Fancy moving into the zero-emissions motoring world? Here's our rundown of the market's best affordable, five-door, all-electric hatchbacks
8 October 2018

The electric hatchback has come on in leaps and bounds over the last five years. Having first appeared around ten years ago, the market’s first EVs were cars with around 80 miles of usable range, priced at a 50 per cent premium over their petrol-fuelled counterparts. Today, in many cases, real-world range has doubled and that price premium has almost disappeared.

This is a list of our top ten electric hatchbacks compiled considering factors such as range and usability, driving dynamics and affordability. Some are still subject to relatively high prices compared to combustion-engined cars, but their premiums can be offset against lower running costs.

Best electric hatchbacks 2018

 

1. Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf, in first-generation form, set the mould for the affordable electric car approaching a decade ago – and in new second-generation form, it’s back on the top of the pile of contenders who followed in its tread marks.

Having had a 25 per cent boost on battery capacity, the Nissan now leads many of its rivals with a WLTP-certified range of 168 miles. It’s also got significantly more power and torque than its direct predecessor; performs fairly keenly; feels like a more rounded car to drive generally; and has one of the strongest showings here on daily-use practicality for a small family.

A value proposition that’s also improved, and is now on a par with that of a mid-market, conventionally fuelled family hatchback once you take the government’s £4500 PiCG grant into account, cement the car’s market-leading position. It’s our default recommendation for anyone looking to simply replace their fossil-fuelled family hatchback with an electric one well-capable of doing the same job – and doing it well.

Our Verdict

Nissan Leaf 2018 UK review hero front

Better looks, better value, better range, stronger performance and a quiet and relaxing drive make the Nissan Leaf a leading EV contender again

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2. Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh

Until quite recently, an electric car good enough to combine a genuine 300-mile daily-use range with a sub-£30,000 price point seemed an awfully long way off. The Hyundai Kona Electric has made it a reality, however; quite a coup for its aspiring Korean maker.

By wielding what must be a sizeable competitive advantage on battery buying power, Hyundai has delivered this car to the road with 60 per cent more onboard electrical storage than either of the cars by which it’s bracketed in this list. That’s enough for more than 250 miles of range at typical UK motorway speeds, or more than 300 at a slightly lower clip or around town. And, in this car, it comes packaged with much stronger accelerative performance than its nearest rivals. The Kona Electric is quick enough, even, to live with some hot hatchbacks away from the traffic lights.

That the car’s slightly low-rent, restrictive interior doesn’t make it quite the match of a full-sized family hatchback on practicality is a bit of a disappointment. Also, there’s some frustration to be found in the car’s ride and handling, which both feel somewhat compromised by its weight and the low-friction tyres it uses.

3. Renault Zoe R110

The Renault Zoe was always an appealing short-hopper 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 which, on a warm day, turns the car into one easily good for 150 miles of mixed real-world use.

The Zoe offers strong value for money against its competitors, with battery lease options making ownership that big more accessible. It’s also pleasing to drive: very nippy and fairly quiet – albeit with some leaden feel to the controls, and some quickly gathering body control problems at higher A- and B-road speeds.

Renault’s battery hire option spreads out cost of ownership, and the price includes installation of a fast-charge port at home.

Unlike other EVs, the Zoe isn’t one that can be rapid-charged at the motorway services quite as quickly as certain rivals, and that does erode its usability somewhat. Even so, the Zoe remains a fine entry point into EV ownership

4. VW e-Golf

Perhaps the biggest complement you can pay the e-Golf is that it feels much like any other Golf. It occupies the same dimensions as other seventh-generation five-door models and, aside from a slight reduction in boot space due to the underfloor lithium ion batteries, is just as practical.

The e-Golf is powered by a 134bhp motor that delivers 199lb ft of torque, with 33.2kWh of usable battery capacity offering a claimed NEDC range of up to 186 miles; which is more like 120- in real-world use.

Performance is as strong as you’d expect to find in any typical five-door hatchback, and considerably better at town speeds, while the car’s handling disguises its mass very cleverly and its practicality is strong.

