The best electric family cars: Top Gear’s big test
Two years ago, around the time COVID-19 kicked off, only one of these cars existed. Today, despite the vagaries of the virus, Brexit, semiconductors and supply chains, if you want an electric family car, you have no shortage of options. We’ve got 11 complete family electric vehicles here, cars that a) shouldn’t break the bank and b) can handle any job you might need, right down to camping trips this summer.
We used Tesla’s newly arrived Model Y as a rallying flag and collected everything that could potentially be considered a rival in it. They cover a price range of £35-65,000, or around £400 per month to £1,000. First point to make: there is no bad car here. And the one that gives up early might be the best fit for you. You will have to use your judgment on this. I’ll tell you why: the Jaguar I-Pace is still a good electric car – if what you want is a luxurious, effortless, beautiful and sleek driving machine. But you’re never going to toss sandy surfboards into the boot while surveying dripping ice cream cones within a hundred yards of that creamy leather, are you? One for the grandparents then. Tell them it’s coming Top Gear recommended.
Photography: Jonny Fleetwood
We are not looking for an overall winner then. Instead, the goal is to guide and suggest, to point out strengths and weaknesses. So let’s start with a bit of sorting. Three cars here were actually gasoline. You will easily identify two of them: the BMW iX3 and the Volvo XC40 Recharge. They just added names and filled in the grids. You think I’m going to pick on them because they’re not packaged very well. Only the Volvo. The BMW is an impressive piece of complete engineering. See, the i3 and i8 weren’t wasted, BMW just realized it didn’t need to try so hard. It’s a good car, with a large cargo area rivaled only by the Tesla and Skoda, but perhaps too conventional. And, starting at £60,970, expensive. Thinking of an Audi e-tron or Merc EQC? Personally, I would take the BMW instead.
The third ex-oil? The Polestar 2. Trick answer: it was never gasoline, but it wasn’t always a Polestar. Below is the Volvo XC40 again. Both are compact, park the Polestar next to any other car here (especially the heffalump Ioniq 5) and see how small it looks. Not really family transportation. Instead, insert this character: trim graying beard, turtleneck, smart specs. Yes, the Polestar 2 is a Saab of the last days. Elegant professional use only.
But fair play Polvo (or does Volestar play better?), your cars are remarkably dissimilar. They also share similar market territory (more hatchbacks than station wagons, prices in the £40-45k range) to a pair of fast lifters. The Koreans have arrived. We are well beyond “arriving” now. The Kia EV6 was voted European Car of the Year, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 is perhaps the trendiest piece of design to hit the industry in the last 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 little overworked? The Kia is sleazy than Clint Eastwood, the Hyundai and the origami Austin Allegro, park next to the sleek Jaguar I-Pace and you worry about how quickly fashion changes. And if you’ve got the spec right: the Ioniq is extremely sensitive to color choice, the EV6 looks crap unless it’s on big wheels (also applies to the Jag).
The only thing that is not brave about Koreans is their positioning in the market. Look at how many Tucsons and Sportages each change. Millions. No wonder it’s the public they’re chasing. They’re 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 practicality in the name of image. We love this car. It’s an honest engine, which wants you to have fun, even if it’s not very good at delivering it. The ride is turbulent, but at least it tries to be engaging. It is also genuinely efficient with its electrons and more practical than it seems. The steeply sloping tailgate will not find favor with the family dog, beware.
This is a GT, the fastest with 480 hp. This is the worst Mach-E Ford does. Look, Tesla made you think performance matters. In family cars, it just causes problems. They don’t have the brakes, body control, steering response or chassis dexterity to cope. Everything that makes a good family car makes a bad performance car – and vice versa. The ones that are the most relaxing to drive are the ones that don’t try to thank you behind your back all the time. So the Mach-E to have is the rear-drive single-motor version with 265hp and the 75kWh battery. It does 0 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds. Fast enough for you, Cool Dad. Have the big 98kWh battery for your bragging rights – that’s 379 miles of range.
