Tesla Model X
Tesla reckons that its all-electric Model X is the safest, fastest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history. With all-wheel drive and battery options that can give you well over 300 miles of range, the Model X has ample seating for seven adults and all of their gear. And it can be almost ludicrously fast too. It's a pretty unique proposition.
Whatever Model X variant you choose, you'll get four-wheel drive, courtesy of a pair of electric motors, one powering the rear wheels and one for the front pair. In the 75D variant which offers a 259-mile driving range, this combination works with a 75kWh battery and generates 328bhp. In the 90D derivative, a 90kWh battery is used, there's a 303mile driving range and you get a combined output of 376bhp. Finally, in the top P100D flagship model, there's a 100kWh battery, a 336-mile driving range and a huge 691bhp output thanks to what Tesla calls a 'Ludicrous Speed Upgrade' that makes this variant capable of rest to 60mph in just 2.9s on the way to 155mph flat out.
On the move, you'll be impressed by the easy seamless way this Model X gains its speed, though the acceleration does tail off noticeably at higher speeds. The regenerative brakes take some getting used to: come off the throttle and it's as if you've pressed the brake. What this means is that most of the time, you won't need to use the brakes at all. 'Smart Air Suspension' is standard but many still seem to find the ride quality quite firm.
The Model X may not immediately strike you as a classically-styled SUV but it's certainly obvious from the start that this is a much more practical proposition than Tesla's original offering, the Model S. The Model X's design party piece lies with the gull-wing 'Falcon Wing' rear doors that make entering the vehicle something of a theatrical event. Tesla says they can open in a confined space too, thanks to a double-hinged design (there's a hinge on the roof and another above the window line) that allows the doors to raise up with as little as 11 inches of clearance outwards. There are also ultrasonic sensors that lie beneath the bodywork so you can't open the door into an immovable object.
The front doors open conventionally but are electrically powered, with the driver's door opening automatically when you unlock the car with the key fob. Step inside and a press of the brake pedal will see the doors close behind you. With both doors open, there's brilliant access into and out of the car, so, for example, strapping a child seat into the rear is far easier than it would be in a conventional SUV. The Model X comes as standard with two rows of seats. If you specify the optional third seating row, the middle row seats move forward at the push of a button to aid access into the third row. Adults will fit into the very back but will probably need the middle row slid forward a bit if they're to travel in any real comfort.
The Model X is a very desirable thing. It's also a very expensive thing. Still, if you were already going to spend upwards of £80,000 on a luxury SUV, it's certainly a more rational choice than something more conventional in this segment.
Caveats are few. Yes, battery charging does require a little more thought than just topping up a tank and if a car is shared between a married couple for instance, you'll both need to be on the ball with it. Other than that, there's very little not to like. The interior is adventurous, the packaging is efficient and if you're able to go for the 90D or P100D models, the acceleration is quite simply astonishing. Quite simply, the Model X sets a fresh standard for what cars of this kind can do.Click here to find out more about our Tesla Model X range
BMW i3 has proved to be a successful first stab at the all-electric vehicle market for its Munich maker and since the original 2013 launch, the Munich maker hasn't stopped trying to improve it. In 2016, the original 60Ah version was replaced with a 94Ah variant that boosted this model's all-electric operating range to over 200 miles. A year later, BMW gave the styling a minor refresh and added a slightly pokier i3s derivative into the range to create the model line-up we're going to look at here. For all buyers, the option remains on both variants to add in a small 'Range Extender' petrol engine to further boost operating mileage. The result of all these improvements is a car that's now even harder to ignore in this growing segment.
As you might expect from a BMW product, the i3 doesn't want for go. The electric motor is mounted low down within the rear axle which helps to keep a low centre of gravity and also to improve crashworthiness. The power unit weighs just 130kg and produces 170bhp in standard form, which means that the i3's power to weight ration of 141bhp per tonne is just 5bhp per tonne shy of a Honda Civic Type R hot hatch. If you're interested in a comparison of that sort, you'll be interested in the slightly pokier i3s variant, where the electric motor's power output is boosted to 184bhp, plus there's sports suspension with specially developed springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.