5. BMW i3

The i3 has a rare quality for an electric car: multi-faceted appeal. You might want one because of the way it looks, or for the spritely, involving way it drives; and either way, you might not actually care much that it’s electric, such is the power of the car’s various lures.

While the i3’s short wheelbase can make it feel a touch nervous on motorways, its keen handling ensures it thrives in the urban environment for which it’s designed.

That’s helped by its innovative carbonfibre-reinforced plastic chassis, which ensures the car is remarkably light. The 168bhp electric motor (rising to 181bhp for the i3S) offers peak torque at zero revs; and so, although the car’s top speed is only 99mph, it has strong performance getting there which wouldn’t shame a warm hatchback.

That said, extracting such performance does impact on the car’s true electric range, which only just exceeds 100 miles. A new 42.2kWh battery for the car should address that shortcoming in early 2019.

Until recently BMW offered a range-extender version with a backup petrol engine, but it has announced that it will be discontinuing that version of the car.

6. Hyundai Ioniq Electric

The Hyundai Ioniq is a bit of a rarity amongst family hatchbacks in that it’s available  with choice of electricpetrol-electric hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertains.

The EV version does without the independent multi-link rear suspension of the others, in order to pack in a 28kWh lithium ion battery pack which makes for a real-world range in the region of 120 miles.

The Ioniq EV produces just 118bhp, but with 218lb ft of torque it can reach 62mph in under 10 seconds. Driving dynamics aren’t bad, but won’t set your pulse racing: the steering has reasonable weight but is somewhat vague, and this is a car happiest being driven well within its limits.

As EVs go, the Ioniq is practical and good value with decent usable range, and worth considering against rivals such as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 if you're going to make regular use of the back seats and boot.

7. Opel Ampera-e

The original Vauxhall Ampera was a range-extender plug-in hybrid with a separate petrol engine, but the model name has now been applied to a smaller, purely electric hatchback. Partly as a result of General Motors’ sale of the Opel/Vauxhall business to French automotive group PSA Peugeot-Citroen, it never went on sale in the UK, although a left-hand drive example could certainly be imported.

The Ampera-e features a notably high-capacity battery pack, with 288 cells delivering 60kWh: enough for a claimed range of 236 miles on the WLTP schedule. The car’s seating-position is MPV-high, the interior is stylish and there’s good rear legroom and a decent 381-litre boot. With 201bhp and 266lb ft of torque, it’s pleasing to drive, and good value for money being priced from the equivalent of £30,000 in Germany.

8. Kia Soul EV

Based on the conventionally powered version of the Soul hatchback, the EV gets revamped styling and a reworked, more rigid structure.

The single trim option includes an 8.0in touchscreen and other features. Power is drawn from a 27kWh battery. Real-world range is just over 100 miles, with reasonable if not strong performance available from the car’s 109bhp electric motor.

The whole package feels dated: it doesn’t ride or handle brilliantly, and it’s not substantially cheaper than newer rivals with greater range and dynamic ability.

9. VW e-Up

As with the e-Golf, Volkswagen has based this EV on its existing city car in order to drive down costs through shared parts.

And driving the e-Up feels familiar to those versed with the conventional version: the 81bhp motor sits up front, and the additional weight of the 230kg, 18.7kWh battery pack doesn’t affect the ride too much, even if the steering lacks feel. Claimed range is 75-100 miles.

Mechanically well-executed, but the compact size makes it an expensive option.

10. Smart ForTwo EQ / Smart ForFour EQ

Smart is unique in offering an electric cabriolet, as part of a three-pronged line-up that includes the four-seat, four-door ForFour.

But its ambitions and capacities are limited by size and price, and claimed 95 mile range doesn’t rank alongside the EV class leaders; it’s more like 80 miles in mixed real-world use – which isn’t really enough by the standards of most EVs.

The car’s also hindered by below-par handling and an unsettled ride, issues that also affect non-electric Smart models.

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