Best small electric cars

An electric car with compact dimensions makes for a perfect urban runabout – and we think these are the best you can buy...

There aren’t too many small electric cars around, because the high cost of the technology often pushes the price of these compact machines designed for affordable urban transport to levels beyond most people are prepared to pay – but there are a handful that manage to combine driving fun in town, decent performance and ultra-low running costs.

This category will grow over the years as the cost of the technology reduces, but for now these are the best small electric cars on sale.

Volkswagen e-up!

Clever use of space is one of the Volkswagen up! city car’s trump cards, and in the transformation to the all-electric e-up! none of this has been lost.

In fact, thanks to the 81bhp electric motor it’s surprisingly sharp from 0-30mph, which is the kind of performance that counts in an urban electric car like this. Positive steering and decent cornering ability make it fun to drive, too, even if it's a little lumpy in the way the suspension deals with torn urban tarmac.

There’s no loss of boot space though, at 251 litres, while the 99-mile claimed range means there should be enough for a full day’s driving around town before you need to plug in overnight – although we’d expect closer to 80 miles in reality. Read our full review.

Renault ZOE

One of the contentious points about the Renault ZOE is that you have to lease the battery separately to the car, but if you think this will fit your lifestyle, then thanks to Renault’s constant updates over the years to improve power, performance, battery capacity and therefore range and recharge times, it’s a thoroughly developed electric car for urban environments.

The latest R110 motor delivers strong acceleration with as much horsepower as many petrol supermini rivals – only the 108bhp hit is available instantly here. The 41kWh battery can be topped up to 80% in around 40 minutes if you opt for the Quick Charge capability, so there’s even more flexibility here.

You’ll have to put up with a plasticky, poor-quality interior, but otherwise the ZOE drives respectably well for a small, affordable electric car. Read our full review.

BMW i3

While many premium manufacturers are focusing on electric SUVs – BMW included – the German manufacturer started off its electric revolution with the i3.

You’ll get around 160 miles range from a full charge, even if you occasionally explore the performance on offer – and there’s plenty of it. The i3 comes in two forms: the standard car and the i3s, which boasts a 180bhp electric motor that can accelerate it from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, so there’s swift enough performance to match even some supermini hot hatchbacks.

With BMW’s brilliant approach to the i3’s interior design, sitting you high up to improve packaging and visibility, and the high quality of the interior combined with eco credentials using reclaimed materials, it’s a brilliant small electric car that still delivers the goods even years after its launch. However, it’s one of the more expensive options in this class. Read our full review.

Smart EQ ForTwo

The Smart brand was founded on making convincing urban cars. It’s taken the firm a few generations, but now the Smart EQ ForTwo takes all of the regular two-seat city car’s ease of use in tight town spots and combines it with zero-emissions running.

Granted, with an official range of 99 miles from the 17.6kWh battery there’s not all that much electric running, and, as with the e-up!, we’d expect closer to 80 miles. It’s compact and relatively light, though, so the 11.5-second 0-62mph time is acceptable.

This is about the end of the Smart EQ’s positive traits though, as it’s small inside, the boot is tiny and the ride is harsh, so it crashes around on even average roads. It’s also not the highest quality inside.

However, if you like the individuality the Smart offers and fancy a sharp-looking EV for city driving, the EQ ForTwo should be at least on your shortlist. Read our full review.