Whatever i3 variant you choose, as with all electric vehicles, a decisive advantage comes in its amount of torque. In a typical city scoot such as, say, a 1.2-litre Fiat 500, you can count on 102Nm of torque, but this BMW generates a hefty 250Nm of muscle in its standard form (or 270Nm in 'i3s' guise), offering instant urge with all that torque available from idle. It's sent to the rear wheels via a single-ratio gearbox that offers the choice of three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. The i3s has an extra 'Sport' setting.
This translates to a car that's certainly not slow off the mark. The standard model will get from standstill to 37mph in 3.8sec and to 62mph in 7.3sec (or 6.9s for the i3s). Either way, any Toyota GT-86 sportscar drivers will have a very hard time keeping pace with an i3. The top speed is limited to 93mph in the standard model or 99mph in the i3s. Extremely direct steering, a low centre of gravity, a clever DSC stability control system and lightweight body structures add up to very focused driving characteristics. BMW has engineered in a little body roll, largely to clue drivers in to where the limits of those narrow tyres are, but this remains a car you can enjoy hustling along. Go for the 'Range Extender' version of this car, as is possible with either i3 or i3s variants, and a tiny 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine is added to cut in once the battery power is spent.
Think of the i3 as a car in two halves. The bottom half is almost all aluminium, the upper half almost all carbon fibre. Armed with this information, you can rightly surmise that it doesn't weigh very much. Even with the weight of all those batteries - some 230kg comprised of 96 individual cells kept at an optimum 20deg Centigrade by their own air conditioning unit - the i3 only tips the scales at 1,195kg. Compare that to the 1,395kg of the entry-level petrol-powered Mercedes-Benz B Class and you'll appreciate the lengths BMW have gone to keep weight low and efficiency high.
The styling is determinedly modern, with the kidney grille being the key BMW styling signature. The black hood, roof and glazed hatch will be characteristic features for future BMW 'i' cars. Adaptive LEDs headlights and floating LED tail lights are standard. The lowered belt line in the rear and absence of a "B" pillar improves visibility, while the rear "coach" doors make entry easier.
As for changes made to this revised model, well there aren't many. The trademark BMW i Black Belt running from the bonnet over the roof to the car's rear end is now complemented by A-pillars and roof lines that also sport a black finish. The front and rear aprons have been restyled and a smart chrome design strip now runs across the full width of the rear end. On the sporty i3s variant, there's a roof line accent with a high-gloss black finish and a rear apron composed of individually styled contours with a black surround frame featuring an extra-wide, body-coloured inlay.
As before, the i3 really isn't a very big car, measuring just 3,999mm long, which is only a tad longer than a Ford Fiesta. Despite that, thanks to the flat floor, the thin seats and the low window line, the cabin feels surprisingly roomy. The instrument cluster and Control Display comprise two screens, one behind the steering wheel and the other at the top of the centre console.
Interior materials are eco-orientated, with the dashboard and door cards made from dried grass fibres from the kenaf plant and eucalyptus wood being optional. The boot measures 260-litres, but fold the rear seats and you get up to 1,100-litres. Expect that capacity to drop if you choose the range-extender motor. This is a modified version of the 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine used in the company's CT650 GT maxi-scooter, with a nine-litre fuel tank ahead of the front seats.
We said electric cars were going to get better: here's a great example of just how. BMW's i3 was already a very good product. Now, it makes more sense than ever. As before, this model is unashamedly high-end - you only need to look at the materials it's built from to appreciate that - but as a result, it's leagues more exotic than a conventionally-powered rival with a premium badge. Indeed, its carbon fibre and aluminium construction lends it a technical sheen of cool that's quite different to the usual electric vehicle proposition, which all too often gives off the distinctive whiff of anorak.
