► The top EVs to buy used in 2020
► City-friendly minis to luxury SUVs
► Secondhand cars with tomorrow’s tech
Buying a second-hand electric car used to be difficult and feel risky. Open up your favourite classifieds site and, more often than not, you’d find only a handful of used electric vehicles (EVs) for sale.
As concerns about emissions continued to grow, however, so did the supply and demand of electric cars – spurred on by new technologies, new partnerships, new models and rapidly improving infrastructure.
Sales figures alone aptly demonstrate the rising interest in electric cars; in, sales of pure electric vehicles rose by over 60% – and, while they only account for a minuscule 0.6% of the market, that number will only grow as time marches on.
Ever-increasing sales of new EVs means that, usefully, there is now a far wider range of all-electric hatchbacks, SUVs and saloons available on the used market. So, if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, here are our top used electric car recommendations, with something for all budgets and shopping lists.
Further electric car reading:
Why are electric cars so expensive?
According to the latest findings from the Auto Trader Retail Price Index, most types of used cars’ average market prices are slowing in growth while the average asking prices of electric vehicles (EVs) are jumping the trend, growing at a rate of 11%. The average asking price for an electric vehicle (EVs) is £23,361 – by far the highest out of all other types of powertrains.
'When it comes to low-emission vehicles, the industry is facing a Catch-22 situation,' said Karolina Edwards-Smajda, Auto Trader’s director of commercial products. 'The growing appetite of AFVs [alternative fuel vehicles] offer the industry a great opportunity for growth, but for mass adoption, the average price needs to be more accessible to more people. However, with so few vehicles in the market, even second-hand cars are being pushed out of financial reach for most consumers.'
Buying a used electric car
Buying a used EV is, essentially, much like buying any secondhand car. In fact, some aspects are much better, with brake wear reduced thanks to regenerative technology (many Nissan Leafs were still on their original discs and pads after 60,000 miles), less dirt and pollution from oil and combustion, and simple single-speed transmissions.
The downside is that if things go wrong, repairs can still be very expensive and time-consuming. If a deal looks too good to be true, it could be a much bigger gamble than you anticipated...
Top used EVs to buy in 2020
Here are the best EVs to buy used, how much to expect to pay, and why they’re worth considering as your next car.
- Price new: £82,405 - £106,305
- Price used: £25,090 - £90,090
Such is the power of Elon Musk’s Tesla brand, it comes close to taking a Veblen good and making it a household name for all electric cars. Close, but no cigar, as until recently Tesla has lacked the kind of mass-market reach that made people call all vacuum cleaners Hoovers. Don’t believe that can still happen? Just google it.
The undeniably high-end Model S has been out for several years now, though, and although the longest-range models had a six-figure new price, you can get the earliest examples from around £30,000. Don’t be fooled into paying above the odds for nearly-new examples; Tesla slashed the new price of certain models by up to £30,000 in early 2019, with an equally dramatic effect on residuals. This ludicrous price cut is appropriate for a car that includes a ‘Ludicrous’ mode, propelling a seven-seater executive fastback to 62mph in 2.5 seconds.
Tesla’s tendency to sell upgrades and offer over-the-air updates means that a 2015 Model S may be a very different car by 2020, but with no major changes to the design, and continued reliance on the Supercharger network for efficient charging, the experience of a used Tesla won’t be much different to the rarefied heights of a showroom-fresh example. Just don’t expect to get a full charge overnight from your household socket…
CAR verdict: ‘The EV for long-distance drivers and the fashion-conscious, but being one of the first means there could still be a few bugs to iron out’
- Price new: £64,495 - £74,995
- Price used: £51,460 - £72,930
You might not find many Jaguar i-Paces available used yet, but they’re worth waiting for. Think of it like a Tesla designed with more British sensibilities and scale, and engineered by people who started out making sports cars, not software, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
EV credentials first, then – 90kWh, 395bhp from dual motors (all-wheel drive, of course) and a claimed 298-mile range, it’ll hit 60mph in well under five seconds, and unlike many EVs the top speed isn’t capped at an artificially low level. Jaguar’s experience in building all-aluminium bodies means the i-Pace has a low centre of gravity despite the weight of that battery pack, and it rides superbly.
The i-Pace also handles well – adjustable, grippy, and fun to drive on more challenging roads. Inside, the interior feels traditionally sporting rather than forced-futurism, with controls focused on the driver and relatively conventional dual touch screens. The flat-floor design means it feels spacious – the centre console floats – but it’s not a full-on people-carrier, and the sloping roof limits ultimate practicality (and rearward visbility – you’ll appreciate the reversing camera). All the concept-car stuff is outside, where the Jaguar is about as beautiful as you can get for a 4x4-esque crossover.
