Apparently, we have but a few years before all we can buy will be electric cars. While that might (or might not) be a fanciful notion, the fact is that accelerating electric car sales are one of the few bright spots in the Irish car market right now, and the quality, performance and range of those cars is getting better almost, it seems, every week. Here’s our top five right now...
1 - Kia e-Soul
The Kia Soul was, for years, a slightly oddball, interesting car that was really designed as cheap transport for US college students, and never worked in Europe because it was saddled with an older, high-CO2, diesel engine. That all changed for the third generation, and the e-Soul is, Euro-for-Euro, the best electric car you can buy right now. For a start, it has an official - and largely realistic - one-charge range of 450km. That’s more than some electric cars costing more than twice as much. It also looks, to our eyes anyway, rather cool. It’s a car that has actually benefitted from the grille-blanking look often given to electric cars. Plus, the interior is roomy and well made (even if the boot is a bit small). It’s also well-priced, undercutting the likes of the Kia e-Niro and the Hyundai Kona Electric, which share the same platform, batteries and electric motor. There’s stunning straight-line performance from a 200hp electric motor, even if it’s too heavy to be much fun in the corners.
2 - Jaguar I-Pace
The I-Pace is expensive, yes, and that means that it can’t qualify for the zero-rate benefit-in-kind tax that you’d imagine would wipe out at good chunk of its potential buyers. That’s a shame, as it’s a hugely impressive car - arguably the best car that Jaguar makes right now (possibly because it’s actually built in Austria, under licence, by Magna-Steyr). It looks great too. The cabin’s lovely as well - roomy, comfortable and with the best interpretation yet of Jag’s multi-screen cockpit layout. Performance feels absolutely explosive. With 400hp on tap, it leaps forward in great electric lunges. Most other big, pricey EVs do that too, but none other so far can match the Jag’s grace through the corners, nor the feedback from its steering. Our only concern is some signs of electronic fragility, but if Jaguar can iron those out, this is one for the ages.
3 - BMW i3
BMW’s quirky i3 is getting on in years a bit, and that’s something you’ll notice once you go looking for some of the more advanced driver assistance and infotainment systems in the cabin - they simply aren’t there. Still, BMW has updated the i3 where it counts most - in the battery. That battery is now a vast 120Ah affair, which means that the boxy little EV can pretty reliably put more than 200km between charges. That interior is also still a thing of joy - recognisably a BMW, but with lovely floating structures, open pore wood and exposed carbon-reinforced plastics (the expensive composite that BMW uses to keep the i3’s weight down) making it feel much more special. It needs to do that as it’s not very spacious (seats only for four, and the rear ones are tight) and it is quite pricey, although VRT rebates and grants do bring a basic one down to around €35,000. It’s lovely to drive too, with light, direct steering and an engaging chassis balance.
4 - Hyundai Kona Electric
The Kona Electric is fighting hard with the Nissan Leaf for the title of Ireland’s best-selling electric car right now, and that’s no surprise - it might be expensive (prices for this, let’s not forget, compact Hyundai hatchback start on the wrong side of €38,000), but it has a one-charge range that even Mercedes and Audi, with cars costing more than twice as much, struggle to match right now. Heck, even Tesla’s not entirely safe from the Hyundai’s range. The Kona is decent to drive, too, with a hugely entertaining surge and shove from that 200hp electric motor, and thanks to the long-legged range, it’s a shove you can feel entirely sanguine about using pretty much as much as you like. We do have a couple of quibbles though - the styling doesn’t look as good in this blunt-faced electric form as some other EVs manage, and the interior is both on the small side, and feels a little too cheap in places for a car costing almost as much as a BMW 3 Series. Still, those are compromises possibly well worth making to get your hands on an EV with performance that’s this flexible.
5 - Peugeot e-208
Peugeot’s first fully-electric car (unless you count the short-lived Ion, and we don’t) is deeply impressive. On the outside, you get the same sharp styling as the rest of the 208 range. Ditto inside, where the cabin is almost too avant-garde for some, but is unquestionably really well put together, and comes with impressive digital instruments. Underneath, there’s a 50kWh battery pack and a 136hp electric motor that give the e-208 solid performance and more than useable range. Peugeot quotes 350km on one charge, and we’d be surprised if you got much less than 280km in real-world conditions. It’s quick to charge, too, especially if you can find an IONITY-style rapid charging point. Downsides are slightly tight space in the rear and a hefty kerb weight (500kg more than a 1.2 petrol 208), which you can feel in the corners, but overall, it’s a sweet thing to drive.
Worth a mention - Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 is the car that so many fans of the brand have been waiting for. Not only is it more attainable than the Model S and Model X, it still manages to deliver a decent driving range of between 409- and 560km. The on-road behaviour is quite good, too. Although it does without the fancy air suspension of larger Tesla models, the ride quality is decent, and the Autopilot system is useful in certain situations. A sportier Performance model turns the wick up even more, where increases in acceleration and power output turn this into a rival for the likes of the BMW M3. Its super minimalist interior is almost devoid of physical buttons, with virtually every aspect of the car’s onboard systems controlled via the 15-inch display in the centre. It takes some time to get used to, but when you do, it makes every other car seem archaic. One additional advantage for buyers is that the European version of the Model 3 gets the more widely available CCS type charger connection. This setup means owners can make use of the growing network of rapid DC chargers in addition to Tesla’s own Supercharger network.