Top 10 best luxury electric cars 2021

Top 10 best luxury electric cars 2021



The luxury EV market has rapidly transformed from almost empty to chock-full. Here are the main protagonists

It’s a mark of the maturity of electric car technology that there is now a very fast-growing market for premium-branded luxury EVs. It was a segment created a decade ago by Tesla, but plenty of manufacturers are now desperate to be seen to be at the very forefront of it and competition is growing fierce.

Some of those manufacturers are offering a luxury angle, others more of a performance bias, some the capability and convenience of a SUV bodystyle – and some a combination of all of those things. Some cars charting here are big, others not so big. And while some come from established automotive industry powers, others are from newer and more ‘disruptive’ outfits you might not have heard of. 

If you’re looking for the some of the longest-legged and most usable electric cars in the world, this chart is where you’ll find them. This is where Teslas do battle with Mercedes EQs, BMW i cars, Audi E-trons, even new-groove Porsches and Polestars. If you've got a bigger budget to spend on an electrically powered family car to use and rely on for any kind of trip, then, with claimed ranges of up to 400 miles and beyond, these are your main contenders.

*Best Luxury Electric Cars 2021*

-1. Mercedes EQS-

The oldest car-maker in the world isn't taking any prisoners when it comes to the switch to electric mobility. Mercedes' first dedicated EV, the EQC SUV, came along in 2019, and we've seen a few other smaller EQ models along since. But none matters more reputationally than the big one: Stuttgart's all-electric, new-age limousine, the EQS.

Built on a brand-new model platform (and partly in response to the market share lost by the conventionally powered S-Class when Tesla's Model S struck it big in the important North American market), the EQS is a luxury EV without compromise. It's expensive: on sale in the UK now, it's priced from £99,995 for the 325bhp, single-motor, rear-driven, EQS 450+ version, with deliveries set to begin before the end of 2021. But it is a car engineered with true commitment, and packed with technology in a way few other passenger cars can even approach. For evidence of that, just 'Ask Jeeves' to see photographs of the car's infamous full-width 'hyperscreen' digital fascia.

We have so far driven late prototypes of both the EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 only, the former on UK roads but in left-hand drive form. Both cars set exceptionally high standards for isolation, comfort and refinement; both used four-wheel steering and their torque-rich powertrains to mask their 2.5-tonne kerbweight well; and the longest-range examples promise real-world operating autonomy of more than 400 miles between charges - which will need to be experienced to be believed.

We await access to a UK demonstrator to confirm our early test impressions; but all the signs are that the car industry's oldest power may have found its feet in the electric car market, and finally returned the disruptor brands' serve with interest.

-2. Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo-

Porsche has broadened out the range of its first all-electric model, the Taycan, quite a bit since the car first zapped onto the scene in 2020. You can now have one with one drive motor or two; with four-wheel drive or two-; with an indecent amount of power, or just a lot of it; and also in either four-door swoopy saloon form, or as pseudo-estate-style Cross Turismo instead. It's the kind of breadth of choice that has transformed a breakthrough sporting EV into a luxury-segment contender with enough pull to have outsold every other Porsche model in the UK.

The Taycan is a world-class operator however you configure it, but the extended cargo space and ride-height-boosted extra versatility of the Cross Turismo version certainly don't appear to have weakened the car's dynamic powers. This car rides with an uncannily absorbtive and poised sort of body control, but it retains chatty, communicative steering, fine handling response, ideal handling balance and security, and as much real-world pace as you could ever expect to deploy on the road. Electric range isn't class-leading - but 250 miles is certainly possible from most versions of the car in mixed, real-world used.

Seats for up to five occupants, plus a boot within sight of that of a BMW 3-Series Touring for carrying capacity, seal the deal on one of the most accomplished electric cars that any budget might buy; and you can buy one, with options, for less than £90,000.

-3. BMW iX-

"A BMW like no other," is how our man Greg Kable described the iX, the firm's new all-electric luxury SUV flagship model for its 'i' brand. Some critics have used other words to make their feelings plain about the way this car looks and the departure from classic BMW design type that it, and other recent BMW model debutants, represent. Feel free to make up your own if you're so inclined: this is a car clearly intended to provoke a reaction.

Munich is no stranger to convention-defying exterior design, though; and it has stressed every sinew to make this a landmark electric car, as well as a watershed moment in its transformation from a maker of internal combustion cars to a brand that deals almost exclusively in zero-emissions models. The iX is roughly the size of an X5, but is based on a specialised platform adapted with lightweight composite materials and mixed metals, and is powered by one electric motor per axle.

The entry-level iX xDrive40 version is priced from a whisker under £70,000, and gets 296bhp of power and 249 miles of WLTP-certified electric range. Upgrade to the £92k xDrive50 model, however, and those statistics take sizable jumps: up to 516bhp and 373 miles of range, delivered along with 200kW rapid charging potential. An iX xDriveM60 model is expected to offer even more power and performance in pretty short order: but, even allowing for the lightweight platform, no iX will weigh less than 2.5 tonnes.

