Last updated on January 11th, 2021 at 12:39 pm
It has been an amazing year for battery electric vehicles, with 162.2% year-on-year growth by November, and a shift from 1.5% of the market in 2019 to 5.8% in 2020. The increase in sales has been driven by an influx of excellent new EVs over the last 12 months or so. In the first, inaugural WhichEV Awards, we highlight the best releases in each EV category. It’s still a few years before EVs cost the same or less than their petrol equivalents, and fill every car format, but there’s already an increasingly wide range of choice. Read on to find the best EVs of 2020.
Best Saloon EV: Tesla Model 3 Long Range
Surprisingly, there aren’t that many all-electric saloons on the market yet. This is probably because it’s easier to find the space and weight for bulky batteries in the SUV or crossover formats. But Tesla saw this as the next challenge after the larger sizes of the Model S and Model X, putting BMW squarely in its sights. In the US, at least, the Model 3 has trounced BMW for sales volume.
Of the three versions of the Model 3 that are available in the UK, we’ve chosen the Long Range as our pick for best saloon because it provides the optimal balance of abilities. The Standard Range Plus is a great car too, but its advantages are not quite so clear in its price range, and the premium required for the Performance put that in a different class too. But the £46,990 Tesla Model 3 Long Range combines class-leading performance with one of the longest ranges on the market.
The latest Model 3 now has a heat pump, and this combined with other efficiency enhancements means the Long Range boasts a whopping 360 miles of WLTP range. The only EVs that can go further are also made by Tesla. Despite this huge distance ability, the Long Range is also fast, taking a mere 4.2 seconds to get to 60mph – and you can take this down a further 0.5 seconds for just £1,500 more. With plenty of space for four occupants, or five at a pinch, loads of boot capacity, and Autopilot to take some of the pain out of extensive motorway journeys, the Model 3 Long Range is the best electric saloon on the market.
Read our full review of the Tesla Model 3.
Honourable Mention: Polestar 2
The Polestar 2 comes from the same stable as Volvo cars, with both companies owned by Chinese company Geely (alongside Lotus and LEVC). Where most EV vendors have avoided going head-to-head with Tesla, the Polestar 2 is clearly a direct competitor to the Model 3, and in particular the Long Range. In a direct head-to-head, the Tesla still wins. But there’s lots to commend the Polestar alternative and some buyers do prefer its hatchback and more conventional interior design. Our least favourite aspect is how the LCD interface design forces you to use voice controls for some functions when you might not want to. But that’s true of the Model 3 as well, so this is a very impressive first all-electric EV from Polestar. We can’t wait for the Polestar 3.
Read our full review of the Polestar 2.
Best Value EV: MG5 EV
MG was already leading the pack on value with the ZS EV. But the MG5 EV takes that to another level. Not only is this the first all-electric estate car to hit the UK market, but it also boasts a longer range and better performance than its SUV predecessor. Where the MG ZS EV was WLTP-rated for just 163 miles, the MG5 EV can manage 214 miles, which is still not up with the best EVs on the market now but with a starting price of £24,495 and dealers already discounting to £21,000, the MG5 EV sets a new level for price – and it can still hit 60mph in just 7.3 seconds.
The MG5 EV has plenty of luggage space, being an estate car. You get 464 litres with up to five passengers, and 1,456 litres with the rear seats down. The boot with the seats down is not entirely flat, but you can happily get a ladder or appliance in the back, making this an extremely practical car. The seats are comfortable, but otherwise the interior is old-fashioned and the media control system rudimentary. The satnav is quite slow in operation.
The MG5 EV isn’t going to win any beauty awards, either. In fact, it’s a rather dowdy vehicle. But with cruise control and a reversing camera as standard, plus the performance, range and practicality on offer for this low price, the MG5 EV sets a new level for value and makes it even easier for everyone to afford to go electric.
Read our full review of the MG5 EV.