Costing around £2 to charge, with a real-world range of up to around 150 miles on batteries alone, the i3 will work for many suburban commuters looking for something stylish and a bit different to the norm. One day electric vehicles will be cool rather than nerdy and if that happens, we think the i3 will be seen to be the car that started that progression.Click here to find out more about our BMW i3 range
With a theoretical range of up to 186 miles and a recharging time that can take not much more than half an hour, the improved Volkswagen e-Golf makes electric power a much more feasible and normal prospect for British motorists. Still fancy that turbodiesel?
Turn the key to prime the electric motor and the e-Golf responds with silence. Otherwise there aren't too many surprises. You select D for Drive, prod the slightly heavier-sprung throttle pedal and away you glide. There is some rumble from the tyres but other than that it's as quiet as you'd expect an electric car to be. Like all such vehicles, there's an enormous amount of torque on tap and at city speeds, that 290Nm of pulling power (20Nm more than before) will make the car feel positively punchy. In fact, Volkswagen quotes a 0-37mph time of around 4 seconds, which is quicker than a Golf GTI. Okay, so the GTI would have disappeared up the road at 60mph, the e-Golf getting there in a still respectable 9.6 seconds. That's as long as you've taken it out of the 'Eco Plus' mode where you'll get the best fuel consumption. That mode is capped to 56mph. Switch it into 'Eco' and you get to 71mph, while 'Normal' tops out at 87mph. You can also vary the amount of braking energy recuperation you get between four settings.
Much like a Golf Mk7 with an internal combustion engine, the steering is slick and accurate, albeit without a huge amount of feedback. The e-Golf's weighs in at 1510kg, which is about 230kg heftier than a diesel model, but much of the weight is set down low, helping handling. The tyres are 205/55 R16 low-rolling resistance items and the stiff sidewalls are responsible for introducing a bit of bump and thump into the normally very polished Golf ride quality.
This Golf doesn't really look too different from any other, which means it gets the fresher styling of the recently revised version. Yes, if you're really sharp-eyed, you'll notice the clean finish of the rear end with no tailpipes, and a blue stripe on that shuttered-off front grille but otherwise, this would be really easy to mistake for a regulation Golf Mk7. It's only when you look a bit closer that you realise that this Golf is festooned with detail changes. There's the pair of e-Golf badges front and rear, the more efficient full LED headlight set and LED daytime running lights as well. Underneath, the car has extra panelling to help reduce drag. There's also a subtle tailgate spoiler, a revised rear bumper and a new design of alloy wheel to reduce turbulence. There's even a set of air guides on the C-pillar that help contribute to a Cd of just 0.28
The driving position is supremely adjustable and unlike many family hatches, you can get properly hunkered down in the car if required. The sheer amount of steering wheel rake and reach means that both shorter and taller drivers will have little difficulty achieving a perfect seating position. The cabin's a little wider than before, which helps with elbow room, and there's also a bit more rear leg room which is a welcome touch. The boot is a quite a bit smaller than the regular Golf at 279-litres but that's still hardly toothbrush and credit card territory when you're planning a weekend away. There are also some revised screens for the dash display, including a range monitor, energy flow indicator and a charge manager. Changes include the introduction of an 'Active Info Display' to replace the previous conventional dials. And a gesture-controlled infotainment system.
Are electric vehicles 'normal' enough for you to want to buy one? Their sales figures suggest that for the average buyer the answer is still no. But that process of making them seem just another power option alongside petrols, diesels and hybrids has been hastened by the introduction of this revised e-Golf. After all, there aren't many cars that better represent the very heartland of middle-class vehicle buyers than the Volkswagen Golf. If your commute to work is less than 40 miles each way - and let's face it, most people are - then this is a model that could now work for you. It might not be realistic as an only family car but it could well be a smart solution. One way or another, electric cars are going to represent the next twenty years or more of motoring. Are you really going to invest in ordinary outdated internal combustion engine technology for your next model? Volkswagen now has its bases covered either way.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen e-Golf range