Group test: Electric cars; Hyundai Ioniq v Volkswagen E-Golf v BMW i3 v Nissan Leaf


For an electric car to be relevant as a long-legged mile-muncher, it needs to fulfil a specific set of criteria. First, it needs to be a Tesla.

Since there is no second, we've tested this quartet of electro-hatches exactly where they're best suited: London.

Other cities are available, apparently. But nowhere else can match the capital for the sheer breadth and depth of urban misery it delivers, so here we are. Here we are in the land of congestion charges, low emission zones and the whole squalid matter of Croydon.

And here we are in a Hyundai Ioniq, the latest addition to the electric hatchback market. We have it alongside three stern challengers in the BMW i3, the VW E-Golf and the evergreen Nissan Leaf.

Aside from being the worst joke ever, that's a reference to the fact that the Leaf has been around for six years now. Electric cars are no longer novelty but reality - and with the market for them growing by 50% each year, they're getting more real all the time.

Being six years old counts against the Leaf, though. Its cabin feels dated compared to those of the Golf and i3, which in turn are great because in the Golf's case, it's a Golf, and in the i3's case it's a brilliantly conceived bespoke window on the future.

The i3's screen graphics are pin-sharp, its dash design clean as a whistle and its seating position imperious. It's a great place to sit. The Ioniq pitches in with a good showing too - its displays are crisp and clear, its seats comfortable and its whole cabin impressively roomy.

That's a result of its big body and long wheelbase, which can make it a little cumbersome around town - as can a heavy steering wheel. The Ioniq doesn't feel as nippy as the best of the others, though it can coast very effectively before slowing almost to a halt when you press the energy regeneration button - the idea being that this way, you don't waste any energy by using the brakes.

The same principle applies in the i3, in which just backing off the loud pedal can be like trampling on the anchors. BMW's purpose-built body houses its batteries at the bottom of a super-light structure, so it has a very low centre of gravity, and this means better handling than its tall, narrow body would have you believe - but it's firmly sprung, so you have to put up with a ride that doesn't always feel well suited to running around in town.

The Leaf, by contrast, sits on soft springs designed to soak up the bumps. They do, but they also allow enough body roll to take the edge off your experience behind the wheel.

As for the Golf, it's a Golf. With an electric motor. That's the only real difference between it and its fossil-fuelled stablemates.

So what we have here is four cars, each taking its own approach. If there's an overwhelming impression, though, it's that the two German vehicles have a feeling of real quality that sets them apart from their Far Eastern opponents.

Of the two, the Golf is very good for the reasons why every other Golf is very good. Well, not the R, but you get the idea.

The i3, however, remains one of the most imaginative, effective, pleasing and enjoyable cars out there, electric or not. It's one of the first examples of a major manufacturer treating alternative fuels not as a necessary evil but an opportunity to create something special.

And it is very special. Very special, and very much top of this class. The Ioniq is a worthy addition, and the Leaf will no doubt come back stronger one day. But for now, on the streets of London BMW is streets ahead.

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