Two years ago, around the time COVID-19 started, only one of these cars existed. Despite the vagaries of viruses, Brexit, semiconductors and supply chains, today if you want an electric family car, you’re not short of options. We’ve got 11 full-house family EVs here, cars that a) shouldn’t break the bank and b) can handle all the tasks you need, right through to this summer’s camping trips.
We used Tesla’s newly arrived Model Y as the rally flag and collected everything that could possibly be seen as a rival. They cover a price range of £35-65 grand, or about £400 a month to £1,000. First point to make: there is no bad car here. And one that drops out early may just be the one that suits you best. You will have to use your judgment on that. I’ll tell you why: the Jaguar I-Pace remains a very good electric car – if you want a luxurious, effortlessly good looking and smooth-running machine. But you’re never going to toss sandy surfboards in the trunk while supervising dripping ice cream cones within a hundred yards of that cream leather, right? One for the grandparents. Tell them it’s coming Top Gear recommended.
Photography: Jonny Fleetwood
We are therefore not looking for a winner who wins everything. Instead, the goal is to guide and suggest, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. So let’s start with a little digging. Three cars used to run on petrol here. You can easily recognize two of them: the BMW iX3 and Volvo XC40 Recharge. All they’ve done is add the names and fill in the grids. You think I’m going to try them because they aren’t packaged very well. Only the Volvo. The BMW is an impressive piece of all-round technology. Look, the i3 and i8 weren’t lost, BMW just realized it didn’t have to take that much effort. It’s a good car, with a large cargo area rivaled only by the Tesla and Skoda, but perhaps too conventional. And, from £60,970, expensive. Are you thinking of an Audi e-tron or Merc EQC? Personally I would go for the BMW.
The third ex-petrol? The Polestar 2. Trick answer: It was never gasoline, but it wasn’t always a Polestar either. Underneath is the Volvo XC40 again. Both are compact, park the Polestar here next to any other car (especially the Ioniq 5 forklift), and see how small it looks. Not really family transport. Put this sign instead: trimming gray beard, turtleneck, smart specs. Yes, the Polestar 2 is a Saab of late. Stylish business use only.
But fair play Polvo (or does Volestar play better?), your cars are commendably different. They also share a similar market territory (more hatchback than estate, prices in the sweet spot of £40-45k) as a pair of fast risers. The Koreans have come. We are now much further than ‘coming soon’. Voted European Car of the Year, the Kia EV6 is arguably the most contemporary piece of design to land in the industry in the past decade. They exude confidence in a way that even the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y can’t match. Are they perhaps a bit overwrought? The Kia is squint than Clint Eastwood, the Hyundai an origami Austin Allegro, or park next to the conventionally elegant Jaguar I-Pace and you’ll be worried about how fast fashion changes. And if you’ve got the specs right, the Ioniq is worryingly sensitive to color choice, the EV6 looks crappy unless it’s on big wheels (as does the Jag).
The only discouraging thing about the Koreans is their market positioning. See how many Tucsons and Sportages each shift. Millions. Unsurprisingly, this is the audience they’re chasing. They are crossovers rather than estates, but spacious enough and well thought out. The same goes for the Mustang Mach-E. It’s another car willing to sacrifice practicalities in the name of image. We love this car. It’s an honest bike, it wants you to have fun, even if it’s not very good at it. The ride is turbulent, but at least it tries to be captivating. It is also really efficient with its electrons and more practical than it looks. The heavily sloped tailgate won’t find favor with the family dog, remember.
This is a GT, the fast one with 480 hp. It’s the worst Mach-E Ford. Look, Tesla has made you think that performance matters. In family cars it only causes problems. They don’t have the brakes, body control, steering response or chassis agility to cope with. Anything that makes a good family car makes a poor performance car – and vice versa. The ones that are the most relaxing to drive are the ones that don’t try to thank you in the back all the time. So the Mach-E you must have is the single rear motor version with 265 horsepower and the 75 kWh battery. It goes from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds. Fast enough for you, Papa Cool. Take the big 98 kWh battery to brag – that’s 579 miles of range.
