The capability and availability of new electric cars, and the infrastructure to support them, is improving at a rapid rate.
However, for many a driver, these new all-electric options can prove too expensive. Even the compact Seat Mii electric, after taking into account the £2500 government grant, costs £20,300. A similarly specified petrol hatchback, for comparison, can be had for some £5000 less.
Even so, the advantages of the electric option are hard to ignore – with factors such as reduced running costs, a more relaxing and refined nature, and zero local emission, all weighing heavily in its favour.
Some electric cars have been on offer for a long time now, though, which means there are several far more affordable used options on hand.
Consequently, if you’re tempted by the thought of dipping your toe into electric motoring, these can make for a more sensible starting point.
They're not ideal for everyone, due to facets such as potential charging and range hurdles, but if you can make one work for you – and you’re happy to spend a little time adapting to electric motoring – you could stand to get your hands on a quiet, clean and cost-effective car for less than £7500.
Whatever you go for, though, just remember to carefully check out factors such as its battery health, charging capabilities and remaining battery warranty to help minimise unpleasant surprises later down the line.
A used electric car can be a great choice if you just need something to run around town in; there’s no engine to warm up, there are no local emissions, and they’re quiet and easy to drive.
If parking is often problematic where you live, you might want to consider Renault’s oddball Twizy. It’s tiny and easy to manoeuvre, for starters, which makes it ideal for tackling congested and tight urban environments.
It’ll also cover up to 60 miles on a single charge, but a top speed of just 50mph means that it’s best reserved for less challenging in-town trips. That and the fact that it has no interior heating, and that doors and side windows are optional. Best carry a coat, come the colder months, to say the least.
Given that a used Twizy costs some £6000 these days, and considering its numerous limitations, it admittedly won’t be suitable for many. What you could instead keep an eye out for, though, is Renault’s lesser-spotted Fluence; it’s an electric four-door saloon, albeit one with a limited range, but it’s far more practical and conventional than the Twizy.
One thing to watch out for, though, is the cost of the battery lease. Originally, the list price of the Fluence and Twizy did not include the battery – although that later changed for the Twizy – and you'd pay for the battery through a separate lease. Some batteries have been bought out by owners but, in any case, you'll need to watch out for any obligations and factor the costs into your budget.
The monthly rate varies with mileage and contract duration but, for the Twizy, it was originally upwards of £45 a month.
Look, this one’s got proper doors! And heating and air conditioning, with a pre-conditioning function – which, coupled with a range of some 90 miles and a top speed of 78mph, makes it a far more sensible option than a Twizy.
The Smart Fortwo Electric Drive is still impressively manoeuvrable and compact, too, so tight car parks and narrow streets won’t faze it or you in the slightest. It can also accelerate from 0-62mph in 11.5 seconds, so it won’t feel like you’re holding up traffic.
Electric Drives can be hard to track down, though, as the production version of the all-electric Smart was launched not long before the car upon which it was based was phased out. There tends to be a small selection on offer, that said, and some include battery health reports – which should help quell any concerns on that front.
These zero-emissions Smarts were available with the battery included as part of the purchase price, or with the battery supplied as part of a standalone lease deal. Consequently, just remember to check what you’re actually being offered when looking at used examples.
If you just want an electric runabout, and don’t want to spend that much, the compact Peugeot Ion could prove a sensible option.
Its tiny footprint makes it ideal for urban environments, for one thing, but it also has a reputed range of some 93 miles – so it’s not entirely limited to in-town trips. The small electric hatchback also has a top speed of 81mph, so you can head out onto faster roads if you’re feeling bold.
Its battery can be charged from a conventional household plug socket in around six hours, too, so you can just plug it in when you get home and it’ll be fully charged and ready to roll in the morning – which, if you can charge your car at home, is one of the particularly pleasing facets of electric car ownership.
A used Ion is also an affordable choice, with prices starting at around £4000. Spend more, though, and you’ll get a much newer and lower-mileage example. In any case, despite its compact and low-cost nature, the Ion is not poorly equipped; standard features include six airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels, automatic lights, Bluetooth connectivity and climate control.
The Peugeot was itself based on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Citroen also offered its own rebadged version of the Mitsubishi called the C-Zero. Consequently, unless you're wedded to one particular brand, considering any one of the three could help widen your options and save you from travelling far and wide.
The Renault Zoe has long been the go-to choice for those wanting a sensibly sized, sensibly priced and sensibly specified electric car.
When the neatly designed and practical electric hatch went on sale in October 2012, for example, its starting price was just £13,650, inclusive of the government grant – yet its 22kWh battery granted it a claimed range of up to 130 miles.
That range could often shrink to less, predictably, depending on conditions. Even so, however, the remainder would often be more than enough for many to complete several days’ driving without having to resort to charging.
Renault’s all-electric hatchback is easy to live with and drive, too, and well equipped out of the box. More to the point, there are quite a few on offer for less than £7500 – so finding one shouldn't prove problematic.
Like other older battery-powered Renaults, however, the battery was not originally included with the purchase price. Instead, it was part of an additional lease deal that, initially, cost upwards of £70 a month.
The battery was later made available to buy outright, though, removing this element from play. It's worth checking, regardless, and factoring it into your costs if required.
It’s easy to turn your nose up at Nissan’s first-generation Leaf. It is, after all, not a particularly elegant or stylish car. What’s important to remember, though, is that the Leaf was the first of the modern electric options that could feasibly take the place of a petrol or diesel car.
For example, when the Leaf went on sale in March 2011, its 24kWh battery granted a potential range of up to 100 miles. It wasn’t entirely pedestrian, either, with its 107bhp electric motor granting a 0-62mph time of 11.9 seconds – which was on a par with many conventional hatchbacks.
The Leaf was also practical and well equipped, with standard features including satellite navigation, a reversing camera and air conditioning. There was no battery leasing to contend with initially, either; you bought the car and owned the whole thing outright. That did change later, though, so check any related details carefully.
There are typically plenty of Leafs on offer for less than £7500, which bolsters the Nissan's appeal. You might even be able to find a later 30kWh model, if you can hang on for long enough for one to appear in budget; these have a claimed range of up to 155 miles, which makes them a more usable option.
Just remember, in any instance, to make sure you're happy with the condition of the battery and the maximum range it offers.
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