Best small electric cars
Looking for a compact, zero-emissions car? These are the best small electric cars on sale.
Electric cars are quickly becoming mainstream. Expensive Teslas and luxury SUVs are no longer the only electric cars on the block either; there are now plenty of well-known models that come with battery power, such as the Peugeot 208, Vauxhall Corsa and Skoda Citigo.
The price of electric cars is slowly coming down and there are savings to be made by running one. Tax is free, for a start, and recharging the battery costs much less than refilling a car with petrol or diesel. Insurance is often higher than on an equivalent petrol model, which is something to bear in mind.
Besides tax exemption and charging costs, electric cars have several other benefits too: they’re whisper-quiet and often very quick off the line, thanks to electric motors’ instant torque. Of course, they also don’t produce any local emissions, making them perfect for driving in town.
A compact car is easier to drive around town, so electric city cars and superminis make a lot of sense. Despite their size, most of these cars have enough room for passengers and some luggage. Read on for our run-down of the best small electric cars on sale, or read our guides to the cheapest electric cars and best small hybrid cars.
For a long time, the Skoda Citigo was our favourite petrol-powered city car but now it’s only available with electric power. It may be significantly more expensive than before but it’s still comparatively good value, with a starting price of just over £17,000 once the £3,000 plug-in car grant (PiCG) is taken into account. It has a range of 161 miles between charges, which is more than many of its closest rivals, and the 83bhp electric motor means the Citigo e iV is the quickest-accelerating version. The entry-level SE features the essentials, like climate control, DAB radio and lane-keeping assistance, while the SE L adds extras like alloy wheels, heated front seats and fast-charging capability. All the benefits gained by going electric are joined by the same positives the Citigo has always had: space for four, a deceptively large boot and big-car refinement.
The latest 208 is excellent and was available with a choice of petrol, diesel or electric power from launch. All models get incredibly distinctive styling, which means the 208 stands out in a sea of Fiestas and Polos, and the styling differences for the electric version amount to new badges and subtle blue elements. The e-208 manages an impressive 211 miles between charges, and can recharge using 100kW chargers, meaning 100 miles of range can be added in just 20 minutes. It’s a rival to the Renault ZOE but the e-208 is faster and better to drive than the ZOE. We also like the e-208’s interior, which comes as standard with Peugeot’s 3D digital instrument cluster and plenty of other standard equipment.
Mechanically identical to the Skoda Citigo e iV and the Volkswagen e-up!, the SEAT Mii electric gets an 83bhp powertrain consisting of a 36.8kWh battery and an electric motor. Like the Citigo, it’s not the fastest EV on the block but is a bit nippier than the now-discontinued petrol versions. SEAT decided not to sell an entry-spec model in the UK, so there’s only one trim to choose from, making it more expensive than the SE version of the Citigo, but you do get heated seats, metallic paint, privacy glass and a 10-year subscription to the SEAT Connect app, showing useful information and letting you preheat or cool the interior before you get in the car. A 250-litre boot is almost class-leading and few electric cars of this size can get close to the official range. It should cost just a fraction to recharge the battery compared to filling up with petrol, which will help offset the higher purchase price.
One of the most well-known electric cars, the Renault ZOE was thoroughly updated in 2019 and it now has refreshed styling, a much smarter interior and a longer range. Renault claims the ZOE will now manage up to 245 miles before you need to plug it in, which is unmatched at this price level. You can have fast-charging on Iconic and GT Line versions, which can replenish the battery to 80% in just over an hour. A new 134bhp electric motor is available, and choosing it means 0-62mph can be achieved in a nippy 9.5 seconds - two seconds quicker than the 106bhp motor. All models of the ZOE get auto LED headlights, air con, cruise control and smartphone connectivity, and the interior now looks a lot more similar to the Clio’s. The ZOE also gets a five-star safety rating and a bigger boot than many petrol-powered rivals.