CAR verdict: 'Cutting-edge design, but more importantly, genuinely good to drive'
- New price: £70,400 to £115,705
- Used price: £49,565 - £101,420
Of course there are two Teslas on the list – it’s the only manufacturer with a range entirely made up of electric models. The Model X is a super-futuristic crossover MPV/SUV with seven seats (forward-facing. Which to be fair, is any UK parking space, as the Model X is really big – disguising that bulk reasonably effectively with the grille-less design language shared by all Teslas. The panoramic windscreen extends across the roof all the way to the pert sloping tail with concealed spoiler, so it feels amazingly light inside. Ironic, really – it’s as heavy as a Range Rover.
The Model X is also devastatingly fast for a car of this size, reaching 62mph in less than five seconds (3.1 seconds for the P100D) and of course, it’s all-wheel drive and has a range similar to many petrol-powered SUVs, around 280 miles between Supercharger stops.
As a near six-figure car new, the Model X’s used values are still very high – but you get a unique, technically advanced car with unparalleled abilities and futuristic design throughout. If you think that at this price a car should drive itself, too – well, it comes close. Find a model with Enhanced Autopilot and your dreams will almost be answered.
CAR verdict: 'This is an SUV that’s all about performance in both senses; it’ll show-off at the Supercharger, and show up many supercars. But the driving experience is detached, and as digital as the tech behind it'
- Price new: £27,995 - £35,895
- Price used: £7995 - £39,395
By rights, Nissan should be the dominant force in EVs in the UK – but the quirky-looking Leaf probably did more to sideline their appeal to mainstream motorists, with odd proportions and a strange, grille-less face. You won’t mistake a Leaf for any other Nissan, that’s for sure.
By being unrelated to any other Nissan, however, the Leaf gets to be clever. Opera seating for the rear passengers helps the feeling of spaciousness, and allows Leaf occupants to have a little bit of SUV high-riding freedom without the associated bulk. A bespoke bodyshells allows class-leading safety and of course, a class-leading range at the time, making the Leaf one of the first truly usable electric cars. The 108bhp motor allows brisk performance, though maximum speed is limited to 93mph.
Both 24kWh, and later 30kWh models, are available, and DC fast charging is supported – though that does accelerate the loss of battery capacity over time that EVs suffer. Post-2013 models are the better buy, and the second-generation Leaf from 2018 on is a very accomplished, affordable mainstream EV. Like the Renault Zoe, some models are part of a battery leasing scheme.
CAR verdict: 'An amazingly un-rubbish electric alternative to combustion powered hatchbacks'
- Price new: £35,180 - £39,670
- Price used: £14,000 - £41,995
Somewhat surprisingly, one of the best value used EVs is the BMW i3. A clever car, with carbonfibre construction and little shared with other BMWs, the i3’s appeal is more than badge-deep; it’s a groundbreaking EV that demonstrates the advantages of thinking differently. Inside, natural materials and exposed carbon weave underline the 21st-century futurism of the quirkly pillarless four-door supermini, and underneath there’s a relatively small 22kWh (60Ah in BMW-speak) battery, which provides a short range, but faster charge to full capacity.
As you’d expect from a BMW, there’s a performance edge – by EV standards, the 168bhp motor is very generous, particularly in a car this light. It’ll reach 62mph in 7.2 seconds. Later models include the 33kWh ‘94Ah’, with increased range and DC fast charging, and the i3 S with sport suspension, sharper handling and 6.9-second 62mph sprint.
Like the idea of the i3, but still enjoy visiting petrol stations? There’s also the i3 REx – range extender – that uses a BMW scooter engine as a generator to top up the battery charge for an extra 80-90 miles of range. The latest i3s are available with a 42kWh (120Ah) option which matches the range of the REx, but you’ll find a fair number of used RExs available if you want the peace of mind of an on-board generator.
CAR verdict: 'Eye-catching design, spacious interior and engaging driving experience – an immensely likeable, very quick city car'
- Price new: £33,840
- Price used: £18,076 - £34,000
Where some manufacturers go for bespoke electric models, a few jumped on the bandwagon by converting existing cars; a proven path for short-range experiments for decades, there’s inevitably a compromise in the engineering and packaging. Volkswagen’s 2017-on e-Golf is more successful than most, though – and has the advantage of being a completely normal looking car.
For tech-obsessed early adopters, that can border on disappointing – even inside, aside from the instruments and stubby gearlever, it’s all normal Golf. No clever materials or futurism, just popular family hatchback. And on the improved 2017-on models, a startup beep that always gets Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” stuck in your head.
