IT’S 15 years since the first credible hybrid car went on sale and the rate of technological acceleration since then is unlike anything since the birth of the car itself. To move from the Toyota Prius to the BMW i3 in a decade and a half seems like the stuff of science fiction.
And while such vehicles still account for only a tiny proportion of total car sales, their influence is pervasive, from the tiny Renault Twizy to the fact that in future the V12 engines in Ferrari’s flagship models will be hybrid-assisted. The cars here can be seen as a neon signpost to the future. All prices quoted are after deduction of the £5,000 government grant.
1 Tesla Model S
If BMW or Audi had produced the world’s first luxury electric car and had made it as attractive, effective and credible as the Tesla Model S, the achievement would have been greeted by a tidal wave of purple prose as well as many sage observations that such a car was only possible thanks to their massive financial, personal and technological resources. That a tiny company that did not even exist a dozen years ago has done it beggars belief.
By any standards the Model S is an exceptional car. Its styling is beautiful, the cabin the freshest of any such car on the market and dominated by central display screen which looks big enough to be useful to NASA. While manufacturers of other electric cars struggle to make theirs do 100 miles on a single charge, the Tesla will do 200 – with ease, yet it comes with acceleration to make a Porsche 911 blush – 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds for the new four wheel drive ‘D’ version.
Clarkson says: ‘Soundless speed doesn’t compute in our heads. It’s the stuff of nightmares. The sound of falling from a tall building. I like it a lot.’
As well as being the best electric car on the market, it offers real competition to executive cars from BMW and Mercedes. The only weaknesses are its ride, which falls below the standards expected of a luxury car and its range, while extraordinary for an electric car, by any other standards is still fairly lousy.
- Price range: £50,280 – £90,680
- Our pick: Tesla Model S 85
- Engine: 380bhp electric motor
- Acceleration: 0-60mph: 5.4sec
- Top speed: 125mph
- Range: 312 miles
2 BMW i3
The i3’s success comes down to two factors: clarity of vision and boldness of execution. It would have been easy for BMW to electrify the existing 1-series, but instead it built a car optimised for electrification from scratch, with a carbon-fibre monocoque, to keep weight down, and an avant-garde appearance. The result is world beating: this is the only relatively affordable electric car you would buy despite rather than because it’s electric. We recommend you spend the extra £3,150 for the range-extender version (which comes with a tiny petrol-powered engine to charge the battery when it is low), ending range anxiety.
- Price range: £25,680-£28,830
- Our pick: i3 with range extender, £28,830
- Engine | Motor: 647cc, plus 125kW electric
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 7.9sec
- Top Speed: 93mph
- Range: 118 miles
- Fuel | CO2: 470.8mpg | 13g/km
3 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
If you want to drive a hybrid but don’t want to advertise the fact, the A3 e-tron is a good choice. It looks like a conventional hatch, but is a plug-in hybrid with a range, using electric power alone, of 31 miles and a top speed of 81mph . If you want to go faster (or further) a conventional engine kicks in.
- Price: £29,950
- Our pick: A3 Sportback e-tron
- Engine | Motor: 1395cc, 4 cylinders, plus 75kW electric
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 7.6sec
- Top Speed: 138mph
- Range: 31 miles (electric only)
- Fuel | CO2: 176.6mpg | 37g/km
4 Volkswagen e-Up!
The e-Up! is more expensive than its petrol-powered siblings but it shares their VW build quality. It’s great fun to drive in town — even better than the conventional models, thanks to its instant torque. Just remember, if you don’t have a fast charging station nearby or a home charger, it’ll need to be plugged into a standard wall socket for nine hours to fully replenish its battery.
- Price: £19,270
- Our pick: e-Up!, £19,270
- Motor: 60kW electric
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 12.4sec
- Top Speed: 80mph
- Range: 93 miles
5 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
The world’s first luxury sporting hybrid appears to be a revelation, returning a claimed 91.1mpg and emitting CO2 of just 71g/km. Acceleration is startling as the motor and engine can work in unison, and the car is impressively smooth in the moments when running on electricity alone. Pricy, though.
- Price: £79,401
- Our pick: Panamera S E-Hybrid, £79,401
- Engine | Motor: 2995cc supercharged V6, plus 70kW electric
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 5.5sec
- Top Speed: 167mph
- Range: 22 miles (electric only)
- Fuel | CO2: 91.1mpg | 71g/km
6 Renault Zoe
For Cute looks; low running costs; environmentalists will love you
Against You have to budget for battery rental costs, from £70 a month
7 Volkswagen E-Golf
For Looks like a Golf and drives like one too, but more quietly
Against Prohibitively expensive given its limited range
8 Nissan Leaf
For It was the first genuinely credible all-electric car
Against Entirely eclipsed by the BMW i3; no range extender available
9 Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid
For Great to look at; incredible performance and economy figures
Against Disappointing drive; expensive
10 Toyota Prius Plug-In
For Electric-only motoring for up to 15.5 miles, with back-up petrol engine
Against Not very frugal when out of electric mode; slow
Vote for your favourite!
Top 100 Cars 2014 sections
- Introduction by Jeremy Clarkson
- Top 10 4x4s & SUVs
- Top 10 Electric Cars & Hybrids
- Top 10 Supercars
- Top 10 City Cars
- Top 10 Sports Cars & Convertibles
- Top 10 Family Cars & Estates
- Top 10 Superminis
- Top 10 Executive & Prestige
- Top 10 Hot Hatches & Coupés
- Top 10 MPVs
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Vote for your favourite of Top 100 Cars 2014
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Used alternatives to the winning cars
Top 100 Cars 2014: the fine print
Top 100 Cars is compiled by Andrew Frankel, Joseph Dunn, Dominic Tobin and James Mills. Prices are correct at the time of going to press; fuel-economy figures are for the combined urban and extra-urban cycle (source: Newspress); electric-car prices quoted include government grants where applicable.