There are a variety of reasons for switching to an electric vehicle (EV). For some, it’s the environmental benefits, for others it’s the low running costs or the impressive performance that many EVs offer.
Whichever way you look at it, there’s no denying that the electric cars have now reached a tipping point. Having started off as a niche proposition, they’re now well on their way to overtaking petrol and diesel. In September 2021, for instance, the all-electric Tesla Model 3 was the best-selling car in the UK outright, beating established favourites like the Volkswagen Golf and the Vauxhall Corsa.
For all their added benefits, there are still some extra points to consider when it comes to running an EV. It pays to plan ahead, for instance, if you’re setting off on a long journey that will require stopping to recharge. Likewise, some cars are compatible with ultra-fast charging points that others can’t use. But once you get your head around these differences, the overall experience is every bit as straightforward as living with a traditional car.
Simple, in a word. The basic controls are the same as any other car, but there’s no clutch or gearbox to worry about. Many EVs are also relatively new models, with the latest electronic safety aids included.
Electric cars generally accelerate faster than their conventional counterparts. Sporty models can be eye-wateringly quick, with instant acceleration and a vast wave of torque. But, driven gently, they feel every bit as docile as the best petrol and diesel cars. In fact, the near-silent power delivery and effortless torque of an electric motor makes driving an EV an inherently relaxing experience.
There are other benefits too. Electric motors take up less space than traditional engines, so EVs generally offer more room for passengers and luggage. Mounting the bulky batteries under the floor also helps to keep the centre of gravity height low. What this means is that electric cars tend to handle well for their size and weight. Pushed to the extreme, the additional weight of the batteries sometimes blunts the handling a little compared to the best petrol and diesel models, but the instant acceleration more than makes up for that in most circumstances. While you're here, you may want to check out the top 5 electric cars you can get on subscription!
Not all EVs are created equal, and some will go much further between charging stops than others. This also fluctuates based on your driving style, the amount of traffic you encounter, and other factors such as the temperature. Official figures vary from under 100 miles for some electric city cars to over 350 miles for some premium models.
It’s worth putting these figures into perspective. The average UK commute is around 12 miles each way, which means even the lower end of this spectrum will be more than enough for most people’s daily needs. If you’ve got the ability to charge at home or at work you might never even need to stop and plug-in.
As with the cars themselves, the charging facilities vary considerably. Not only are there different plug types, but different chargers can also charge at different speeds. The same car might take 11 hours to charge at home on a 7-kilowatt wallbox, but just 30 minutes on an ultra-fast 150-kilowatt public charger. Learn more about the electric cars charging times.
That might sound confusing, but the good news is that most cars and most chargers support multiple connectors. The CCS Combo 2 charging port found on a lot of new cars, for instance, combines the two most common connector types – CCS and Type 2 – into one unit. This means that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a plug that fits when you pull up at a charging station, even if it isn’t necessarily the fastest type available for your car. Likewise, while most charging companies offer a discounted rate to those who subscribe to their service, you can generally just turn up and pay as you go with a credit or debit card.
For longer journeys, there are various apps available to help you plan potential charging stops along the route. Some include live updates, so you know if a particular charging station is likely to be available when you get there.
By far the best option is to charge your car at home or at work. You don’t need an especially fast charger if your car is going to be parked up for extended periods of time. Home ‘wallboxes’ are typically rated at a modest 7 kilowatts, but left overnight they will fully charge even the largest batteries.
The cost of installing a home charger starts at around £500, and it’s generally a fairly straightforward process, with numerous companies now specialising in the service. It’s a worthwhile investment, with the number of electric cars rapidly increasing, and you can even rent out your charger while you’re not using it.
This is a tricky one to answer. In much the same way that petrol or diesel cars return different fuel economy figures (measured in miles per gallon), the efficiency of an EV (typically measured in miles per kilowatt-hour) can vary significantly from model to model. On top of that, energy prices vary from provider to provider and the rates for public charging are different to those you’d pay at home.
As with conventional cars, it’s generally larger, heavier or more performance-orientated models that cost more to run, but the sophistication of the motors and batteries plays a role too.
As a very rough guide, charging an EV at home currently equates to somewhere between half to a third of the cost per mile of fuelling a petrol car. At the time of writing, a 200-mile journey in a typical petrol-powered family hatchback would cost around £30 in fuel; the same trip in an EV would cost you somewhere in the region of £12 in household electricity and it could be anywhere from £10 to £30 at a public charging point. So, do electric cars increase your electric bill? Yes, but... it won't that much if you only do shorter commutes and you probably won't see a big difference.
Upfront costs are similarly variable, but EVs tend to be in the same ballpark as their petrol and diesel equivalents. For instance, one service we looked at offered the petrol-powered Volkswagen Golf 1.5TSI from £523 per month, while the equivalent all-electric model, Volkswagen ID.3 started at £498. In some cases, it was the other way round, but we’d still expect the electric model to work out usefully cheaper once running costs have been taken into account.
No, fully electric cars are exempt from the London Congestion charge zone. However, as discounts for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) are phased out, EV owners will be required to pay the congestion charge starting December 2025.
This is another complex question. The manufacturing process for an EV actually produces more CO2 than the equivalent petrol or diesel car. But even with a mixture of different types of power stations contributing to the electricity grid, EVs are dramatically cleaner to run. Overall, their carbon footprint can be as little as half that of the equivalent petrol or diesel model.
And it’s not just a question of CO2 reduction. EVs still produce a small amount of dust from their brakes and tyres, but with no exhaust pipe emissions to worry about, they help to improve air quality. What’s more, every electric car on the roads helps to strengthen the case for a better charging infrastructure, greater use of battery recycling and more renewable power generation.
The environmental benefits of running an electric car are multiplied when you do so on subscription. Most privately-owned cars spend significant periods of time not being used. But a car subscription service typically gives you far more flexibility; if your lifestyle or requirements change you can return the car or downsize it with no hassle. Check out our in-depth elmo vs. Onto comparison where we analyse the two major EV subscription providers in the UK.
Electric vehicle technology is evolving much faster than its petrol and diesel equivalents, and the flexibility of a subscription also gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the latest developments. More range, greater performance and enhanced connectivity are typical of the benefits that brand new EVs offer over their predecessors.
One of the main advantages of running a car on subscription is that associated costs like insurance, maintenance and servicing are all bundled in with your single monthly fee. Some subscription services even include free charging across a range of EV networks, so you needn’t pay a single additional penny. Still unsure? Read our guide which compares car subscriptions to leasing and renting.
If you want to learn more about EVs, check out our in-depth electric car subscription hub!
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This article was written by our expert car reviewer, Chris Pickering. He has hands-on experience with the latest cars. Read more about his experience.