This is where value meets usability in the EV market. So how do you make your money go farthest?
When the UK government changed the eligibility rules for its plug-in car grant in March 2021, it suddenly became vital for makers of mid-sized, affordably-priced electric vehicles to hit a price point of just under £35,000. Over the following few weeks, the equipment levels of entry-level models from all kinds of brands were reappraised and their prices realigned. And now £32,500 can be considered as much as you need to spend for a really usable, five-seat, five-door, all-electric hatchback.
But which should you pick for an easy transition into electric car ownership? Even in this segment, there’s plenty of choice: front-driven hatchbacks play off against compact crossover SUV, compact saloons and even the odd estate car. There are rear-wheel drive options here too, as well as cars with a dose of driver appeal; although with some of them, it comes at a price.
The good news is that even if you need an EV with a real-world range above 250 miles, with room for several adult passengers and a usable boot, you can now find it here. If you know where to shop, you can actually find most of that for less than £30,000 in 2021. Read on to learn exactly where.
Best mid-sized electric cars 2021
1. VW ID 3
The Volkswagen ID 3 has kicked off its makers post-Dieselgate rehabilitation very well. This Golf-sized hatchback became the first to use the group’s dedicated MEB platform, an entirely fresh rear-engined architecture, when it hit the market in 2020. That gave the ID 3 a long wheelbase, boosting cabin space, and a rear-mounted drive motor with up to 201bhp and 229lb ft.
It launched with two battery sizes: the 58kWh pack lends a WLTP range of 261 miles, while the larger, pricier 77kWh battery ups that to 340 miles. Since then, VW has also added an entry-level ‘Pure Performance’ version with a 45kWh battery, which is rated for 218 miles and costs less than £30,000 – which is why you can even consider this car a more practical rival to an electric supermini, if that’s where your particular interest lies.
The ID 3 excels in terms of manoeuvrability and low-speed response and, although heavy by compact car standards and sitting on wheels as big as 20in in diameter, it would seem to hit the company’s high standards for ride sophistication, too. Handling is surprisingly agile, balanced and nimble, despite a fair bit of body roll.
The car is let down a little by its interior, which doesn’t have the same feeling of quality we expect from VW, and suffers from the same clunky and slow infotainment system as most modern Volkswagen Group products. But the cabin is certainly roomy and pleasant enough, and the driving experience gratifyingly simple and effective.
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2. Kia e-Niro
The Kia e-Niro redefined how much real-world range and family-friendly usability we should now expect from an EV towards the more affordable end of the price spectrum. For just under £35,000 before your £2500 buying incentive, the car’s 64kWh battery pack enables it to comfortably travel 230 miles on a single charge; and further still (closer to 300-) if you stay off the motorway or around town. Not very many years ago, that would be the sort of range you’d be expecting from something far pricier, and probably with a Tesla badge on its nose.
The car is now a few years old and looks a little dated both inside and out, with a replacement due in 2022. Kia and Hyundai are starting to launch electric models on a dedicated rear-wheel drive platform that enables even faster charging too, making the e-Niro look a little ‘old hat’ in some ways – although the larger-batteried, 201bhp versions will still charge at up to 100kW.
Needless to say, this car’s genre-challenging relationship between range, usability and affordability means it still scores very highly. It also pulls ahead of the technically related Hyundai Kona because the e-Niro is a thoroughly practical, dynamically well-resolved and pleasant-to-drive EV. It’s roomier than almost every other EV at the price, and it rides and handles with creditable sophistication and accomplishment even compared with newer opponents. It may lack some of the accelerative potency of some, but as a well-rounded, truly usable affordable EV, the e-Niro remains a class act.
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3. Peugeot e-2008
Handsome, decently roomy and -rangey, pleasant to drive and competitively priced, the Peugeot e-2008 covers a lot of important bases as an affordable EV. It doesn’t stand out from its competitors in any one area: a 64kWh Kia e-Niro is more spacious and longer-legged although slightly pricier, while different rivals offer stronger performance or clearer design appeal. But the e-2008 gets strong enough scores across the board to make it a commendable all-round contender.