The Honda e was destined to remain a concept car but the popularity of the design meant Honda developed a production model. Most of the Honda e’s cute and retro styling touches remain, but it’s now slightly more practical, as the finished version has five doors instead of the concept car’s three. The e also has one of the most eye-catching interiors we’ve ever seen, with screens stretching from door-to-door. As you might expect, the tech count is high, and there’s even an ‘aquarium mode’ that turns the screen into a virtual fishtank. With a smaller turning circle than a London taxi, the Honda e is very agile - and you’ll find it to be quite enjoyable on a twisting country road. It’s good to drive because it doesn’t have a large (and heavy) battery, but that does mean a slightly low maximum range of 137 miles. The car’s compact size means the boot is also a little small.
The MINI Electric is likely to be the Honda e’s closest rival as both are similar; both have appealing retro styling, are good to drive and have high-quality interiors. However, the two cars also share the same drawbacks: a high price, small boot and reasonably limited range. MINI promises up to 145 miles between charges and says that most customers will buy one as a second car. The range should be enough for a week’s worth of commuting for many buyers in any case. On the rare longer journey, plugging into a 50kW fast charger gives 80% charge in 35 minutes. We expect you’ll want to drive it as much as possible, as the MINI Electric is almost as speedy and as fun to drive as the Cooper S. As with other MINIs, the interior is a great place to spend time, and all MINI Electric versions get sat nav, cruise control and dual-zone climate control.
Despite having been on sale for a number of years now, the BMW i3’s almost other-worldly styling means it still looks fresh today. The construction is just as innovative, with lots of strong-yet-light carbon fibre being used, and the interior is arguably more futuristic than other BMW models too. You get lots of kit, including sat nav, auto headlights and digital radio, although the car isn’t overly practical given its size. It’s strictly a four-seater (like the Citigo/Mii/e-up! trio) and has a reasonable amount of space in the back seats, but the boot is a mere 10 litres larger than the Citigo. There’s a dedicated space for the charging cable under the bonnet, which is useful. The 188-mile range is good compared to some of its rivals, even if some cars costing a similar amount offer upwards of 280 miles between charges.
Unlike its siblings, the Volkswagen up! is still available with petrol power: a 1.0-litre engine offers 59bhp or 113bhp. The electric e-up! sits in the middle in terms of power, with the same 83bhp motor as the Citigo e iV and Mii electric. Getting from 0-62mph takes 11.9 seconds but it feels faster than the stats suggest thanks to the immediate availability of the motor’s power. It feels more agile than the Renault ZOE, and doesn’t feel too different to petrol-powered cars. The e-up! is very similar in terms of styling, too, with only C-shaped running lights and blue accents marking it out as the EV. It’s undeniably expensive, especially compared to a petrol version, but at least it now offers much more range than before - earlier cars managed just 99 miles. We’d prefer to use an integrated touchscreen rather than relying on a smartphone app for sat nav, but otherwise the e-up! is quite well-equipped.
The Smart ForTwo is another car that’s only available with electric power, and one that was facelifted in early 2020 to make it stand out a little more. It’s a lot more upmarket inside than some of its rivals, too, seeing as Smart is owned by Mercedes. The small body limits the size of the battery that can be fitted, but even so the Smart’s range is a little disappointing. It’ll manage 83 miles between charges, which’ll be fine for urban drivers but it looks a bit meagre when you consider a SEAT Mii Electric will travel double that distance. At least it doesn’t take too long to charge; a 7kW wallbox will top up the battery in around three and a half hours, or a 22kW fast-charger takes 40 minutes. It’s fairly practical as long as you accept the inherent limitations of having just the two seats - boot space matches the i3, and this increases to a Toyota Corolla-rivalling 340 litres if you load to the roof.
As you’d imagine, the Smart ForFour is a four-seat version of the ForTwo, and so comes with many of the same characteristics. Its interior is distinctive, it feels fairly nippy off the line and will cost peanuts to run. But it uses the same outdated powertrain as the ForTwo, and the bigger body means the official range is slightly lower at 81 miles. You can bring two extra passengers along for the ride but that eats into boot space; you’ll fill the 185 litres on offer quite quickly. At least even the entry-level trim gets parking sensors, cruise control, a touchscreen and air conditioning.