Esquire magazine feature

The editor was clear. "If you must write about electric cars," he groaned, "ask someone why they're all so awful. I mean, who really wants a Prius? Find out why the car industry won't produce electric cars that appeal to men."

Of course, he's right about the Prius. I know its hybrid technology is groundbreaking. The latest model does more than 70mpg. A few diesel cars perform even better, but only the smallest conventional-engine cars have lower emissions. And they're the kind that take a month to accelerate to 60mph, and have just enough space for two pigmies and an iPod. The Prius is a five-door family car. So be fair.

And using less petrol isn't just good for the environment or your bank account. It's good for the war on terrorism, too. A former director of the CIA points out that every time you fill your car, some of the profit finds its way back to Al-Qaeda. So he drives a Prius with a bumper sticker that says, "Bin Laden Hates This Car."

But, let's face it, the Prius isn't sexy. Yes, it's worthy. And obviously it's quite clever. The third generation model is even partly made from plant-derived ecological bioplastics - a kind of motorised triffid. The new design is less frumpy, too, although it's hardly a head turner.

Over half of Prius buyers say their main reason for buying one is that it makes a statement about them, while only a minority cite fuel economy. But real men - men who like cars - would rather be dragged to Dancing On Ice in a pair of Lycra trousers than drive a Prius. And that was before we discovered that the brakes don't work.

Here's your dilemma: You're secretly quite green. You care about the environment. Every time you hear a climate change sceptic denounce a Nobel-prize-winning scientist, you have an uncomfortable feeling that their ancestors were insisting that the world was flat.

But you also like driving, and you love cars. You don't want a middle-aged hybrid, any more than you want an embarrassing woolly sweater.

So what do you do? Well, if you've managed to salvage your banker's bonus, have a look at the Tesla. Because this California-based company has produced an electrically powered sports car.

The Tesla is a two-seater roadster modelled on the Lotus Elise, which means it's low-slung, masculine and purposeful. Some two-seaters, like the little Mazda MX-5, are primarily sold to hairdressers. This one could be driven by 007.

Named after the inventor of the electric motor, Tesla has already sold more than 900 of the battery-powered vehicles around the globe. Celebrities who own one include most of the cast of Ocean's Eleven - Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and George Clooney. Not a coiffeur among them.

The Tesla finally lays to rest the idea that electric vehicles have to perform like milk floats. There's an eerie start - no ignition, just a silent press of the button - before you discover the phenomenal acceleration. With maximum torque available instantly from an electric motor the size of a large melon, the Tesla hurtles to 60mph in 3.7 seconds. That's on a par with the Ferrari California.

And you get there, pressed into the back of your seat, accompanied by the sound of a jet engine. "Does it sound like this to people outside?" I asked Don, the genial sales director, hopefully. "No, it's your own private jet noise," he replied.

Ah, say the petrol-heads, but what about the range? And you've got to plug electric cars in. Well of course you do. We cheerfully recharge our mobiles and our laptops at home and in the office, yet for some reason we think cars must be different. Would it be more convenient to take your iPhone to a refuelling station? Clearly not.

And think of the savings. A full recharge will cost less than a fiver, and even if your electricity is generated by coal, the carbon emissions are tiny compared to anything else on the road. As more of our amps come from renewable sources, cars like the Tesla become even greener.

London mayor Boris Johnson, who I happen to know has driven a Tesla, too, is installing 25,000 fast-charging points in the city. And you can still plug your car in at home using a normal 13amp socket.

Today, the Tesla will set you back close to £100,000. But next year the Model S is launched, a stunning four-door saloon with a base price of just $50,000. There's already a Mini Electric, which even the extremely grand Lord Mandelson has driven, but the Prince of Darkness travels alone and by night.

Audi has revealed a concept "e-tron", an electric version of its awesome RS8. Even the gas-guzzling American market is changing as fuel prices escalate. The Detroit Motor Show featured an "electric alley", and GM launches the Volt next year.

It's a pity that the petrol-heads have got it in for electric cars. Clarkson, who coined the brilliant phrase "volt-head", seemed determined to dislike the Tesla. He's keener on hydrogen, and any fuel that produces water as its waste product is worth a look.

In one of those toe-curlingly awful Back To The Future films, Doc Brown returns from 2015, having converted his DeLorean to run on kitchen scraps - a kind of thermonuclear compost bin under your bonnet. Clearly barking mad - as someone might once have said about proponents of the internal combustion engine.

But there's a recognisable truth in the joke. Carbon-burning cars will one day only be found in a museum, alongside a mummified Clarkson. The future's either electric or hydrogen. Or possibly personal nuclear fission. Maybe even energy from banana skins. But it isn't hydrocarbons. Be patient: the volt-heads are coming.

Christopher N Howarth