The car’s front-mounted, 134bhp electric drive motor and its 50kWh drive battery are shared with those of the Peugeot e-208 and Vauxhall Corsa-e. They make for fairly average performance (although drivability is good), and real-world range of between 150- and 170 miles, depending on your route and driving style. That’s broadly competitive for a five-seater crossover hatchback available for less than £31,000 after the PiCG – but it clearly won’t easily meet your every motoring need.
For that money, however, the e-2008’s interior has a surprisingly inviting ambience as well as decent outright space, and it rides and handles with more than a lingering flavour of gallic sophistication. This car is easy to overlook in some ways, but it certainly deserves your attention.
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4. Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf, in first-generation form, set the mould for the affordable electric car more than a decade ago – and in second-generation form, it’s still in among the list of contenders seeking to follow in its tread marks.
Battery capacity has been boosted so that, in standard guise, the Nissan has a WLTP-certified range of 168 miles: not a lot by today’s standards, but enough for some. However, this rises to more than 200- in the case of the range-topping 64kWh e+ version.
The Leaf’s also got significantly more power and torque than its direct predecessor; it performs fairly keenly, feels like a more rounded car to drive generally, and has plenty of daily-use practicality for a small family. Its interior is starting to look and feel pretty dated, though.
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 £2500 PiCG grant into account, cements the car’s position.
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5. Vauxhall Mokka-e
Britain’s everyman car brand Vauxhall is out to reinvent itself with the Mokka-e. This fashionable, good-looking compact crossover shares its platform and running gear with the Peugeot e-2008 and DS3 Crossback E-Tense, and although it’s slightly less practical than the aforementioned Peugeot, it’s broad-bonnetted styling is even more impactful.
Vauxhall’s 50kWh drive battery grants a real-world range of about 160 miles, and recharging the battery while out-and-about can be done at up to 100kW, for an 80 per cent charge in around half an hour.
The Mokka’s cabin is less spacious than some in this chart, but it’ll still accommodate adults in the second row. Boot space is reduced to a little over 300 litres in the Mokka-e; another practicality showing that leaves the car with plenty of prove elsewhere.
The Mokka-e’s performance is fairly strong, and its ride and handling disguise its raised ride height pretty well. The driving experience isn’t likely to be the reason you buy this car, though; if you like the way it looks, it’s probably just about practical-, usable- and credible enough to drive to reward your interest.
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6. Tesla Model 3
The biggest name in electric cars has its sights set on becoming a real global heavyweight with the Model 3, and spreading its wings to lower price points and greater annual production volumes than it has ever reached before.
This car has transformed its maker into a company turning out nearing a million cars a year – and when it arrived in the UK market in 2019, it brought Tesla ownership to a whole new audience. The car was originally promised to become available at as little as £35,000 in entry-level ‘standard range’ trim, but right-hand drive versions of that derivative have yet to make it to Europe. In Britain, Model 3 prices still open just above £40,000 – and so, while the car offers little greater practicality than an electric hatchback, it’s being made to look expensive compared to most of them.
The range-topping Model 3 Performance has two electric motors combining to the tune of 444bhp and a 0-62mph dash of just 3.4sec, and it responds to throttle inputs in a way that really challenges your fine motor control as well as your neck muscles.
Electric range should be better in other 75kWh versions of the Model 3, though: the Performance version delivers a real-world range closer to 200 miles than 300 in our testing experience. Opt for a Standard Range Plus, meanwhile, and some of the range-topping model’s pace is sacrificed, but plenty is left over. Its real-world motorway range is around 200 miles. In the Long Range version of the car, the WLTP range rises to 360 miles. And if your focus is on buying an EV with good public charging support, there is also Tesla’s supercharger network to consider: a huge benefit, and great enabler of longer-distance EV use.