So far we've tested the iX xDrive50 on European roads, and will be bringing a UK verdict on the car very soon. Our early impressions were that a 300-mile real-world range should be easily achievable from that version of the iX, even at motorway speeds. Comfort and isolation are the car's foremost dynamic strengths, with throttle response tempered slightly to dampen a smooth step-off - even if outright 0-62mph performance will still shade most direct rivals.

On optional air springs, the car rides very smoothly, while its slightly soft handling, light steering and loosish backroad body control all betray some clear evidence of the car's hefty kerbweight. But if a luxury feel is what you want from your luxury SUV, it should probably be amongst your test drive candidates.

-4. Jaguar I-Pace-

The first luxury electric car from a mainstream manufacturer to directly challenge Tesla at the high end of the market, the I-Pace delivers on its brief with standout handling dynamics, first-rate interior quality and a striking design that’s slightly more SUV than saloon yet is both attractive and innovative. This car sets the standard for ride and handling among its all-electric crossover-SUV peers, delivers strong performance from its twin 197bhp motors, and feels like a premium-branded electric car should: an unshackled, clean-sheet design.

The I-Pace will rapid charge at up to 100kW, but its slightly disappointing real-world range dents its potential as a long-distance tourer somewhat: 220 miles is not a result worth celebrating - and moreover the I-Pace's slightly buggy charging software seems to trip it up more often than other EVs are when you're out and about, trying to get plugged in. If you’re unlikely to rely on public rapid charging facilities or routinely to trouble the outer limits of the car’s electric autonomy potential, this a car we’d consider before most rivals. It's that impressive to drive, as well as really interesting and appealing to behold.

*Save money on new I-Pace deals from What Car?*

-5. Audi E-tron Quattro, E-tron Quattro Sportback & E-tron S Quattro-

Audi has distilled the various qualities for which its revered brand is known and given all of them a new future-proofed home in its first series-production electric car: the E-tron Quattro SUV.

Sized to fit in between the firm’s existing Q5 and Q7 models but offering interior space to rival the latter, the E-tron is powered by a separate electric motor per axle and develops 402bhp and 487lb ft of torque in ‘boost’ driving mode. A Jaguar I-Pace is smaller, lighter, torquier and faster – but the E-tron beats its close British rival on overall battery capacity, offering 95kWh of storage, which is good for a claimed WLTP combined range of 249 miles. In day-to-day use, expect to see between 210 and 220 miles of that before the battery goes flat.

Our first taste of the E-tron came in late 2018, on roads out in the Middle East, where the car impressed most with its classy and refined cabin ambience, its quiet cruising abilities and its Audi-typical apparent build quality. The driving experience was impressive, too, not least for its responsiveness and muscular feel up to motorway speeds, while precise and well-balanced handling completed the picture. Subsequent tests in the UK – not least with the recent Sportback variant – show that the car's ride quality is also a selling point.  

So the regular E-tron’s strong suits make it a superb luxury car, although it doesn’t have quite as much driver appeal as certain rivals. Audi's solution to this has been to launch the 496bhp E-tron S Sportback, whose sensationally versatile rear-axle drive unit gives it a degree of handling adjustability and involvement beyond the basic E-tron. At nearly £90,000, it's pricey, but potentially worth it for pace, panache and the novelty factor of safely sending an electric SUV sideways on a whim.

*Save money on new E-tron deals from What Car?*

-6. Tesla Model S-

The car that persuaded the world an electric saloon could be a viable alternative to a combustion-engined one, and made the EV break into the luxury-car big time, is still our pick of Tesla’s model catalogue for its combination of performance, usability, price and range. If you simply want a luxury EV that you can charge and use easily with the greatest usable range, the firm's original breakthrough model is still the one to have.

In its most potent form, the Model S can accelerate with the ferocity of a super-saloon, and handles tidily enough – although without the tactile involvement you might expect of such a fast car. Overall, the Model S certainly makes a better luxury car than a driver’s car.

All models have a futuristic-feeling cabin topped off by a mammoth touchscreen infotainment system. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Supercharger network enables easier and more convenient long-range driving than many would imagine possible in an electric car, and practicality is exceptionally good thanks to useful-sized boots at both ends of the car and an extra rearward-facing pair of jump seats available in the boot.

In Long Range Plus form, this car is the only one here with an WLTP-cerfified range of more than 400 miles. In that form, it's an expensive option, costing only a whisker under £80,000. But if you need the most usable EV going and you've got the budget to pay for it, there's no mistaking that it's still Tesla that offers it.