Honourable Mention: Renault Zoe, MG ZS EV
Despite now being bettered on value by its MG5 EV stable mate, the MG ZS EV is still a great-value EV and might appeal to you more if you want an SUV format and aren’t so bothered about longer journeys. However, the rear boot space is actually less than the MG5 EV. The Renault Zoe was our general EV recommendation on value until the MG5 EV came along, particularly now that a 50kWh battery comes as standard offering a range of up to 245 miles WLTP. With a £26,995 starting price, the Zoe is still great value and heartily recommended if you want a little city hatchback that can also go further afield when required.
Best Hatchback EV: Hyundai Kona Electric
Hyundai calls the Kona Electric an SUV but it’s really just a slightly tall hatchback – and an excellent one at that. You can get two versions, one with a 39kWh battery and one with a 64kWh pack. The latter offers an extremely healthy 300-mile WLTP range and comes with a 204PS motor that can take the car to 60mph in just 7.9 seconds. Like most Korean cars, the Kona Electric is well equipped even for the base model, with all versions offering lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control, although you need the top Premium SE version for blind spot detection and lane follow assist.
This is a comfy, well-equipped vehicle, with plenty of interior space for front passengers, although the rear seats are a little more cramped and the boot is another area where this car is more hatchback-like, offering just 332 litres or 1,116 litres with the rear seats down. There’s a good level of well-positioned physical controls for most functions, and the media control interface is logically designed. You even get rear heated seats in the top trim level.
The Hyundai Kona Electric is well-constructed and pleasant to drive. It’s generously equipped, with a great range for the top models and decent performance. There are cheaper options, with even the 39kWh base model starting at £32,000, and the top trim £38,500, which is approaching Tesla Model 3 money. But if you’re after a hatchback with plenty of range and luxury, the Hyundai Kona Electric is currently unbeaten – until VW’s ID.3 Tour becomes available.
Read our full review of the Hyundai Kona Electric.
Honourable Mention: Mini Electric, VW ID.3
We haven’t had a chance to properly review the Mini Electric yet but drove it at SMMT Drive Zero. It’s one of the most fun EVs we’ve tried, offering 0-62mph in just 7.3 seconds and extremely responsive handling. However, the WLTP range from the Mini Electric tops out at 145 miles, so this is mostly a city and short commuting car. The VW ID.3, on the other hand, is almost as good to drive but has a much more respectable range of around 260 WLTP miles, making it a much more viable all-rounder. There is a Tour version coming with a bigger battery and 336-mile range, but this hasn’t arrived in the UK yet. When it does, it could be taking this award away from the Hyundai Kona Electric.
Read our full review of the VW ID.3.
Best Crossover EV: Kia e-Niro
The crossover format is an SUV that has little intention or potential for use beyond fully tarmacked environments. It often doesn’t offer four-wheel-drive either. But a lot of people like a high driving stance plus the extra interior space a crossover affords, and a great example of this is the Kia e-Niro. There are three trim levels and two powertrain options, but the one you’re most likely to want combines a 64kWh battery with a 201bhp motor. This delivers 282 miles of range and a 0-60mph sprint in 7.5 seconds.
So the e-Niro can handle long journeys and it’s pretty fast, but it’s also extremely practical, with loads of interior space for front and rear passengers. The boot is sizeable too, with 451 litres of capacity or 1,405 litres with the back seats down. So there’s lots of load-lugging potential here too. There’s also reassuringly the typical seven-year, 100,000-mile Kia warranty that gives buyers plenty of confidence in their vehicles.
The standard kit is excellent too, even in the £32,845 entry-level version. All cars have rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, cruise control, lane keep assist and lane follow. The top 4+ includes blind spot detection, a heat pump to improve efficiency when the heater is on, and rear heated seats. This version will set you back £39,395 but is loaded with features, making it our electric crossover of choice.
Read our full review of the Kia e-Niro.
