Tuesday, 8 October 2019 The premium EV market is set to be transformed from almost empty to chock-full by 2021. Here are the main protagonists today – and a preview of what they might be in a couple of years' time
It’s a mark of the maturity of electric car technology that there is now a small but very fast-growing market for premium-branded EVs – and that every manufacturer is desperate to be seen to be at the very forefront of it.
Some of them are offering a luxury angle, others a performance bias – and some a bit of other. Some cars within it are big, others not so big. And while some come from established automotive industry powers, others are from more ‘disruptive’ outfits. Whatever you’re looking for, if you’re looking for the longest-legged and least compromised electric cars in the world, this chart is where you’ll find them.
This is where Teslas do battle with Mercedes’ EQs, BMW i cars, Audi E-trons and even new-groove Porsches. As a result of the infancy of this segment, a few of the cars we’ve listed aren’t quite on the market yet but are expected very soon – and where that’s the case, we won’t rank them until we’ve driven them. Whether here or not quite here, however, they are all reasons for the early-adopting EV crowd to get very excited.
*Best Premium Electric Cars 2019*
-1. Porsche Taycan-
Porsche has hit the electric car market with exactly the sort of impact you’d hope that an industry powerhouse of its stature might make. The Taycan, a four-door fast grand tourer that’s slightly smaller than the company’s existing Panamera model but is certainly not the lesser car of the two, inspired Editor-at-large Matt Prior to acclaim it as “the best electric car in the world” when he drove it in September – although he counselled readers “not to think that there’s all there is to it.”
Tested in top-of-the-range, 751bhp, near-£140k Turbo S specification, the Taycan impressed us with its deft and well-controlled handling, its super-responsive and urgent performance – but mostly for its clear driver focus, which remains rare to find among electric cars. Surprisingly tight body control (considering it’s a 2.3-tonne car), fine steering response and beautifully tuned controls really distinguish the car’s dynamic character which, claimed Prior, “is enough to make it more enjoyable to drive than any other current four-door Porsche.”
Due to be available in several less powerful versions, with WLTP-certified battery range of up to 280 miles and capable of charging at up to 270kW, the Taycan represents the state of the electric-car art in so many ways. UK driving impressions and more in-depth tests are coming soon.
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-2. Mercedes-Benz EQC-
An outright triumph in our electric SUV group test in September heralded the arrival of a new all-electric champion for people looking to combine practicality with performance, and luxury with sustainability in their next big car purchase – while also securing a car that can easily be used on a daily basis on UK roads. The Mercedes EQC 400 brushed aside challenges from Jaguar, Audi and Tesla on route to its big moment, overcoming all by virtue of its technology-laden and upmarket interior, its impressive blend of comfort and driver appeal, and its first-rate infotainment and navigation systems.
Sharing its platform with the related GLC, the EQC has twin electric motors, torque-vectoring four-wheel drive, and combined peak ouputs of 402bhp and 564lb ft. WLTP-verified battery range is 259 miles officially, with our tests suggesting that at between 80- and 90-per cent of that is reproducible in mixed real-world driving.
The EQC has plenty of driving modes, and there’s much complexity to get to grips with in configuring its many battery regeneration settings and semi-autonomous driver assist systems to your liking. But negotiate that hurdle and you’ll find the car very drivable and rounded at its best, as well as every bit as classy and luxurious as you’d want a £70,000 family car to be.
*Save money with new EQC deals from What Car?*
-3. Jaguar I-Pace-
The first luxury electric car from a mainstream manufacturer to directly challenge Tesla at the high end, the I-Pace delivers on its brief with standout handling dynamics, first-rate interior quality and a striking design that’s slightly more SUV than saloon. It sets the standard for ride and handling among its all-electric peers, delivers strong performance from its twin 197bhp motors, and feels like what a premium-branded electric car should: an unshackled, clean-sheet design.
The rarity of 100kW public chargers around the UK road network dents its potential as a long-range tourer somewhat, as does the car’s slightly below-par showing on real-world range (220 miles is a result worth celebrating) - although at least the former will improve quickly over time as infrastructure grows.
If you’re unlikely to rely on public rapid charging facilities or routinely to trouble the outer limits of the car’s electric autonomy potential, it’s a car we’d consider before any rival.
*Save money with new I-Pace deals from What Car?*
-4. Tesla Model S-
The car that persuaded the world that an electric saloon could be a viable alternative to a combustion-engined one, and that made the EV break into the luxury-car big time, would still be our pick of Tesla’s model catalogue for its combination of performance, usability, price and range.
In its most potent form, the Model S can accelerate with the ferocity of a super-saloon, and handles tidily enough – although without the tactile involvement you might expect of such a fast car. Overall, the Model S certainly makes a better luxury car than a driver’s car.
All models have a futuristic-feeling cabin topped off by a mammoth touchscreen infotainment system. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Supercharger network enables easier and more convenient long-range driving than many would imagine possible in an electric car, and practicality is exceptionally good thanks to good-sized boots at both ends of the car and an extra rearward-facing pair of jump seats available in the boot.