*Save money on new Model S deals from What Car?*

-7. Mercedes EQC-

An outright triumph in our electric SUV group test in September 2019 heralded the arrival of a new all-electric champion for people looking to combine practicality with performance, and luxury with sustainability, in their next big car purchase – while also securing a car that can easily be used on a daily basis on UK roads. Back then, the Mercedes EQC 400 brushed aside challenges from key rivals en route to its big moment, overcoming all by virtue of its technology-laden and upmarket interior, its impressive blend of comfort and driver appeal, and its first-rate infotainment and navigation systems. You could say that an Audi E-tron Quattro is a better luxury car, and a Jaguar i-Pace a better driver's car; but the EQC's package is nonetheless complete and convincing.

Sharing its platform with the related GLC, the EQC has twin electric motors, torque-vectoring four-wheel drive and combined peak ouputs of 402bhp and 564lb ft. WLTP-verified battery range is 259 miles officially, with our tests suggesting that between 80% and 90% of that is reproducible in mixed real-world driving. That's not quite as much cruising range as the most long-legged EVs, but it's a competitive showing all the same.

The EQC has plenty of driving modes, and there’s much complexity to get to grips with in configuring its many battery regeneration settings and semi-autonomous driver assist systems to your liking. But negotiate that hurdle and you’ll find the car very drivable and rounded at its best, as well as every bit as classy and luxurious as you’d want a £70,000 family car to be.

*Save money on new EQC deals from What Car?*

-8. Polestar 2-

You may remember the Polestar 1: the muscular but oh-so-svelte 600bhp plug-in hybrid GT built by Volvo's environmentally minded subsidiary. Well, it is the smaller and cheaper Polestar 2 that really demonstrates the kind of the car this young brand wants to make.

The Polestar 2's fundamental architecture is shared with the Volvo XC40, but the stark exterior design, warm interior ambience, Android-developed infotainment and the 402bhp all-electric powertrain make it almost unrecognisable from any other Volvo-based car in terms of its character. The 78kWh battery is rated for 282 miles of WLTP range if you go for the Performance Pack, of which is delivered about 225 miles in real-world use; and the car can charge at speeds of up to 150kW. It does, however, lack the charging infrastructure of its closest rival, the Tesla Model 3.

What impresses us about the 2 is how complete it feels. The control weights are nicely judged, the cabin is comfortable and it's superbly easy to use, excepting its compromised rear visibility. There are bigger and more spacious cars on this list, and some that confer a bit more status and reflected glory; but few are quite so nice to use.

*Save money on new Polestar 2 deals from What Car?*

-9. BMW iX3-

BMW has changed tack on its strategy for electrification. Having conceived the i brand to contain its very first EV and plug-in hybrid, it is now spreading electric cars among its wider model range, and the iX3 was the first of its new-wave EVs to hit the streets. It's also the first car that BMW has produced in China for export markets.

Using a rear-mounted motor offering up to 282bhp, and with a battery of 74kWh of usable capacity for a maximum claimed WLTP range of 285 miles, the iX3 isn't quite as fast or as long-legged as some of its rivals; and priced from £62,000, it isn't cheap, either. But its trump card may prove to be DC rapid charging potential of up to 350kW as an option, which can restore an empty battery to 80% in little more than half an hour where a compatible charger is available.

Practicality, handling and luxury-level refinement are all very creditable, but there may not be quite enough else to make this car stand out in a fast-growing growing EV segment.

*Save money on new BMW deals from What Car?*

-10. Audi Q4 E-tron Quattro-

If you can't quite justify the cost of a full-sized Audi E-tron Quattro for your first foray into premium EV ownership, there is this: the smaller Q4 E-tron. LIke its bigger sibling it comes in both regular-bodied and extra-swoopy 'sportback' silhouettes, but unlike the bigger car it uses the VW Group's specially developed 'MEB' model platform. Those underpinnings allow it to offer four-wheel drive to those who want it, and in excess of 300bhp; but they also give it a mechanical link to cheaper sibling cars like the VW ID4 and Skoda Enyaq iV, which we rank elsewhere in our family EVs chart.

That relationship doesn't seem to be putting off European buyers of this car any more than its pug-nosed looks or its glitzy but slightly plain-feeling cabin quality; but it was enough to temper our reaction to the car when we road-tested it. The Q4 E-tron demonstrates how tricky it will be for premium brands to differentiate platform-engineered cars in the all-electric era, when extra value can no longer be added by refined or high-performing combustion engines, and chassis technologies are shared across brands. It's a credible car, with a range of approaching 300 miles in the case of the longest-legged versions: but it isn't well distinguished dynamically, by its only superficially different design, or by the upmarket ambience of its interior.

Even so, we'd take one over some premium EVs - but Audi must do better if it wants to show the superiority of its cars in the mass market of tomorrow.

*Save money on new Q4 E-tron deals from What Car?*

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