Honourable Mention: Peugeot e-2008
The Peugeot e-2008 doesn’t have the range of the Kia e-Niro – just 206 miles WLTP – and its 136bhp motor means it’s not so fast, taking 9 seconds to reach 62mph. But it has typical Peugeot design flair outside and in and has plenty of passenger and boot space. It is also great value, with prices ranging from £30,680 to £36,630, depending on trim choice. So if you like the crossover style and French design, but don’t need the range of the Kia e-Niro, the Peugeot e-2008 is a tempting proposition.
Read our full review of the Peugeot e-2008.
Best Luxury EV: Tesla Model X
The Tesla Model S might be the performance and range king in the luxury EV space, but if you want to truly arrive in electric style the Model X is the ultimate choice. The “Falcon Wing” doors are guaranteed to grab attention, just for starters. Then there are the seating possibilities, with six and seven seats available as options. The boot is huge, offering up to 2,300 litres with the rear seats down depending on seating choice. There’s a sizeable 187-litre frunk on top of this – almost as big as a small hatchback boot on its own. This car can also tow up to 2,270kg, although that will seriously deplete the range.
Speaking of range, the Model X has a very healthy WLTP rating of 348 miles for the Long Range Plus version and 340 miles for the Performance. Both cars are quick, with the Long Range Plus hitting 60mph in 4.4 seconds – amazing for a 2.5-ton car. The Performance version is unfeasibly fast, though, hitting 60mph in just 2.6 seconds. The Model X also handles very well for such a huge, heavy vehicle, although it’s not exactly a sportscar.
With huge amounts of space inside, and comfortable seating even for the third row of passengers, this is a very enjoyable way to travel for journeys both long and short. Add in Tesla’s pain-saving Autopilot plus extensive Supercharger recharging network, and long trips will breeze by in the X. It’s a very expensive car, starting at £87,980, but as the quintessence of EV luxury and dynamic ability, the Tesla Model X is hard to beat.
Read our full review of the Tesla Model X.
Honourable Mention: Mercedes EQC, Tesla Model S, Audi e-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace
Lots of manufacturers have targeted the luxury space, so there are quite a few contenders in this category. The Jaguar I-Pace is fast, looks great, has a great Jaguar interior, and offers a very respectable 292-mile WLTP range. But it’s also expensive at £65,195. The Tesla Model S is of course even more expensive but is supremely quick and now the Long Range Plus offers 405 miles of WLTP range – the furthest currently available from any EV. The Mercedes EQC is also luxurious and fast, but the WLTP range is only 259 miles, and at £66,405 it’s pricey too. Finally, the Audi e-tron is a little cheaper at £59,900 and very luxurious inside. But it has the lowest WLTP range of just 190 miles and is behind the other contenders in performance as well, since it weighs up to 2.6 tons.
Best Performance EV: Tesla Model 3 Performance
It’s quite telling that so far there is no mainstream electric sports car. The Porsche Taycan points in that direction, but it’s more of a big executive car than a 911 contender, and the same can be said of the Model S, despite both being hugely quick cars. There really is only one mainstream EV so far that you’d want to take out on a trackday alongside fossil fuel contenders like the BMW M3, and that’s the Tesla Model 3 Performance.
In its latest incarnation, the Tesla Model 3 Performance can hit 60mph in just 3.1 seconds, which will shame most supercars and even give the odd hypercar something to think about. The Performance Model 3 comes with 20in wheels and upgraded brakes over other versions. All Tesla Model 3s have Brembo front brakes, but the rears are from Mando in other versions. With the Performance, the rears brakes are from Brembo too and the front ones are bigger, four-piston Brembo units. If you can accelerate fast, you need to decelerate fast too.
No EV (yet) is exactly light but the Model 3 Performance isn’t as heavy as some, weighing a little over 1,800kg, which is 300kg lighter than the Polestar 2, for example, and around the same as many much less powerful EVs such as the Kia e-Niro. With all-wheel-drive and clever torque vectoring, the Model 3 Performance handles exceptionally well and provides an extremely engaging drive.
