It’s taken a while, but electric vehicles are finally finding their feet in Australia. Sales are growing – albeit from a low base - and there are dozens of new models due soon.
But there are also plenty on sale right now, giving consumers a viable alternative to the plethora of petrol and diesel cars that have kept us moving for decades.
Here are 10 of the best.
1. Tesla Model 3
It only arrived in 2019 but the Model 3 is by far the top selling EV in the country, in part because it’s sharply priced, drives nicely and has that Tesla wow factor. That includes everything from indicators that can be programmed to make fart sounds to using your smartphone as the key. The Model 3 is as much as tech trinket as it is a means of efficient and engaging transport.
It also makes EV life simple, with access to a broad charging network that is (for now) bespoke to Tesla owners, as well as a usable range of at least 400km.
The Model 3 is available in three flavours, each stepping up in price.
The base Standard Range Plus drives only the rear wheels, while Long Range and Performance add an additional electric motor for all-wheel drive performance. Whichever you pick there’s no shortage of excitement when you plant your right foot.
A sparse interior is glistening with sunlight courtesy of a standard glass roof, which might let a little too much light in for some during the height of summer. Just be prepared to get used to a different operating experience, much of which is contained in the 15-inch touchscreen that dominates the dashboard.
2. Tesla Model S
The first Tesla into the country is also still one of the best. Launched here in 2014, the large five-seat sedan aimed at the heartland of the luxury car market to prove EV propulsion can be competitive – a strategy that worked brilliantly for the electric car pioneer.
There have been various iterations of Model S over the years with differing battery capacities and performance attributes. It was once the number on the rump that defined how big the battery was and how fast the car was, but more recently Tesla has reverted to more obvious model nomenclatures, including Long Range and Performance.
But one thing has remained constant: all travel a decent distance on a charge and accelerate with the sort of enthusiasm many luxury rivals revert to a V8 engine for.
Some versions of the Model S are positively ballistic, aided by Tesla’s Ludicrous mode that unleashes the full fury of that acceleration.
As with all Teslas, over-the-air updates tweak the software and occasionally introduce new features, in much the same way as your smartphone updates its apps for added functionalities.
Early cars into the country also came with free charging for life at Tesla’s fast-charging Supercharger network, adding to their appeal on the used-car market. And it’s the used market you’ll have to focus on if you want a Model S quickly, because anyone ordering one of the 2021 update models now is being told it won’t arrive until at least late 2022.
3. Nissan Leaf
Nissan learnt plenty from its first iteration of the Leaf, which makes the second one a more convincing option. The sizeable five-door hatchback – while it’s compact on the outside, it’s closer in its sprawling interior space to a mid-sized car – arrived in 2019 with a keen eye on the entry-level segment of the EV market.
To be fair, entry-level is a relative term and the Leaf is priced closer to petrol-powered mid-sizers that either pack in a heap more equipment or plant a more appealing badge on the nose.
Still, the Leaf has plenty to offer, including punchy acceleration and a Bose sound system. The more expensive Leaf e+ gets a bigger battery that unleashes more power and bigger distances between charges.
Less endearing is the foot-operated park brake and basic handling.
One big future appeal of the Leaf is the promise of bi-directional charging, allowing the car to feed electricity back into the grid (potentially earning you a few bucks on the side) or even power your house. If you can charge the car from solar during the day it could potentially make the car a battery storage unit that doubles as family transport. Additional hardware is required for that bi-directional charging capability and it’s awaiting government approval, something anticipated by 2022.
If it’s range you want then the Kona Electric delivers. The official claimed range according to the more realistic European WLTP measurement is 484km and the Kona will easily power on past 400km in everyday driving.
Impressively, its onboard range predictor also does a terrific job of keeping you informed of when those electrons are likely to run dry.
In 2021 a slightly less powerful Standard Range model joined the lineup with a smaller battery that reduced the range to 305km.
Elsewhere, the Kona electric is very Kona like. It shares its compact SUV body with the regular Kona that sells for about half the price.
That makes the basic interior presentation tougher to digest, although Hyundai throws plenty of equipment at it to reduce the sticker shock. A Harman Kardon sound system is standard fare, for example, as is leather trim.
The Kona Electric is also a peppy thing on the road, with ample urge for zipping around town or overtaking on a country road.
5. Jaguar I-Pace
The Jaguar I-Pace is an electric SUV that was arguably ahead of its time.
While luxury rivals adapted their architectures from internal combustion engines to an all-electric setup, Jaguar started from scratch to create a car that packaged batteries and electric motors exactly where engineers wanted them. It also led to some interesting design features, including the hole in the bonnet that improves aerodynamics while creating a very Jaguar look up front.
