at least characterful and different, and its performance is punchy enough to zip away from most traffic up to about 50mph, while the cabrio’s roll back canvas roof offers some wind-in-the-hair thrills. Bear in mind, however, that the car's ride can be pitchy and unsettled, while its slow-steering means the handling feels curiously cumbersome for something so small.

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MinusG40 14 June 2022
Are you that sure the 208is nulber one???

The car autonomie is ridiculous compare to a Zoe, the driveability is appalling (i m not talking about performance), the dc charging power announcement is fake (two mins max at full power), the wheel are spinning like my 205 gti used to do and last but not least how can you say that the boot of Zoe is similar to a 208???

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