The gasoline-powered world that we know and love is in its waning moments. The naturally-aspirated engine is nearly dead, and we’re only about a decade away from the end of new internal combustion engines. Supplementing the inevitable demise of combustion is the growing electric vehicle market. Just about every major manufacturer in the world now offers some electrically-propelled model for the climate-conscious. Soon the shouts, crackles, and pops from exhausts will fade from earshot, making way for the rushing of air and the whirring of electric motors—and I think we’re going to be OK.
The EV world is much quieter than what we’re used to, but it can be just as fun and a whole lot quicker. Obviously, we’re still in the relative infancy of electric vehicle manufacturing, dealing with range anxiety and significant weight issues, but the silent screamers aren’t without their performance and technology. Neck-snapping torque and the fanciest tech around adorn more than a few of the EVs on sale today, even those marketed towards families. Sure, they won’t be as characterful as an E63 AMG or a GTI, but what they bring to the table deserves some credit. European manufacturers are making excellent EVs, and it’s about time we all took notice.
High End, High Tech
While more than a few electric rides are out there, the current kings of the European EV scene are the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT. They were the first fully-electric sports GT cars to emerge from Europe and occupy a segment only challenged by the Tesla Model S Plaid—a car proven to last shorter and perform worse than the Taycan while having nowhere near the same build quality. The only other model near the “top” is Mercedes-Benz’s EQS sedan. As the first all-electric series production sedan from Mercedes’ side of Stuttgart, it carries the S-Class legacy into the modern age in a sleek and ultra-luxurious package. Connected by their propulsion, each EV has a slightly different approach to the flagship concept.
Volkswagen Audi Group has been consolidating its in-house engineering for years, and its EV platform is no exception. Thanks to VAG being completely honest about their emissions, their upcoming electric car was pushed forward by the European courts to make up for their diesel pollution. What resulted was the Porsche-developed, J1 platform and its EVs, the Taycan and e-tron GT. Extensive testing resulted in a permanent magnet synchronous motor attached to each axle, with a single-speed transmission mounted to the front and a two-speed unit in the rear. Between the two motors is the lithium-ion battery pack that functions as a structural component as well.
The permanent magnet synchronous motors, or PMSMs, are more expensive than the asynchronous motors used in cars like the Tesla Model S but offer better cooling and efficiency from a smaller and lighter package thanks to the rare earth metals used in their construction. Together, the motors offer 750 horsepower and 774 lb-ft of torque from the range-topping Taycan Turbo S. The Audi e-tron GT takes advantage of the same platform, sharing all of the Taycan’s electricals. The top-spec model, the RS e-tron GT, doesn’t get to match the Turbo S in terms of outright power with only 670 electrically-charged ponies on tap but does offer similar performance for less money with an identical 93.4kWh battery pack. Along with the Taycan Turbo S, the non-S Turbo and GTS models also use the 93.4kWh battery pack as standard but with lower maximum outputs. The rear-wheel-drive Taycan, the Taycan 4, and the Taycan 4S all use the smaller 79.2kWh battery pack, but buyers can add the larger one as an option.
Beyond the EV systems, though, the e-tron GT and Taycan offer two different products. The Audi plays the role of the slightly softer and less-expensive GT car, while the Porsche is the sportier example. The standard e-tron GT rides on adaptive coil spring suspension and features air suspension as an option. On the other hand, Porsche equips every Taycan with its adaptive air suspension, regardless of trim.
Of course, the performance of your Taycan is down to which one you have. Porsche offers five trims for the Taycan over three body styles, including a lifted wagon variant dubbed the Cross Turismo. It features a taller suspension and plastic cladding on the fenders for a rugged look to go along with the extended roof line that provides a bit more cargo space than the sedan. The e-tron GT has only two trims, the standard, and the RS, both sharing a singular sedan body style. Further separating the J1 variants are their exterior and interior treatments, with brand assimilation ingrained into both of them. The Taycan utilizes a lower and broader front-end appearance with cues from its ICE siblings throughout, including the hood lines from the original 911. The e-tron blends right into the Audi lineup, too, sharing the current Audi front-end treatment in a unique way. It’s around the back that both models differ from their siblings, however, as the sport sedans have taken the aerodynamic shape beyond their respective siblings.