The result is a car that managed an uncanny blend of space and electric driving excitement that is even sprinkled with unexpected hints of off-road ability.
Not that anyone would dare get those large road-focused tyres or the modern interior dusty…
The I-Pace is more about sleek on-road manners, albeit in a way that never really tempted many buyers.
It hasn’t been a big hit sales-wise, somehow lacking the hype and excitement of EV contenders that arrived later.
All of which makes the I-Pace something of a dark horse in the used car market.
6. BMW i3
A decade ago no one would have guessed BMW would unleash a rear-wheel drive hatchback made mostly of carbon fibre and with back doors that were hinged at the rear.
But the BMW i3 was all about throwing intriguing technology and lashings of innovation at the EV equation, while at the same time ensuring anyone within eye sight of it knew it was just that little bit different.
Core to the i3’s appeal is innovative materials. Open the doors and you see some carbon fibre, which is the main material used in the body. Once reserved for F1 cars, BMW achieved something of a manufacturing miracle to make it work for a city hatchback.
The long dashboard and insides of the doors are also trimmed in recycled material that is unlike any other, adding to the personality oozing from BMW’s first city EV.
While it was available as a range extender (or Rex) – which uses a tiny two-cylinder to charge the batteries, allowing longer journeys fuelled by petrol – it’s the EV model that holds most appeal.
Battery capacities have been creeping up over the years, making new iterations more desirable because they’ll go further between charges (while most EV makers measure battery capacity in kilowatt-hours, BMW reverts to amp-hours; the principal is the same, in that the bigger the number the better).
Sharp and accurate steering, a super tight turning circle and playful rear-drive dynamics add some fun factor to a hatch that definitely stands out.
But beware you’ve got to open the front doors before swinging those smaller rear doors open, which makes it better for singles and couples than those planning to regularly use the back seats.
7. Hyundai Ioniq
Not to be confused with the Ioniq 5 that goes on sale in Australia late in 2021, the Ioniq was one of Hyundai’s first EVs, albeit one also available as a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. What it lacks in range (it’s claimed at up to 311km) it partly makes up for with a tempting price tag that has it as one of the more affordable pure EVs on sale.
Performance from the single electric motor driving the front wheels is modest by EV standards but easily outdoes many petrol-powered city runabouts.
Similarly, the way it tackles a corner is more about commuting than starting any driving excitement parties.
Inside, the Ioniq has a basic cabin that is spiced up with leather, a digital instrument cluster and some push button gear selectors.
8. Mercedes-Benz EQC
Mercedes-Benz’s first electric vehicle aimed squarely at the sweet spot of the luxury market: the mid-sized SUV. Using some body components of the mainstream GLC model, the EQC400 is also about the same size, albeit a lot heavier because of a battery pack that provides an electric range of 417km.
Dual electric motors provide all-wheel drive traction and a claimed 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds, so there’s no shortage of go.
With a low centre of gravity, the EQC also slices through corners beautifully, while lapping up highway kilometres with the sort of comfort few Mercs in recent years come close to.
Part of the reason for that is its unique suspension setup. There are traditional coil springs up front but an air suspension system at the rear and the emphasis is very much on smothering bumps (unusually for a luxury car costing well into six figures there are no adjustable dampers).
Equipment levels are also high, including everything from electrically adjustable heated seats and an electric tailgate to ambient lighting, smart key entry and blind spot monitoring.
9. Audi e-Tron
Best get used to the e-Tron name because the EV sub-brand is set to spawn an entire family, including the e-Tron GT and e-Tron Q4.
But for now it’s just the plain old e-Tron, which is about the size of an Audi Q5 but with much more space inside because of the underpinnings that package a battery pack in the floor and an electric motor on either axle.
Available as a 50 or more powerful (and longer range) 55, the e-Tron packs in plenty of performance in a car that also happens to be terrific fun to drive.
The Sport mode dials up the peak power slightly, but even in regular mode there’s a thoroughly handy 230kW to play with in the e-Tron 50 and a full 300kW in the e-Tron 55.
There’s depth to its dynamic ability, too, with enough plushness to smother bumps but the sort of grip and agility that relish some twists and turns.
10. Mini Electric
Take one Mini Hatch and replace the engine and gearbox with batteries and an electric motor.
Yep, it’s a very simple formula with the thoroughly loveable Mini Electric, which retains plenty of that retro-infused Mini flavour with the occasional electric reminder, including some stylised “e” logos and a more futuristic-looking grille.
Performance is modest, the electric driving range even more so. The Mini Electric appears to be more about ticking the EV box than stretching any boundaries.
But the Mini Electric ensures enough of that fun-ness that comes with the brand.
While it’s unlikely to redefine electric mobility – Mini has much more coming to head down that path – it allows those who want a Mini to drive around emissions-free.