The Model 3’s cabin is certainly of higher perceived quality than in Tesla’s earlier models, but the back row is a slightly tight squeeze for adult passengers and the boot isn’t as roomy or as accessible as a Model S’s. On-board refinement, meanwhile, is hamstrung by a particularly firm and slightly noisy ride.
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7. Citroen e-C4
If you like the idea of EV ownership because it represents new and unconventional thinking, you’ll probably like the Citroen e-C4. It’s the quirkiest car in this chart thanks to its angular, free-form, Citroen-GS-tribute exterior styling and its pseudo crossover hatchback body, and it has a roomy interior packed with innovative features like a dash-mounted holder and stowage drawer for a tablet PC
This is another electric car based on Stellantis’ eCMP model platform, with a 134bhp electric motor and a 50kWh battery. Citroen claims up to 217 miles of WLTP range for the car – and it has a fairly aerodynamically efficient shape and a wheel design likewise configured for low-rolling resistance, so does slightly better on real-world range than most of its group siblings. Even so, expect 180 miles from it at a fairly gentle pace, and on a warm day.
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8. Cupra Born
The VW Group’s emergent performance brand Cupra has thought small with its first dedicated electric car, the Born. Instead of following sister brands Skoda and Audi and launching a crossover SUV related to the Enyaq iV and Q4 E-Tron, it has hitched its first EV to the smaller VW ID 3. So the Cupra Born is a hatchback rather than a full-sized family car, although it’s a slightly pricey one, and has strakey styling, and sporting intentions that it struggles somewhat to deliver on.
We’ve so far only driven the Born in Spain, with UK press cars expected early in 2022. On Spanish roads, the car failed to clearly differentiate its driving experience from that of the related VW ID 3. Although it has evident maturity and refinement, it’s little more exciting or involving than its VW relation, and considerably less so than the likes of the Kia EV6.
UK prices will be confirmed soon, and are expected to start at around £32,000 after the PiCG, with power outputs ranging from 148- to 228bhp, and batteries from 45- to 77kWh. Worth the premium over a VW ID 3? It very much remains to be seen.
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9. Hyundai Kona Electric
The Kona Electric was one of the first cars to bring respectable range and practicality to the EV market at a fairly affordable price. It now looks like a car with commendable range (if you opt for the 64kWh version), but bigger-batteried versions are right on the borderline of qualification for the UK government’s plug-in car grant – so ordering the wrong trim level could cost you more than you’ll be bargaining for.
You’ll likely expect slightly greater interior space than the car will provide; it is a higher-riding crossover, but second-row occupant space is only average for the class, and will be a bit of a squeeze for taller passengers. The car’s quirky cabin styling may be some compensation, but only takes it so far.
The car’s performance is strong in upper trim levels, more ordinary if you have a 39kWh model, but it’s a little remote, soft and inspiring to drive, and suffers somewhat with limited front-drive traction in slippery conditions.
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10. MG 5 SW EV
Old-fashioned value for money remains a hard thing to find in the market for electric cars, but the MG 5 SW EV certainly supplies some. At the end of 2020, MG made waves by offering the family-hatchback-sized MG 5 (it’s an estate actually; a little bit like a mid-90s mkIII Vauxhall Aston wagon that’s been to the future) with a 200-mile range, for less than £25,000 after the UK government’s PiCG grant. Then, in mid-2021, it brought in a revised version of the car with a larger battery and some 250 miles of claimed range, and then made it available for very little more (from £26,495). If you’re buying a mid-range, petrol-powered C-segment estate in 2021, there’s a good chance you’ll be paying more for it than this.
The updated MG 5 can rapid-charge at up to 100kW, so it’s not the kind of EV you’ll be waiting hours for while it tops up from the mains. It’s got a drive motor with 154bhp and 192lb ft, so it’s a very respectable performer, too. And it’s got a 464-litre boot, which is enough for plenty of family paraphernalia.
Cabin quality is pretty low-rent; front-driven traction is modest at best; and body control can be quite loose on changable surfaces. But this is budget family EV motoring, after all – and since few other cars offer it at all, there’s definitely a place for it.
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