All this comes in a very practical five-seat saloon format, with an exceptional 352-mile range and plenty of boot space. So the Tesla Model 3 Performance can be both your everyday driver and a sporty toy. It’s not exactly cheap at £56,490, but when you consider how much you’d need to spend on a petrol car with this level of performance, the Tesla Model 3 Performance is a clear winner.
Read our full review of the Tesla Model 3.
Honourable Mention: Model S Performance, Porsche Taycan
We gave the Model 3 Performance the top award in this category, but the Model S Performance is actually faster in a straight line, and so is the Porsche Taycan. But while both of these cars would better the Model 3 Performance in a drag race, and probably lap faster round the Nurburgring, that’s not really their focus. Both are much more about storming down the Autobahn with four adults inside than enjoying a twisty British A-road, which is why we think the Model 3 Performance wins out in this category, until a proper EV sportscar comes along.
Read our full review of the Model S Performance.
Best Newcomer EV: VW ID.3
Tesla might be the brand that has been making all the biggest headlines in electric vehicles, while the incumbents have mostly been only dipping a toe in the electrified waters, if at all. But after the negative press from Dieselgate, Volkswagen has made a radical pivot towards BEVs and the first fruit of this labour is the VW ID.3. It’s not available in the US, but is selling like hot cakes in Europe already, becoming the market leader in October 2020 and already at number 6 for the year, despite only arriving in September.
It’s not hard to see why. VW is hoping to make the ID.3 the successor to the Golf and Beetle – the people’s EV. It’s not quite priced at that level, with the entry-level Life edition being £29,990, but considering this is a car with a 263-mile WLTP range, and 0-60mph in 7.3mph, it’s still great value. It offers a useful amount of boot space and rear-wheel-drive for more engaging driving. The basic equipment includes adaptive cruise control as well as front and rear parking sensors across all models, although you need one of the premium packages for a reversing camera.
We also think VW has the balance between innovation and tradition just about right with the general controls and LCD screen menu. With Volkswagen’s considerable investment in EV manufacturing and plans for lots of other new pure electric models, such as the ID.6 with a 435-mile range and a car potentially in the Polo class, the ID.3 is just the beginning of a bright electric future for the German automaker.
Read our full review of the VW ID.3.
Honourable Mention: Polestar 2
We’ve already mentioned the Polestar 2 as our runner-up electric saloon, but it’s also the first all-electric car from Polestar. The Polestar 1 used a hybrid powertrain for power and performance but is extremely expensive. The Polestar 2 is more mainstream and priced directly against the Tesla Model 3 Long Range (in fact, £90 cheaper). It’s a great first all-electric EV and bodes well for future Polestar cars.
Read our full review of the Polestar 2.
EV Innovation Award: Honda e
The Honda e is packed with innovative tech and somehow managed to keep its concept car looks all the way through to production. So where many EVs can rightly be accused of a generic appearance, the Honda e has tons of character and a real sense of occasion every time you get inside for a drive.
The most eye-catching interior feature is the dashboard made up entirely of LCD panels. There’s one behind the steering wheel, plus two 12.3in panels in the centre. Either end has a further two that act as the wing mirrors in tandem with cameras on the sides of the car. If you get the top Honda e, there’s a 13a plug and HDMI input, so you could add a media streamer or games console to enjoy through these screens. The top trim also turns the rear-view mirror into a screen connected to the rear camera, although you can still turn this off and use the mirror as a mirror.
However, there is one fatal flaw with this car – the limited range. The WLTP rating is just 137 miles with 16in wheels and 131 miles with 17in wheels. So this is a city transport vehicle and short commuter, not one for every vehicular need. But with rear-wheel-drive and a balanced weight distribution, the Honda e is a great drive. It’s just a shame that such an innovative, fun car doesn’t go further on a single charge.
Read our full review of the Honda e.