With a coefficient of drag of 0.22 for the Porsche and 0.24 for the Audi, they share incredibly slippery shapes to maximize their battery’s ranges. Funnily enough, though, the Porsche with the better Cd has a shorter range than the e-tron. EPA estimates for the Taycan Turbo come in at only 212 miles, while the RS e-tron GT gets tagged with a 232-mile range. Not exactly ideal from a couple of $140,000+ EVs, but thankfully, the EPA is quite conservative. Real-world testing done by independent automotive news outlets has reported the Taycan and e-tron GT can pull up to about 30% more range than estimated even in sub-prime conditions.
However, if you’re looking for maximum range and don’t mind absolute luxury, then the Mercedes EQS is the choice for you. The EQS 450+ and the EQS 580 4Matic, Mercedes’ current variants, use a larger 107.8kWh battery pack that gives the EQS a 340-mile EPA-estimated range at a minimum. Not to mention the 0.20 Cd that the EQS has is the lowest of any production car on sale today. The Benz wears a very rainbow-like greenhouse shape and very few protruding features to achieve that drag coefficient. The nose is softer than their ICE models, lacking the extensive air intakes they have, too.
Under the skin, the Merc is closer to the J1-platform rivals. PMSM motors are used on either the rear axle or both, depending on the model, while a sizeable flat battery pack makes up the EV-specific chassis’ floor. That battery pack, the front and rear subframes, and electric motors make up the EQS chassis. Coded MEA (modular electric architecture), Mercedes can reduce the size of the battery pack to shorten the wheelbase for a smaller electric model while retaining all of the benefits of a bespoke EV chassis.
Inside the cabin, the EQS has a dashboard layout like the Taycan, with screens covering most of the surfaces. They’re wildly futuristic-looking but lack physical buttons, so navigating menus and operating the climate control system can be a bit fiddly. The Audi has a few big screens, but its interior layout is much closer to the other Audis in the range. The design is very familiar, with more than enough buttons to go around. Arguably the most attractive interior feature between the three is Mercedes Active Ambient Lighting, which can make the EQS look like a bathroom hallway in a nightclub…in the best way possible.
Mercedes only currently offers the two EQS variants mentioned earlier, though an AMG model with up to 751 horsepower and a much sportier ride is set to hit US dealerships in the coming months. The entry-level 450+ model stickers for just over $102,000, while the 580 4Matic starts at just over $119,000. Matching sticker prices puts the 450+ against the base e-tron GT and the Taycan 4S sedan. That leaves the Mercedes down a motor and about 200 horsepower to the Taycan 4S and e-tron GT (329hp to 522hp), though the significantly larger battery makes up for that with its much greater range. The least expensive of the three, the base Taycan, can be had for as little *eye-roll* as $82,700 in its base trim, but with rear-wheel drive and just about 320 horsepower.
On top of the advertised power for the money, you’ll also have to factor in the weight for any considerations of performance. The Taycan and e-tron GT share many of their components, but the Porsche is the lightest by far at 4773lbs with both motors. The middle-of-the-road Audi weighs in at a relatively sprite 5060lbs, while the overflowing luxury of the EQS and enormous battery pack add up to a 5467lb curb weight on the single motor model. Pony up for the extra motor and the weight balloons to 5880lbs. It’s the price to pay for luxury over performance but it has its advantages.
Now we know plenty of you out there can pick up one of these flagship models, but we also know that there are many more that can’t. Thankfully, European automakers have invested in making EVs for the budget-conscious, too.
Take a step below the flagship EVs and the market suddenly explodes in size. Audi, Jaguar, BMW, and Polestar offer family-capable EVs at a lower price than the above three cars while offering similar technology and range. However, they are all distinctly different cars, and their variance allows for many choices in this segment. So which fits you best?