Range is the new 0-60. Range anxiety would be nothing at all if the charging infrastructure was good. Sorry, that’s a drum I’ve beaten before, but I can’t help but feel like the energy companies are the weak link right now. Government policy is pushing us towards electric cars, the manufacturers produce them and we buy them; but how should we use them? In the past, the unreliability of the charger was the problem, now it’s just the delivery – the public network is flooded. Great time to buy an electric car, right?
On to the sensible VW Group collective. We’re not breaking molds here, are we? Literally in fact: the Audi Q4, Skoda Enyaq and VW ID.4 not only share chassis, engines, battery and underpinnings, but also proportions. The same car cut three ways, and seen next to the farts Tesla, gung-ho Mustang, elegant Jag, urbane Polestar, and manga-inspired Koreans, they’re a bit joyless. The VW dealt itself the best cards. It’s the only one to get the dash-mounted spinning gear shifter and has the cleanest aesthetic. But try working with it while driving: changing the heating, the radio station or the settings. It is not fit for purpose. Skoda and Audi have more successfully sidestepped the software issues, but this body shape – versatile, useful – is more responsive to the values of some brands than others. skoda. Look, there’s an ice scraper hidden in the boot lid, the rear tables have flip-out cup holders and rubberised edges for a tablet.
It’s also the cheapest car in the whole range – you can have a basic version with the 58 kWh battery (252 miles claimed range) for £34,850 (about £440 a month) and a really nice one (329 miles plus extra bits) ) for less than £45k (about £610 a month). The Koreans are more expensive and not as well equipped as you might think. There’s no denying that they’re glitzier inside.
Where is this the Model Y? Well, I was skeptical before it showed up. The vaulted roof certainly adds space where you don’t need it and you can go on with the super-simple intentionally buttonless cab or don’t. It’s a different gravy. That packaging is smart. Most companies go for stadium seats with a second row higher than the first, allowing the hind legs to dangle. But Tesla has put the front seats on pedestals, allowing the occupants to get into that dome-shaped area, while allowing the rear legs to stretch out underneath. Sure, the car looks sloppy, but it works. And the boot space is huge – most of the floor space here – even if vertical space is limited. If you want a car that can take the blow, it’s this one, the iX3 or the Enyaq, with Skoda doing a better job carving out usable space than Volkswagen or Audi.
Now, the sticky topic of seven seats. No one here has them, and although Model Y’s are getting them out of state, in the UK they won’t be available for the foreseeable future. The Merc EQB is coming soon, otherwise you’ll love e-vans like the Citroën e-Berlingo or e-SpaceTourer.
We haven’t talked much about driving, other than pointing out that speed is crazy. The Jaguar is the benchmark for calm, clean and immersive driving, the Ioniq 5 its most polar opposite with swirling light steering and clunky handling. The others occupy the middle ground, but here’s what you need to know: electric really suits family cars. Simple, smooth, quiet. Progress made enchantingly, eerily easy, plus the thrill of regeneration. You’ve probably heard this before, but there’s not much to add. It’s just really annoying that after getting yourself carried away with feeling like you’re controlling the future, you have to stop dealing with a Luddite charging system. Unless you’re in the Tesla. The Supercharger network charges better. It’s still a valid, sensible reason to prefer the Model Y over its rivals.
Let’s stick with our previous premise: you want a usable family EV. We’re on three. The Model Y deserves its place. Hype is ahead of Tesla, but this is a good car. It just doesn’t have to be that fast or expensive – the Y, like the 3, should be available with the single-motor setup for less power, more range and lower cost. This entry-level Long Range is £54,990 – £739 per month. ouch. The Mustang Mach-E ticks the Top Gear boxes, there’s a bit of fizz about it, plus it’s efficient, well-equipped and cool inside. The Kia EV6 fulfills a similar mission, but comes close. The Skoda Enyaq is the practical, economical choice. This is the one that sheds dirt easily, bears slight battle scars, which will cost you the least to own and run. Upgrade to the 77 kWh battery if possible. That aside, this is the complete family package. Devil’s advocate: you can have a seven-seat Kodiaq with the hefty diesel for less. But what will that look like on the sustainable energy, biologically produced, ethically minded, ecologically clean campsite?