Electric cars might be the hot motoring topic of the moment, but they are nothing new — the Detroit Electric company, for example, produced 13,000 of them between 1907 and 1939 and counted Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, and even Henry Ford’s wife among its loyal customers. But now that the world is waking up to the downsides of fossil-fueled vehicles after its 80-year love affair with gasoline and diesel, electric cars have shot to the top of the planet-saving agenda and every major marque has at least one model either on its books or in development, with many pledging to make their entire production either hybrid or all-electric within the next few years.
Although the big manufacturers have been toying with electricity for some time (Honda, for example, launched its beautifully engineered Insight hybrid 20 years ago) it was the entrepreneurial Elon Musk(07)who really jolted the industry into action with the introduction of the Tesla Roadster in 2008. Tesla prevails as the best-known and most successful maker of purely electric cars, with around half-a-million having been sold worldwide across the current three-model range, which will shortly be joined by the new, high-performance Roadster. Now, however, Tesla is facing increasing competition from major manufacturers that are finally catching up with the growing acceptance of all-electric driving in every category from compact to supercar.
Here’s our pick of six of the best (with a Tesla included, of course…)
Although it has yet to enter production, the order book for the new Tesla Roadster has been open for two years. The car’s remarkable on-paper specification has already attracted plenty of would-be owners to place hefty deposits. Tesla claims the Roadster will be, quite simply, “The quickest car in the world” with “record-setting acceleration, range, and performance”. That means a 250mph top speed, a zero-60mph time of a gut-wrenching 1.9 seconds, and the ability to cover a quarter-mile from a standing start in less than nine seconds. Perhaps more impressive, however, is Tesla’s claim that the Roadster will be able to travel up to 600 miles on a single charge of its 200-kilowatt-hour battery pack, thereby eliminating the so-called “range anxiety” that puts off many drivers of conventional, gasoline-engine cars from switching to electric power.
The battery pack will feed three electric motors, one driving the front wheels and two driving the back, while the two.plus-two coupe bodywork will feature an all-glass, electric roof as well as a soft convertible top.
Prices from $200,000 (Standard) $250,000 (Founder’s Series)
Croatian engineer Mate Rimac has translated his garden shed hobby of producing extremely fast, one-off electric cars into a globally recognized automotive business in little more than a decade. His eponymous marque is best known for the Concept_One, a hugely rapid supercar of which just eight examples were built. With one large, very powerful electric motor at each wheel, carbon fiber bodywork designed around the powertrain and low-slung battery pack that could be recharged in just 30 minutes, the $1 million Concept_One set a new benchmark for electric hypercars. As the name suggests, it was intended principally as a concept car, but, at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, Rimac unveiled its even more extreme Concept_Two model. With just 150 examples to be made, the Concept_Two will produce the equivalent of 1,887 horsepower and a truck-like 2,300 Newton Meters of torque, or “pulling power.” The 250.plus-mph car can sprint from standstill to 60mph in under two seconds and, remarkably, can travel more than 350 miles on a single charge.
A special blue-painted version wowed the crowds at last summer’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California — although its radical looks and performance seemed to attract less interest than the fact that it was equipped with a bespoke fitting designed to carry two Champagne Methuselahs (each the equivalent of eight bottles) and a pair of flutes.
Prices from approx $2 million
Although Audi has been dabbling in pure electric car design for a decade (its E-Tron sports car first appeared at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show) only now has it released its first production version in the form of the e-tron SUV. From the outside, it fits in seamlessly with the rest of the marque’s SUV models, save for a neat, electric flap that opens to reveal a charging point instead of a conventional fuel filler. With an electric motor on each axle, the car hits 60mph in less than six seconds and tops out at 124mph, so performance is easily on a par with its combustion-engine stablemates. However, it scores over them by being almost silent in operation, emission-free, and considerably cheaper to run, thanks to being able to cover close to 250 miles on a single charge. That adequate, if not truly extensive, range is helped by a regenerative braking system that returns a small amount of charge to the batteries. The level of “recuperation” is adjustable via a pair of steering-wheel-mounted paddles — a system said to be especially effective during in-town driving. Also impressive is the fact that the battery pack can be recharged from empty to 80 percent capacity in a half-hour, making the car entirely practical for multiple journeys in a single day. Sensibly, Audi has chosen not to make the styling of the car futuristic.
The only nod to the sometimes Sci-Fi world of all-electric vehicles is the optional fitment of a pair of cameras instead of conventional door mirrors. Other than that, the e-tron is just like a “normal” SUV. Its battery pack has been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, leaving space for five people, 22 cubic feet of 04 luggage in the back, and an additional two cubic feet in a waterproof load area beneath the hood (where old-fashioned cars keep their engines.)
Prices from $74,800
If you are looking for an all-electric car from a premium maker, BMW’s i3 is a great place to start. Perhaps surprisingly, the neat-looking i3 has been around for six years and has proved popular, reliable and practical as a daily city car. It is not one, however, for long journeys due to its short-range (around 100 miles per charge, with additional 90-odd miles being available if the optional “range extender” small gasoline engine is specified). This year, however, the i3 offering has not only had a general makeover but has been added to by the arrival of the sporty “S” model. As you would expect, it comes with a slightly more powerful electric motor and a marginally higher top speed of around 100mph while the handling has been improved with the use of wider axles and lowered suspension. Inside, meanwhile, the i3S’s green credentials are expressed through a dashboard made from recycled plastic and leather seats tanned with olive leaf dye.
Prices from $47,650
Aston Martin has partly built its sporting reputation on the use of powerful, howling V8 and V12 gasoline engines, so news that it was entering the world of EVs came as a surprise to die-hard fans of the historic British marque. But, the looks, performance and rarity of the car chosen to debut Aston’s first electric powertrain have encouraged buyers to line up. Based on the svelte V12-engined Rapide four-door, two-plus-two grand tourer, the Rapide E features two electric motors driving the rear wheels and no fewer than 5,600 lithium-ion cells positioned throughout the car in the spaces where the regular model’s engine, gearbox, and fuel tank are situated. Expected to be capable of 150mph and capable of a sub-four-second zero-60 sprint, the car has been developed in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering, an offshoot of the Formula One constructor.
As a result, it uses re-worked suspension for enhanced handling, while the near-silence of the electric motors is enhanced with aerodynamic wheels fitted with low rolling resistance tires filled with a noise-dampening foam. First deliveries of the car were due to take place this year, but that has now been revised to the first quarter of 2020. Aston wants to get the Rapide E right first time, not least because it will serve as the envoy for a new range of all-electric Lagonda-badged cars.
Prices on request
Judged by some members of the motoring press to be the best electric car currently on sale, the I-Pace honors Jaguar’s sporting heritage by combining exceptionally sharp handling with a punchy electric drive train that produces the equivalent of 396 horsepower. A “premium” SUV, the car competes in the same arena as the Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X while remaining relatively affordable — particularly in entry-level “S” guise. In addition to the performance and useful 298-mile range (which requires a 12-hour charge), the I-Pace stands out for a truly high-end interior that’s bedecked in a choice of high-grade materials ranging from traditional top-quality leathers to high-tech fabrics. The sophisticated touchscreen dashboard is illuminated with a crisp white light at night, and the acoustic glass and aerodynamic body design, combined with the silent-running electric motors, make for an almost eerily quiet interior.
The car also benefits from features such as cabin pre-heating/ pre-cooling (which can be controlled remotely via a smartphone) and an ionizing system that pumps the interior with high-quality air after cleaning up the harmful particles caused by the combustion engines of the I-Pace’s less ecologically sound combustion-engine rivals.
Prices from $69,500