Sporty sedans are BMW’s bread and butter, so it’s no surprise they turned one of their best-selling versions into an EV. Dubbed the i4, it’s based around the current G22 4-Series chassis architecture but uses an 81kWh battery and an electric motor on the rear axle for exclusively electric drive, and gets a unique chassis code: G26. At a glance, the i4 blends into the rest of the range with camouflage-like precision, thanks to only a few unique exterior features. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see the differences.
The i4 uses the same MacPherson strut front design as its ICE siblings, but a pair of self-leveling air springs take the place of the standard coil-sprung, multi-link setup at the rear. BMW engineers spent significant time redeveloping the suspension damping to control the EV’s weight and ensure it took corners as a BMW should. Also helping manage the weight is the increase in track width over the non-EV 4-series. An inch wider at the front and a half-inch at the back ensures better mechanical grip, while the battery pack drags down the center of gravity over two inches lower than the equivalent non-EV 4-series. Even with the extra battery mass, the chassis improvements have allowed the i4’s handling characteristics to remain close to a 430i or 440i.
The i4 is pretty quick, too; with 335 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, it’ll get to 60mph quicker than the 430i. Keep that electricity in check, and you can reach an EPA-estimated 300 miles of driving, plenty of range for a trip to the shops after commuting to and from work.
If you’re not looking for a German sedan or want something a little quirkier, the Polestar 2 could be the choice. Not the most creative name in the world, but it’s a quality offering from a sort of new manufacturer. And I say “sort of” as Polestar has been around for several years, just not necessarily in a manufacturing capacity. Rebel blue Volvos wearing the Polestar badge and making turbo noises filled the late ’00s and the following decade as the brand acted as Volvo’s in-house performance specialists. Now though, the company doesn’t tune any gasoline-powered Volvos but makes electric ones instead.
The Polestar 2 is the Swedish company’s first mass-production model, designed for a new age of automotive buyers. The EV is built upon Volvo’s CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform and shares it with Volvo’s C40 and XC40 models. Because of that, the battery is smaller than the Polestar’s competitors at 75kWh, though that hasn’t affected the range, which comes in at a healthy 270 EPA-estimated miles for the single motor variant. The dual-motor variant has a slightly shorter estimated range of 250 miles which might be a deal-breaker for you, but the increased performance figure should make any enthusiast reconsider.
The muscular and boxy sedan is a pretty unassuming design in terms of performance, but as we know, some are more than meets the eye. The dual-motor 2 uses the same 75kWh battery pack as the single motor but can spin out 476 horsepower and 502 lb-ft of torque. Combine those performance figures with the Polestar’s relatively light 4680lb curb weight, and you have a Swedish EV that’ll hit 60mph in just about 4 seconds flat—that’s a second and a half quicker than the i4 eDrive40. The other variant has its single motor mounted to the front axle for a familiar front-wheel-drive application. The longer-range comes at a sacrifice to overall performance, with only 231 horsepower on tap.
Performance isn’t the Polestar 2’s purpose. It is, at its core, meant to be an everyday driver shuttling you to and from your destination safely, on time, and in moderate luxury—and the 2 does a pretty good job of that. A driver-focused cockpit puts the switchgear within reach, displaying all necessary information on two separate screens. The 12.3” digital instrument cluster takes the place of any traditional gauges while offering more information than they ever could. Climate control and radio functions reside in the center console-mounted, 11.2” touchscreen utilizing Google’s Android Automotive operating system. The rest of the cabin features sharp, exterior-like lines, wood trim, and standard vegan WeaveTech cloth seats. No, I’m not joking. Physical buttons and switchgear are mostly resigned to the steering wheel, though a few find themselves on the center console.
