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What is an electric car? Should you buy an EV in 2019?

Published: 01 May 2019

► Electric cars explained
► How does a EV work?
► Should you buy one in 2019?  

Electric power used to be consigned to milk floats and strange contraptions like the G-Wiz. But, in 2019, EVs or electric vehicles are a legitimate form of transport – and they’re only getting more popular.

In the next few years, car makers are pumping their model ranges with more EVs, and cars are being designed from the ground-up to accommodate electric powertrains. For an overview about everything else you need to know about electric cars, keep reading.

Further electric reading

How does an EV work?

Full electric cars shun an ICE (or internal combustion engine) for electric power, and use a motor to convert electrical energy from the battery into kinetic energy in the wheels. Usually electric cars have one motor – usually powering the rear-axle – but higher-end EVs such as the Audi e-Tron and Tesla Model 3 Performance use a motor per axle, and therefore have all-wheel-drive.

a dual-motor electric car

And the batteries?

Batteries are a heavy yet fragile component in an EV, so engineers look to put them in the safest place – but also the optimum area for performance. Most EV’s batteries are low and embedded in the floor, usually contained within a high-strength structure. It’s for this reason that car engineers call this a ‘skateboard configuration.’

Conventional thinking suggests that keeping the batteries low is good for performance, as it reduces the centre of gravity of the car. It’s a layout seen on pretty much all EVs you can buy nowadays; from the highly practical Audi e-Tron and Kia Soul EV, to the Polestar 2 and Tesla Roadster.

However, there are exceptions. The Audi PB18 e-Tron uses a mid-mounted battery, in order to lower the centre of gravity and keep the driver even lower to the ground.

How does an electric car charge? 

In principle, charging an EV is exactly like charging a mobile phone. Once the battery has been depleted, EVs need to be plugged into a charging point. There are currently a few connection standards in 2019, and although there faster ones coming in the next few years, they’ll be found on higher-end models, first.

charging an EV

Charging stations for electric cars used to be few and far between but, as governments and car makers pour money into zero-emissions vehicles, electric charging points are springing up all over the country. Range is growing all the time, too, thanks to improvements in battery tech.

What’s more, it’s important to remember that an EV isn’t topped up in the same way a petrol or diesel car is. Electric chargers can be installed at your home – with destination chargers at the other end of your journey – so you’ll effectively beginning most rides with full charge anyway.

Audi e-Tron

Should I buy an electric car?

Like any type of new technology, electric cars are only getting better, but that doesn’t mean now is a bad time to get one. Improvements in technology mean range is less of a factor than ever – and when combined with quicker top-up time, destination charging and a growing charging infrastructure, range is less of a factor than before.

Sure, they’re more expensive than their ice-counterparts right now, but aside from price, an EV will fit into most scenarios in a similar way to a petrol or diesel car. Think about the length of journeys you tend to do, are they shorter than the range of an EV? Will you have multiple opportunities to top-up? If so, here’s our pick of the best electric cars.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast