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Saturday 25th March

Top Gear mag's greatest cars - electric

These days, electricity has become the motive force of choice. Huzzah for cable cars

  • For Top Gear magazine's 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here's our pick of the best EVs

    It begins with nothingness. For TG’s early history there were no electrified cars. Actually, one-off fuel-cell concept cars had begun to look pretty swish, but they faced some compelling obstacles, such as costing gazillions to build and relying on non- existent infrastructure to refuel. All this time later, we have the cars. Now the fuel, please.

    There had been some pure-electric cars too, but they had lead-acid batteries. You know, like milk floats. A couple of years into Top Gear’s life, things began to happen. General Motors, in response to a planned American law, launched the futuristic electric EV1. The law wasn’t enacted. So GM crushed them. It said it was avoiding the expense of supporting them with spares, but it looked like GM was in the pocket of Big Oil. Clever car, tragically dumb PR.

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  • Meanwhile in Japan, Toyota invented the Prius and launched it exactly 20 years ago. Its full-parallel hybrid system, unaltered in principle but endlessly developed, still leads the world for efficient use of petrol. But it scores zero for driving fun. Small wonder when Ferrari and Porsche and McLaren said they were working on electrified supercars, the easy option was to sneer. But those hypercar engineers succeeded in their aims as brilliantly as Toyota’s engineers had with theirs.

    So in today’s world, petrol and electricity can mix in any number of ways. At one extreme, what are essentially electric cars with on-board generators. At the other, very mild helping-hand motors where you’d never, from the feel of the car, realise you were in a hybrid at all. That palette of technologies means Volvo can now say all its new cars after 2019 will be “electrified”.

  • After the GM EV1, the pure EV went away for a time. A time in which portable power started to fill our lives. Lithium-ion cells transformed phones and laptops, and some far-sighted people realised they could do the same for cars.

    Mitsubishi decided to use them for a lightweight, cheap city car, the i-MiEV, the first proper EV you could get here. All very nice, but hardly charismatic. New entrant Tesla decided to come in with something that’d get noticed: an exotic, carbon-fibre-skinned two-seater that could do 0–62mph in under 4.0secs. Job done. Nissan’s Leaf and, soon after, partner Renault’s Zoe, became the EVs for the rest of us, while BMW took its brave pills and launched the i sub-brand and revolutionary aluminium and carbon construction for the i3 and i8 – electrified BMWs that drive like “normal” BMWs.

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  • The Tesla revolution rolled on, not just with the Model S but with the supercharger network. And now that Tesla has shown long-range EVs are a thing, the old-established companies are running to catch up, not just by designing connected near-autonomous 300-mile EVs, but by building their own rapid-charging networks. They justify the earlier foot-dragging by saying Tesla hasn’t made money yet. Tesla would say that was never its primary aim. It simply wanted to push the world to greener cars. Mind you, the new Model 3 will make Tesla some dough. It is, measured by orders received, by far the fastest-selling car of any kind ever.

  • Tesla Model S

    A tentative squeeze on the accelerator is like dipping your toe in a reservoir of torque, better to build up to it gradually. It really feels like the future

    First luxury EV, first long-range five-seat EV. It’s also been the vessel for other Tesla revolutions: major over-the-air updating, near-autonomous driving, the supercharger network. World-changing

  • BMW i3

    Everyone who’s been in the i3 has been warmed by it. Whether we approached it curious, indifferent or hostile, we all came away affectionate 

    Awesome urban car; roomy, easy to see out of, great to drive. And it’s given rise to the i8. REx engine option had a psychological role, but 120- mile battery and fast charger have helped mor

  • Toyota Prius MkII

    It’s a rolling interactive energy conservation video game with, in a roundabout way, cash prizes. It is somehow magical, which is quite an achievement for what is perilously close to being a vegetarian’s car 

    On a fun road, absolutely grim. But in town it is quiet and very economical. Aero helps on motorways too. Reliable as mortalit

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