Polestar reduced their 2022 model year MSRPs for the 2, dropping the entry price by around 25% to about $45,000. That puts the single-motor variant nearly $10,000 cheaper than the BMW, though the same can’t be said for the dual-motor version. The Polestar and BMW offer different approaches to the modern EV sedan but can leave a bit to be desired, especially concerning cargo capacity. Fourteen cubic feet of space is available in the back of the 2—40% more than the BMW. For more practicality in a similarly sized package, the Audi Q4 e-tron offers plenty of space for the money.
With a hair under 25 cubic feet of cargo space, the Audi exceeds the BMW and Volvo combined with the seats up. Fold ’em down, and the cargo space doubles. A clear win for Audi’s family capabilities, especially considering the Polestar and Q4 e-tron start at nearly identical price points. Inside the cabin, the two couldn’t be more different. Where the Polestar takes a minimalist approach, the Audi is far busier with more angles and accents. The German infotainment setup features a touchscreen set into the dashboard with a grouping of buttons below. The upholstery comes in artificial leather, Nappa leather, and an Alcantara-like fabric called Dinamica. As a whole, the Audi offers more customization than the Polestar.
There is a balance between them, though. The Audi may carry a larger 77kWh battery pack, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance. In fact, the e-tron offers a bit less range and far less performance than the Polestar. The single motor variants of each model are close with a smidge more than 200 horsepower apiece, but the Audi can only muster 295 horsepower out of its two-motor model. Not that you’d be looking at a Q4 e-tron for its performance anyway. Audi made the Q4 e-tron to move people around electrically, and it does so fit for service as a school runner or mall crawler.
Living in a city offers some benefits to the general overcrowding of the environment, mainly public transportation. Unfortunately, American public transportation systems are laughable in comparison to European and Asian countries, so it can be tough to live there without a form of personal transport. While cities tighten restrictions on pollution, investing in a small electric runabout is becoming one of the better ways to get around.
Mini currently has the smallest European EV on the market with their MINI COOPER Electric SE Hardtop 2-Door. Why such an enormous name for a small car? Who knows, but the MINI is the EV best suited to city life. At 152” long, the Cooper is five inches shorter than BMW’s i3 subcompact EV, thanks to its lack of rear doors. However, its size does limit the battery capacity to just 32.6kWh, capping the MINI’s range at a minuscule 114 miles. If it needs to embark on a long journey, a fast charger will have the battery up to 80% in no more than 35 minutes. As with the range, the small battery limits the available power, too, with 184 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque turning the front wheels.
Hop behind the wheel, and the relative lack of power won’t be too noticeable thanks to the MINI’s svelte curb weight. Coming in at just about 3100lbs, the MINI is one of the lightest EVs you can buy in the US. Given that EV power is all instant torque, the MINI keeps its nimble and fun driving characteristics even without the buzz from an ICE. Considering BMW developed it, it’s no surprise that MINI’s power plant can deliver that fun. The SE’s EV underpinnings were engineered directly from Munich’s experience with the i3 and engineered specifically for the MINI.
Also assisting the MINI’s fun demeanor are its exterior features. Funky wheel choices and bright color options separate the hatch from the everyday mundane EV choices, especially those from Japan. LED headlights and Union Jack tail lights are standard, fun, and electrically efficient. Inside the cabin, the MINI features some quality standard equipment for a model with a base price of $30,000. Heated sports seats and a heated leather steering wheel are always included, but you’ll have to pay extra for leather seat upholstery. A digital gauge cluster and large touchscreen navigation/infotainment system sit on the dashboard surrounded by black or “MINI Electric” trim and accenting yellow ambient lighting. Standard safety features include a rearview camera, Park Distance Control, Lane Departure Warning, and Forward Collision Assistance—all of which should come in handy on busy city streets.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more range for those treks into the suburbs or want whatever benefits you believe come with a bigger name, browse for a BMW i3 on your favorite used car sales website. The last new models hit dealerships in mid-2021, and there haven’t been any rumors of a replacement. However, the i3 was very popular over its nearly decade-long run, so there are more than a few lightly used and new examples still waiting to be purchased.