The range is the new 0–60. Range anxiety wouldn’t be a thing at all if the charging infrastructure was good. Sorry, this is a drum I’ve banged on many times before, but I can’t help but feel that the energy companies are the weak link right now. Government policy pushes us towards electric cars, manufacturers produce them and we buy them; but how are we supposed to use them? The unreliability of the charger was the problem, now it’s just the supply – the public grid is saturated. It’s a good time to buy an electric car, huh?
Forward to the sensible-follow VW Group collective. Let’s not break any molds here, shall we? Literally in fact: the Audi Q4, Skoda Enyaq and VW ID.4 not only share the chassis, motors, battery and chainstays, but also the proportions. The same car cut three lanes, and seen alongside the farting Tesla, the gung-ho Mustang, the sleek Jag, the urban Polestar, and the manga-inspired Koreans, they’re slightly joyless. The VW has distributed the best cards. It’s the only one to have the dash-mounted twist shifter and it has the cleanest aesthetic. But just try to interact with it while driving: change the heating, the radio station or the settings. It is not suitable for use. Skoda and Audi have worked around software issues more successfully, but this body shape – versatile, useful – fits a brand’s values better than the others. Skoda. Look, there’s a concealed ice scraper in the trunk lid, the rear tray tables have fold-out cup holders and rubberized edges to hold a tablet.
It’s also the cheapest car in the whole range – you can have a base version with the 58kWh battery (claimed range of 252 miles) for £34,850 (about £440 per month) and a very nice one ( 329 miles plus extra bits) for under £45,000 (around £610 a month). The Koreans are more expensive and less well equipped than one might think. Undeniably, they are brighter on the inside.
Where does that leave Model Y? Well, I was skeptical before that happened. Its domed roof surely adds space where you don’t need it and either you continue with the super simple cabin on purpose without a button or you don’t. It’s a different sauce. This packaging is clever. Most companies opt for stadium seats with a second row higher than the first, allowing the rear legs to hang down. But Tesla placed the front seats on pedestals, elevating the occupants into that domed area, while allowing the rear legs to stretch below. Sure, the car looks clunky, but it works. And the boot area is massive – the biggest floor area here – even if vertical space is limited. If you want a car that will haul the clobber, it’s this one, the iX3 or the Enyaq, with Skoda doing a better job of creating usable space than Volkswagen or Audi.
Now the sticky topic of seven seats. None here have them, and while Model Ys in the US are getting them, in the UK they won’t be available for the foreseeable future. The Merc EQB will arrive shortly, otherwise you’re in e-vans like the Citroen e-Berlingo or e-SpaceTourer.
We haven’t talked much about the ride beyond pointing out that speed is stupid. The Jaguar is the benchmark for calm, clean and engaging handling, the Ioniq 5 its polar opposite with light steering and lumpen ride quality. The others occupy the happy medium, but here’s what you need to know: electric is well suited to family cars. Simple, smooth, silent. Bewitchingly made progress, oddly easy, plus the thrill of regeneration. You’ve heard this before, but there’s not much to add. It’s just deeply annoying that after feeling like you’re riding the future, you have to stop to deal with a Luddite charging system. Unless you’re into the Tesla. The Supercharger network charges better. It’s still a valid and sensible reason to choose the Model Y over its rivals.
Let’s stay with our previous premise: you want a useful family electric vehicle. We’re down to three. The Model Y earns its place. Hype is ahead of Tesla, but it’s a good car. It just doesn’t have to be as fast or expensive – the Y, like the 3, should be available with the single motor configuration for less power, more range and lower costs. This entry-level long range costs £54,990 to £739 per month. Ouch. The Mustang Mach-E ticks the Top Gear boxes, there’s a bit of fizziness about it, plus it’s efficient, well-equipped and cool inside. The Kia EV6 fulfills similar specifications and comes close, however. The Skoda Enyaq is the practical and economical choice. It’s the one that will get rid of dirt easily, wear battle scars lightly, cost you the least to own and run. If you can, upgrade to the 77kWh battery. Other than that, it’s the complete family package. Devil’s advocate: you can have a seven-seat Kodiaq with the beefy diesel for less. But how is it going to be on the renewable energy, bio-based, ethical and ecologically clean campsite?