What's the best electric car on a budget? | Top Gear
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What's the best electric car on a budget?

Smart’s electric Fortwo is the cheapest EV on the market, but is it the most cheerful?

Published: 27 Apr 2022

“You get what you pay for” is one of the most irritatingly obvious expressions ever, but it does usefully explain commerce in a handy short sentence. Of course, its true meaning is that if you aren’t prepared to spend a lot of money, you shouldn’t expect a lot in return. Unless you’re buying a sofa, in which case there’s always a sale on somewhere, but hurry it must finish Sunday.

Electric cars are a particularly good case in point – the cheapest one on the market at the moment is the Smart EQ Fortwo, at least until the Citroen Ami arrives on the UK scene. It does say a lot about the current state of the car market that the cheapest electric vehicle you can buy is a perky £20,725 (a mere £70 extra to get yourself the larger Forfour, incidentally) including the government’s £1,500 plug-in car grant, which on past form it is happy to whip away with barely a moment’s notice. Presumably as an incentive to buy an EV before it gets more expensive.

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For that £21k you get the familiar city friendly Smart package, but kitted out with an 80bhp e-motor, 17kWh battery and a 22kW onboard charger. That battery is especially on the small side, teenier than you’ll find in a lot of PHEVs on sale today, with an official WLTP range of around 80 miles. Which in practice will mean a range of significantly less than 80 miles. You don’t have too far to go, do you?

The entry model is the Premium spec car, which bags you a panoramic sunroof (although how panoramic can it be in such a tiny vehicle?), heated seats, smartphone connectivity and even a rearview camera for the tricky task of parking the Smart. There’s even a bit of extra insulation in the doors to stop the heat escaping, because warming up the cabin has a dreadful effect on range.

Now those are all magnificent luxuries – if you want a car that wears its cheapness on its sleeve, then you’ll probably prefer to wait until June, when the threadbare Citroen Ami goes on sale. The French firm is still busy trying to decide what it can afford to stick in the car and not lose money on it, so it’s yet to confirm final prices and specifications. But suffice to say that smartphone connectivity here will probably involve taping your mobile to the dashboard. 

But who could complain about a lack of standard kit (electric windows? Pah, you get little glassy flaps like cars from the good olde days) when the proposed price of the Ami is less than £6k? With prices like those, millennials can still eat smashed avocado for breakfast every morning and have some wheels to call their own. Until it comes to charging the car back up again, of course. But at least it’s not powered by gas.

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Sure, the Ami is limited to a snail-like 28mph, and yes it has a paltry 5.5kWh battery and 46-mile range, but who needs more than that around town? For the 300 people who will end up actually buying one (versus the many thousands who say they would on social media) it’ll be perfect. Besides, you get what you pay for, don’t you. 

Best electric vehicle on a budget – Smart EQ Fortwo
Price: £20,725
Range: 81 miles
Engine: 80bhp e-motor
Battery: 17kWh
Top speed: 81mph
Boot space: 260 litres
Likely number of miles before paralysing range anxiety sets in: 14

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