Like the MINI, the i3 is best used as a city runabout thanks to its compact dimensions and shorter range. However, the i3 has a range-extending generator, a feature unique to this model. The BMW was available with three battery pack options; a 22kWh, a 33kWh, and a 42.2kWh pack, each delivering varying ranges. An EPA-estimated range of 81 miles is all the smallest battery i3 has and represents the least amount of range of any i3. The farthest range of any i3 sans range extender is 153 miles from the largest and latest battery. The two-cylinder range-extending generator was available for all battery packs and gave an extra 50-70 miles of range depending on the battery pack.
For the 2017 model year, BMW even introduced the i3s, a “performance” variant of the i3. How much more performance? Well, it isn’t precisely an M car. The non-s i3 produced 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque regardless of battery size and put it down through a PMSM motor mounted on the rear axle. The i3s uses the same motor but has 184 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque on tap, enough for nearly half a second off the 0-60 time. The performance enhancements don’t stop there, though, as BMW paired the power increase with supporting improvements. Small fender flares preside over the wider tires of the i3s, while the stiffened and lowered suspension ensures better lateral grip. The “performance” it does provide over the standard car is relative, though, as the carbon and aluminum i3 chassis is tall and narrow.
Whether or not it looks sporty is subjective, but we can all see that the i3 has been one of BMW’s more interesting designs in the last decade. Initial reactions to the i3’s appearance were mixed, but in the wake of the oversized kidney grills, the small EV looks better than ever. Facelifted models received standard LED headlights and updated bumpers that made the i3 look more like a car than a children’s toy. Tech gadgetry continues into the retro-futuristic interior crafted from sustainable materials. The small digital instrument cluster and larger infotainment screen sit on the recycled plastic dashboard featuring wood accents, while the familiar iDrive rotary knob sits between the seats. It truly is one of the nicest-looking EV interiors today, though rear occupants have little to no space for comfort.
Perhaps their biggest advantage today is their ease of access. Whereas many EVs are less than a year into the market, the i3 has already come and gone. If nearly 100,000-miles doesn’t frighten you, you can grab the runabout for under $20,000 with the range extender, while lightly-used late-model examples can reach the $50,000 mark.
I’d now love to discuss how the Volkswagen ID.3 provides a slightly larger option for a city runabout in a lovely package with around 180-miles of EPA-estimated range. However, VW has no plans to bring the small EV stateside, so we’re left with the older e-Golf. While similarly sized to the ID.3, the EV tech is behind today’s quickly moving standards. An EPA-estimated range of 125 miles was all the e-golf could muster when new, and the latest batteries are now almost four years old. Still, though, the Mk7 Golf platform is wonderfully styled with great handling characteristics and lots of practicality. With 134 horsepower from its 38.2kWh battery pack, the e-Golf isn’t exactly a GTI, but EV torque fits tight city streets better anyway.
Of course, the models mentioned aren't the only ones around. The Audi e-tron (just e-tron, no Q4 beforehand, and no GT afterward) offers a legitimate family-hauling SUV with a 4000lb towing capacity, though the BMW iX and Mercedes EQB are slated to fight for that market share very soon. The I-Pace is a striking crossover that offers performance and utility in a uniquely-Jaguar package and VW’s ID.Buzz is set to reimagine the classic “Bus.” Even the EV-esque Plug-In Hybrids like the ultra-exclusive Polestar 1 and Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-hybrid make a case for their powertrains being a fitting and exciting bridge between fire and lightning.
Whichever EV you choose or don't choose, we're on an electric path for the foreseeable future. Hydrogen fuel cells are years out from meaningful infrastructure support, and carbon-neutral fuels are still in the early stages. Getting into an EV now only makes the transition easier and probably a little easier, considering the government offers a $2500 to $7500 tax credit, depending on the vehicle. Are they going to be equal to, if not better, than gasoline-powered vehicles in terms of character? Not from what I can see. But it's still very early days, and EVs provide a perception-altering automotive experience that will define a generation to come.
Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.