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; there are now plenty of well-known models that come with battery power, such as the MINI, Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Corsa.
The price of electric cars is slowly coming down and there are big 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 from a standstill, thanks to electric motors’ instant torque. Of course, they also don’t produce any local emissions, making them better 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.
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 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. 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.
If the Peugeot e-208 is a bit small for you, the brand also sells the Peugeot e-2008, with a bigger and more fashionable SUV body. The e-2008 uses the same underpinnings as the e-208, so you can achieve around 200 miles from a charge and top-up to 80% in half an hour from a public fast charger. Acceleration is nippy too.
As with the e-208, only a blue-tinged grille and different badges mark out the electric 2008 but Peugeot’s striking design means the car still stands out in a crowd of other small SUVs. It’s equally interesting inside, with piano-key switches and a wide digital dial cluster that both come as standard across the range. At 434 litres, the e-2008’s boot is not only usefully bigger than the e-208’s but it’s also a bit roomier than the SEAT Arona and Skoda Kamiq.
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 fish tank.
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 Mii. 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.
One of the UK’s best-selling cars can now be ordered as a fully electric model, with a little ‘e’ badge after the well-known Corsa name. As Vauxhall is now part of the same group as Peugeot and Citroen, the Corsa-e uses the 50kWh powertrain from the Peugeot e-208. A 200-mile range should be possible in perfect conditions, and the 134bhp electric motor is good for a 0-62mph time of eight seconds.
Vauxhall’s huge dealership network should translate into more electric car sales but the mechanically identical e-208 does feel a bit more special. The conventional look of the electric Corsa will appeal to buyers who don’t want to stand out, and the car’s range is more impressive than the style-focused Honda e and MINI Electric.
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.
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