*Save money with new Model S deals from What Car?*
-5. Tesla Model 3-
The biggest name in electric cars has its sights set on becoming a real global heavyweight with the Model 3, and spreading its wings to lower price points and greater annual production volumes than it has ever reached before.
By the time this car hits full stride, it’s aimed to transform its maker into a company turning out more than half-a-million cars a year – and it has now arrived in the UK market, already bringing Tesla ownership to a sub-£40,000-paying audience. In ‘standard range’ form, meanwhile, the Model 3 is expected to make entry to the brand even more affordable come 2020.
The Model 3 Performance has two electric motors combining to the tune of 444bhp and a 0-62mph dash of just 3.4sec, it responds to throttle inputs in a way that really challenges your fine motor control as well as your neck muscles. Electric range should be better in other 75kWh versions of the Model 3, however – the Performance version delivering a real-world range closer to 200 miles than 300 in our testing experience. Opt for a ‘Standard Range Plus’, meanwhile, and some of the range-topping model’s pace is sacrificed, but plenty is left over – while real-world range is just over 200 miles.
The car’s cabin is certainly of higher perceived quality than in Tesla’s earlier models, but the back row’s a slightly tight squeeze for adult passengers, and the boot isn’t as roomy or as accessible as a Model S’s.
*Save money with new Model 3 deals from What Car?*
-6. Audi E-tron Quattro-
Audi has distilled the various qualities for which its revered brand is known and given all of them a new future-proofed home in its first series-production electric car: the E-tron Quattro SUV.
Sized to fit in between the firm’s existing Q5 and Q7 models but offering interior space to rival the latter, the E-tron is powered by a separate electric motor per axle and develops 402bhp and 487lb ft of torque in ‘boost’ driving mode. A Jaguar I-Pace is smaller, lighter, torquier and faster – but interestingly the E-tron beats its close British rival on overall battery capacity, offering 95kWh of storage, which is good for a claimed WLTP combined range of 249 miles.
Our first taste of the E-tron came in late 2018, on roads out in the Middle East, where the car impressed most with its classy and refined cabin ambience, its quiet cruising abilities and its Audi-brand-typical apparent build quality. The driving experience was impressive too, not least for its responsiveness and muscular feel up to motorway speeds, while precise and well-balanced handling completed the picture.
The E-tron’s strong suits make it a superb luxury car, although it doesn’t have quite as much driver appeal as certain rivals.
*Save money on new E-tron deals from What Car?*
-7. Tesla Model X-
The sheer size and bulk of Tesla’s biggest model, the seven-seat Model X SUV, is what penalises it relative to its range-mates.
It’s currently in a league of one as far as all-electric seven-seat SUVs are concerned, and so it seems a bit churlish to criticise it in some ways. Nonetheless, if you’re expecting Model S range and performance in a bigger, more versatile package, you’re headed for disappointment. Our testing suggests even range-topping 100kWh versions of the car won’t go much further than 200 miles at typical UK motorway speeds, with the cheaper ones struggling to pass 150 unless you’re conservative with your cruising speed.
Still, if that kind of range suits your purposes, you’ll find an awful lot to like here. With upper-level versions packing more than 600 horsepower, the Model X is well capable of beating 4.0sec to 60mph and can feel fast in a way you wouldn’t believe possible of such a large and heavy car. Handling is dulled somewhat by the car’s mass, but still more than credible enough to make the Model X feel coherent at pace.
Meanwhile, until you’ve seen a pair of all-electric gullwing doors opening automatically in a multi-storey car park and cleverly avoiding any nearby cars or masonry while doing it, you won’t fully appreciate the Model X’s party trick.
*Save money with new Model X deals from What Car?*
-8. Tesla Model Y-
Tesla boss Elon Musk claims the recently announced Model Y crossover SUV has even greater sales potential than the Model 3 saloon, and should be twice as popular when it launches in North America in 2020. It will share the Model 3’s platform and much of its component set but will be the first Tesla built at the company’s Gigafactory 1 site in Nevada, USA. A European delivery schedule has yes to be announced.
-9. BMW iX3-
This will be an electrified version of BMW’s X3 SUV, and so a direct rival for the Audi E-tron, Mercedes EQC and Jaguar I-Pace, due in the UK market in 2020. It’s set to share a platform with the current X3, and to have “more than 70kWh” of on-board battery capacity, according to BMW.
-10. BMW i4-
The BMW i4 will follow the iX3 to market in 2021. Set to be Munich’s answer to the Tesla Model 3, it’s already in late-stage development and is claimed to be good for close to 400 miles of range and 0-62mph in 4.0sec flat. It will share a factory, a platform and a design resemblance with BMW’s forthcoming 4 Series Gran Coupé.
The brand with the four rings entered the electric era with the start of production of the Audi e-tron in the Brussels plant. The tradition-steeped production site was first extensively modernized and is now one of the most modern production sites for electric models in Europe. The electric drives...