In 2021 our Car of the Year awards are turning green and these are the best zero emissions cars to arrive this year.
It’s a sign of the times that Car of the Year has gone electric. Or, at least, a part of it. This year marks the first that we’re embarking on a dedicated test of electric vehicles to determine the EV of the Year.
The timing is right. It’s taken more than a decade, but electric cars are finally gaining mainstream interest in Australia.
Tesla sells one of the country’s top-selling passenger cars and six of the top ten manufacturers have plug-in vehicles.
The country’s biggest brand, Toyota, plans to have its first EV next year and its luxury offshoot Lexus joined the party by launching a luxury EV this week.
EVs remain an expensive proposition, as most are luxury models with premium prices out of the reach of the average motorist.
But mainstream brands such as Hyundai and Kia are bringing the prices down to more realistic levels.
Charging infrastructure remains a barrier to acceptance but range anxiety is less of an issue as new models arrive, some claiming to travel more than 500km between charges.
Unfortunately, we were unable to include the Tesla Model 3 in our testing because an updated model is yet to arrive in showrooms.
It’s a shame because the existing model is arguably the benchmark.
We’ve chosen five EVs for our final and if they’re good enough, they’ll be pitted against our conventional finalists for the overall title of Car of the Year.
Here are the five contenders that will fight it out to become the EV of 2021.
HYUNDAI IONIQ 5
The Ioniq 5 is the first car from the Hyundai Group built from the ground up as an electric vehicle.
The brand’s earlier efforts simply shoehorned an electric motor into an existing petrol vehicle.
Creating the Ioniq 5 from a clean sheet of paper meant the design team could take advantage of the compact motor to liberate more space in the cabin. The Ioniq 5 looks like a hatchback but is deceptively spacious, boasting more room than many mid-sized SUVs.
Only a few hundred are currently in the country but Hyundai is expecting more next year, including models that slip in below the $71,900 (plus on-road costs) price of the model we’re testing for Car of the Year.
The Ioniq is expensive but loaded with equipment, including heated and electrically adjustable seats front and rear, a panoramic sunroof and a Bose sound system.
The front seat reclines like an aircraft seat, allowing the driver to take a snooze while the car recharges. The cabin is lined with interesting textures made from sustainable materials.
POLESTAR 2 SINGLE MOTOR
The newcomer from Volvo’s EV offshoot has one big target in its crosshairs: the Tesla Model 3. The still-fresh EV start-up is priced identically to its Tesla rival, with prices starting at $59,900 before on-road costs.
There’s also a focus on tech, including over-the-air software updates and Google’s Android Automotive operating system.
It’s not a ground-up design, sharing its underpinnings with the Volvo XC40. It’s available as a single motor front-wheel drive (the one we’re testing here) or a dual motor all-wheel drive.
The long range model claims a driving range of more than 500km and the cabin has a luxury feel that goes a long way towards justifying its price tag.
VOLVO XC40 RECHARGE PURE ELECTRIC
As a compact SUV, the regular XC40 packs plenty of equipment in. The EV version, called the Recharge Pure Electric, has even more luxuries and comes with few compromises. Two electric motors make a combined 300kW, almost as much as the last Commodore V8, and all-wheel-drive traction mean it’s a rocket off the mark.
Adding to its appeal, it’s the only one of our finalists with the high-riding SUV body that so many buyers crave these days. That means plenty of head room, decent storage space and rugged good looks.
The $76,990 asking price is steep, but there’s a load of luxury touches throughout the cabin. It doesn’t claim as much range as the Polestar and Ioniq, but packs a much bigger punch.
NISSAN LEAF e+
One of the stalwarts of the EV class, the Leaf as a new lease on life courtesy of a new e+ model with a bigger battery that delivers more power and a lot more range (roughly 385km).
It also has a selling point no other battery electric vehicle in Australia has: the ability to power your house.
So called vehicle-to-grid or bi-directional charging allows the car to act as a power storage unit while parked in your garage.
Owners with solar panels can store excess power in the Leaf when the sun is shining and use it to power the house during the evening peak. Regulatory approval is expected early next year, making the more powerful version of the Leaf that little more useful.
Elsewhere, there’s lots of similarities to the regular Leaf.
PORSCHE TAYCAN TURBO S
The Taycan delivers Porsche DNA without the petrol. The company’s first EV had a tough target to shoot for but the intense focus on engineering created a car that stands out in the EV crowd.
The Taycan was the first EV able to accept an 800V charge, doubling the potential charging speed of the car. And that speed flows through to the way the Taycan drives, especially in flagship Turbo S guise.
Whereas many EVs rocket off the line but struggle in the corners or under brakes, the Taycan is superbly balanced in all conditions. It’s engineered to be just as home on the track as it is in the suburbs.
None of this comes cheap, though, especially in our test car’s Turbo S guise: it costs $345,800 plus on-road costs.