The high upfront cost of new EVs is one of the biggest barriers in the switch to zero emissions transport, so could a used electric car be the solution?
Every year in the UK, sales of used cars generally outnumber brand-new purchases by around three to one. Now that EVs account for nearly one in five new vehicles sold (petrol cars still lead the way with 40% of the market), there’s going to be a much healthier choice of second-hand electric cars as the years roll on.
The used electric vehicle market is dominated by two of the EV pioneers – the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe – but there are other cars also worth considering. Let’s take a closer look.
Volkswagen e-Golf (2014-2020)
If you’re looking to switch from an ICE (internal combustion engine) car to an EV, the Volkswagen e-Golf is one of the best stepping stones. Okay, so it only has a small 35.8kWh battery and a claimed range of 144 miles – making it more of a smooth and refined urban choice – but on the plus side, it’s just like a conventional Golf to drive, which is no bad thing. Add good looks, build quality and top badge appeal and you have an EV that’s definitely worth a test drive. Starting at around £10,000, expect to pay around £14,000 for a late model with low miles.
Kia Soul EV (2014-2019)
If you can live with its quirky design, the Soul EV is a surprisingly good all-round package. An electric version of the Soul has been available in the UK since 2014. Back then, it had a small 27kWh battery pack with a claimed range of 132 miles. The second generation Soul is now looking good value, extracting a claimed range of 131-151 miles from its battery pack (27kWh or 30kWh). Easy to drive, there’s room for five inside, but boot space is modest. Starting as low as £7,000, a 30kWh model from 2018 might be the best option. And just like all Kia cars, the Soul had a seven-year warranty new, so there should be some cover left over.
Nissan Leaf (2011-2017)
An EV pioneer, the first-generation Leaf may have oddball looks and is nothing special to drive but it’s still worth considering as a starter electric car. Think shopping trips and school runs, rather than family holidays and epic day trips. Earlier models had a 24kWh battery, so it’s worth looking for a later Leaf with the bigger 30kWh unit. That said, we’ve seen a 2011 model advertised for just £3,495. The downside is that it’s done 106,000 miles and the seller says there’s just 40 miles of range on a full charge. Thankfully there are lots of late, low milers out there with plenty of range left. We found a 2016 30kWh model advertised with 29,000 miles on the clock for £5,990.
Top tip: A minority of Leafs were originally sold with a battery lease option.
Hyundai Ioniq Electric (2017–2022)
When it was originally launched, the Ioniq was the only car in the world to be offered with pure electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The original EV had a small 28kWh battery pack, giving a 174-mile range. A facelifted Ioniq in 2019 brought a bigger (38.3kWh) battery and a claimed range of 193 miles. Futuristically designed and well-equipped, it’s not the most engaging of electric cars to drive but does the job. Early models start below £10,000 but expect to pay at least £14,000 for a later low miler with a bigger battery. And remember, Hyundai cars come with a five-year warranty, so a 2020 model will still have some peace of mind remaining.
Renault Zoe (2012-)
Another EV pioneer, the Zoe may look much the same now as when it was first launched but it was treated to a big facelift in 2020 and the battery and electric motors have also received boosts. Early models came with a standard 22kWh battery, while post-2017 examples are available with a 41kWh battery, followed by a 52kWh option in 2020. Range varies from 130 – 250 miles, depending on the battery size. Cute and nippy, older cars start at less than £5,000. However, we’d suggest paying closer to £8-10,000 for a low mileage example with a bigger battery, unless you just plan to use it as a city runabout.
Top tip: Many Zoes had leased batteries, so it’s worth double-checking or you could end up with a monthly payment starting at around £49, depending on your planned mileage. On the plus side, there is some peace of mind because Renault will repair or replace the battery pack if capacity drops below 75% of what it was when leaving the factory.
Kia e-Niro (2019-2022)
The first generation of this family-sized EV crossover from South Korea’s Kia may not look terribly exciting but it’s practical, refined, reliable and delivers a decent drive. What’s more, it came with a seven-year warranty, so you should end up with a few years’ cover left if you choose an e-Niro. Available with two battery options (39kWh or 64kWh), the range varied accordingly (up to 180 or 282 miles). Starting at around £18,000, we’d recommend going for a bigger battery model – a great choice with a long real-world range which still beats many new EVs.
Smart EQ Fortwo (2017-)
This dinky two-seater (cabrio or hatchback) is perfect for zipping around town and parking in the smallest of spaces. If you need four seats, then its bigger brother, the Smart EQ Forfour, is also worth considering. Neither has a huge range (up to 96 miles on paper), but they are both nippy, great fun and well-built. With its tiny 17.6kWh battery, the Smart EQ For is very much a city car. They have been built since 2007, but we’d suggest opting for a post-2017 “fourth generation” model. Expect to pay at least £11,000 for a decent low miler.
Hyundai Kona Electric (2018-2023)
A cousin to the Kia e-Niro, the Kona crossover should definitely be on your second-hand EV shortlist. Depending on the battery size (39kWh or 64kWh), it had a claimed range of 180-279 miles. Smart, easy to drive and space for the family, a used Kona starts at around £14,000. As all Hyundai cars are sold with a five-year warranty, the later year you buy the more remaining warranty will be carried over. The sweet spot may well be a 2020 model with a bigger battery and low mileage for less than £20,000.
BMW i3 (2013-2022)
Another EV stalwart, the i3 is fun to drive, innovative, quirky and surprisingly spacious. It’s aged well, too, and there’s plenty of choice on the used car market. With an initial battery capacity of just 22kWh, 2016 saw the arrival of a larger 33kWh battery, followed by an electric motor power boost in 2017, along with a makeover. Finally, a 42.2kWh battery was introduced in 2019. Interestingly, the i3 was also available as a range extender (REX), which used a 650cc, two-cylinder motorbike engine as a generator to top up the car’s batteries when they’re depleted, without directly driving the wheels. The range varied from 100 to 190 miles, depending on the size of the battery. Older i3s start below £10,000, but £16-20,000 should buy a very tidy 2020 car.
Volkswagen e-up! (2014-2022)
And finally, the electric version of VW’s cracking up! city car. Very similar to its rarer Volkswagen Group EV cousins, the SEAT Mii Electric and Skoda Citigo e iV, this is another great option for urban dwellers and should put a smile on your face. If possible, avoid the earliest examples (with a tiny 18.7kWh battery and a range of just 100 miles), and go for the later 36.8kWh version, which had a range of up to 161 miles (in theory). Older e-up! models start at £8,000. We’ve seen 2021 cars with bigger battery and very low mileage for around £13,000.