What isn’t disappointing is how the e-Golf drives. It’s more in tune with enthusiast’s needs, and although the real-world range is not quite as impressive as some rivals, the 35.8kWh battery and 134bhp motor allow 0-62mph in under 10 seconds and a claimed range of 186 miles when launched. The extra weight of the battery is well distributed, and even the above-floor bootspace is unchanged (though you do need to carry that charging cable).
CAR verdict: 'Decent real-world performance, cohesive dynamics and compelling fundamental togetherness - a, very classily-executed everyday car'
- Price new: £18,443 - £31,520
- Price used: £6495 - £31,520
Quietly making its way onto British roads in 2013, the Zoe’s soft song of progress emanates from a smallish supermini, about the size of a Dacia Sandero. It’s unassuming and refreshingly simple; that torquey electric motor means it’s also pleasingly rapid away from the lights. Zoes are available with different combinations of motor and a choice of 22kWh or 41kWh battery. The most basic, Q210/Q90 and 22kWh combination allows a range of around 130 miles, with quick charging; the latest R110 and 41kWh can exceed 200 miles on a full charge.
In our experience the Zoe’s rather inconsistent compatibility with fast chargers means trusting one for a carefully-planned long-distance trip could be frustrating, but where possible a Q90 can obtain 80% charge in a little over an hour.
One aspect of buying a Zoe is the ongoing cost of battery leasing, which many lower-cost examples will be liable for. It’s generally more affordable than putting fuel in an economical car, and warranty coverage of leased packs means failure is Renault’s problem, but be prepared for monthly costs up to £99/month if you cover up to 10,500 miles a year. This does include breakdown assistance, at least.
Discounts on new models, and the battery leasing arrangement does impact the Zoe’s appeal as a used buy – but Renault did sell them with the battery included, and those represent excellent secondhand value for a subtle, practical EV that is immensely easy to live with.
CAR verdict: 'Zoe is much quieter than Nicole, but Renault still knows how to package cutting-edge tech for the masses'
8. Smart ForFour Electric Drive/EQ
- New price: £21,335 - £21,930
- Used price: £13,000 - £20,000
Baby electric cars are generally, too easy to dismiss for everyday use. The G-Wiz, the Renault Twizy, even the Volkswagen e-Up! can feel a little too compromised for families. Smart, therefore, would seem like the last company to make the best value electric city car.
Yet here it is, the EQ Forfour, previously known as the Electric Drive. Sharing its platform with the now-departed rear-engined Renault Twingo, the Forfour’s transition to smokeless fuels is very successful, keeping the tolerably-sized boot and surprisingly usable rear seats intact, and using light weight and compact dimensions to get by with a small 17kWh battery. That means it can be fully charged overnight on even a domestic socket, ready for another 100-mile commute. Electric steering wheel and seats help with not using the energy-sapping heater, and it can be preheated from a smartphone like more expensive EVs.
Scratch that range, though, it’s more like 75 miles in the real world. If you’re doing 20 miles to work in congested traffic, watching your income disappear out of the exhaust pipe as you wait for another light to change, that’s plenty. The Forfour’s wide opening rear doors are great for child seats, and the back seats fold for a useful amount of space too. In fact, it’s the perfect car for city dwellers who rarely drive outside of the city, as long as you’ve got somewhere to plug in.
CAR verdict: 'Bridging the gap between posh golf-carts for the road and grown-up EVs, the Smart is simple, effective, but not crude. Minimalism that really works for minimal driving needs'
9. Citroën C-Zero, aka Peugoet iOn or Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- New price: Around £16,000 - £18,000
- Used price: £6000 – £14,000
Of the first electric models to hit mainstream dealers, the Citroën C-Zero, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Peugeot iOn trio of city cars set the template for small range, small footprint four-seaters that didn’t feel like a half-finished prototype. Even at launch it was a cheap car – under £16,000, when the only other well-known proper EV was the Tesla Roadster. The premium over the car they’re based on, the Mitsubishi i, was pretty hefty – the rear-engined tiddler was just £9,000 when burning petrol. That's all that's hefty though, as even with the battery and motor added these cars only weigh 1,080kg.
A range of 100 miles, and ample torque, means that the C-Zero can carry four adults around town far longer than they’ll want to be in it; even by 2010 standards, this is a narrow, and rather basic car. It’s well made though, and endearing in a Japanese Kei-car way.
Best of all, if you really only want a shopping car or emissions-zone commuter, you’ll find a used C-Zero, iOn or iMiEV for well under £10,000 – with very few miles on the clock. It comes last purely because we think it’s worth paying more for an early BMW i3 or Smart Forfour Electric Drive – but if you see a cheap one, snap it up.
Further reading on electric cars
Read all our electric car reviews here
Browse electric cars for sale
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?