Being Modern: Electric cars

I like driving in my car, it's not quite a Jaguar. It certainly isn't. Cos it doesn't guzzle gas. Or petrol, as we have it in this alliteratively reticent country of ours. So what is this beast that isn't slurping down unleaded – which, incidentally, has just hit an all-time high of 137.44p per litre? That's right, it's an electric auto. And it's coming your way. At a pretty sedate pace, maybe, but it is coming... promise.

Electricity was actually the preferred method of powering cars before the 1920s, but was then largely redundant in the motoring arena until the 1990s, when marques including Honda, Chrysler and Toyota tried their hand at reintroducing the concept. The cars that caught on best in the UK were Daimler's Smart brand and the Reva G-Wiz – but rarely did they look like transforming the industry.

Yet things are changing: the Nissan Leaf was named 2011's Car of the Year and the hybrid Vauxhall Ampera this year's (more of which on page 43). And unlike the G-Wiz's top speed of 50mph, the former can belt along at 93mph; the latter at 99. Now that's some va-va-voom.

Yet, the Leaf went on sale at £28,350, £10k more than its petrol and diesel rivals – and a survey taken by Nielsen in 2010 revealed that 76 per cent of Brits would not be prepared to pay £5,000 more for the advantages of a green car.

But maybe we'll change our minds when we consider those benefits in full. There's the 40p cost to "refill" the tank; freedom from the London Congestion Charge; ease of parking (admittedly this applies principally to earlier exponents, such as the G-Wiz and Mega City, which were legally classified as quadricycles rather than cars); and the self-satisfied smugness of being a friend of the planet.

Yes, there's the downside that in many electrics you can't go more than 80 miles without recharging, but for those with a short commute, the Government's new Plug-in Car Grant – worth up to £5,000 against selected new vehicles – could be enticing. That and the fact that marques such as Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Citroë* are bringing real panache to the sector. Maybe it's time to jump on board after all...

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