A decade ago, the idea of driving an electric car seemed inconceivable to most Americans, but these cars with plugs are definitely here to stay. Technological improvements, stricter emissions standards, and changes in consumer tastes are driving electric cars further into the mainstream, and while they still aren’t close to replacing their gas-powered cousins, their ever-increasing ranges and penchant for quick acceleration make them a far better option than they once were.
Many of the most promising cars are still trucking down the long road toward production (we’re looking at you, Tesla Model 3), but there are plenty on the market right now. These are the best EVs you can buy.
Chevy Bolt EV
Why should you buy this: It’s the first affordable electric car worthy of a road trip.
Who’s it for: Drivers who want to give up gas without sacrificing range.
How much will it cost: $37,495
Why we picked the Chevrolet Bolt EV:
For years, consumers essentially had two choices when it came to electric cars — low price or usable range. Relatively affordable EVs like the Nissan Leaf could be procured for under $30,000, but they needed recharging after about 80 miles. On the other end of the spectrum, luxury EVs like the Tesla Model S could top 300 miles between charges, but their price tags made them an unrealistic option for most.
In 2017, we finally have an electric car for the everyman — the Chevy Bolt EV. Boasting a range of 238 miles and a cost under $30,000 after tax credits, the pear-shaped Bolt is reshaping the world of EVs by making them accessible to the masses. Consider the glass ceiling broken. Practicality and affordability are just two elements of a good car though, but thankfully, the Bolt has much more up its sleeves.
With a total output of 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, the Bolt EV is quite zippy indeed. Factor in the low center of gravity afforded by the floor-mounted battery pack, and you have a planted, stable, and surprisingly responsive people-carrier that never needs to visit the gas station. Add in a spacious and comfy cabin, a standard 10.2-inch touchscreen, and DC fast charging options, and you have an industry game-changer you’ll actually want to drive.
The best affordable electric car
Why should you buy this: It’s one of the most entertaining EVs to drive and it won’t break the bank.
Who’s it for: An eco-conscious driver seeking a fun way to get to work.
How much will it cost: $28,995
Why we picked the Volkswagen e-Golf:
If you want to build a great electric car, starting off with a great gas-powered car is a pretty good idea. That’s exactly what Volkswagen have done with the e-Golf, an emissions-free version that features almost everything we love about the long-running and charming hatchback.
Given its solid foundation, it should be no surprise to learn that the e-Golf is comfortable, fun, and pleasantly familiar. Everything is exactly where you expect it to be, and driving it is just as easy and hopping in a GTI or hopped-up Golf R. However, the vehicle returns up to 126 MPGe in the city, features 83 miles of range, and costs just $28,995 before the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit is factored in. Fun fact — this credit applies to every vehicle on this list.
The e-Golf packs plenty of tech as well, especially if you bump up to the $35,585 SEL Premium model. That particular version offers an upgraded 8.0-inch infotainment screen, navigation, and smart safety features such as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, and hands-free park assist.
Looking for something with a bit more under the hood? Keep an eye out for a production version of Volkswagen’s I.D. concept, which is expected to have a range of more than 300 miles when it launches alongside the Golf in 2020.
The best luxury electric car
Why should you buy this: It looks, feels, and drives like nothing else on the road.
Who’s it for: Metropolitan drivers that want to stand out, ride comfortably, and park easily.
How much will it cost: $43,600
Why we picked the BMW i3:
The BMW i3 is about as different from other cars as can be. It’s not just the electric powertrain — the i3 features a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body shell, wheels that look like pizza cutters, and an interior trimmed in a plant-based material called kenaf. Some people buy electric cars to save gas, and some buy them to make statements. Can you guess which customer this is for?
Weirdness aside, the i3 is one of the most energy-efficient cars currently sold in the U.S., with an EPA-rated 124 MPGe combined for the 2016 model, which also has 81 miles of range. It’s also quiet, smooth, and luxury car cozy, but with a handling prowess absent from most battery-powered cars. That’s because the car’s carbon fiber construction keeps its weight under 3,000 pounds, and the steering remains quick enough to keeps things lively behind the wheel.
An updated 2017 model with 114 miles of range is on the way, and BMW also offers the i3 REx with a small gasoline engine that acts as a generator to boost range. So while the BMW i3 on sale today is good, the one coming tomorrow will likely be even better.
The best electric performance car
Why should you buy this: It’s ludicrously quick and you’ll never have to stop for gas.
Who’s it for: Adrenaline junkies, executives, YouTube stars.
How much will it cost: $134,500
Why we picked the Tesla Model S P100D:
If we were to judge based on capability alone, the Tesla Model S would unquestionably be our top pick for the best electric vehicle. We live in the real world though, and with a starting price of $66,000, the fact remains that many people simply can’t afford to drive a Tesla.
If you can swing the base price and you’re looking for something fast, comfy, and emissions-free, the range-topping Model S P100D is right up your alley. With its 100kWh battery, the P100D boasts a 0 to 60 time of just 2.5 seconds, making it the quickest production car on the planet. The big battery gives the sedan an impressive 315 miles of range as well, so you’ll have plenty of juice to test the Model S’ incredible acceleration.
Performance is just one part of the equation though, because Tesla continues to push the boundaries of semiautonomous convenience and safety features. Moving forward, all Teslas will include full self-driving hardware, which means truly driverless capabilities are just around the corner.
The best electric crossover/SUV
Why should you buy this: It’s a roomy, feature-packed crossover with an excellent warranty.
Who’s it for: Young drivers that love tech but hate gas stations.
How much will it cost: $33,950
Why we picked the Kia Soul EV:
The Kia Soul EV is the kind of vehicle you drive if you want to make a statement, and not just about saving the environment. The boxy crossover is eye-catching no matter what powertrain it uses, and quite frankly, it’s all the car most of us will ever need.
The Soul EV is comfortable, usable, spacious, and actually quite entertaining with 210 lb-ft of electric torque on hand. Its 93-mile range is better than just about anything without a Tesla badge, and if that number is giving you a certain type of anxiety, remember that most Americans drive less than 40 miles per day. In addition, a 50kW DC connection can charge the EV’s battery to 80 percent in less than 35 minutes.
Specs aside, the Soul EV’s boxy body is stuffed with quality materials and features. Heated and cooled leather front seats are available, as are a touchscreen navigation system, a rear camera, and a digital gauge cluster that displays battery info, range, and the like. There are a few minor styling cues differentiating the Soul EV from the standard version, including a slick two-tone roof, an aerodynamically-optimized grille, and white slab sided wheels.
The Soul EV also packs one of the best powertrain warranties in the business — 10 years or 100,000 miles.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable. When we weren’t able to get behind the wheel ourselves, we leaned on our experiences with each automaker and compared vehicles on a statistical basis, using metrics like cost, range, performance, and available features to make our decision.
Common electric vehicle terms you may not know
- AC: Short for alternating current. This type of electric current reverses direction at regular intervals and is very efficient. Most modern electric cars, such as Teslas, use AC.
- DC: Short for direct current. This type of electric current stays constant in its direction. DC electric motors are generally simpler and cheaper than AC electric motors, however they are less efficient.
- EV: Short for electric vehicle.
- Fast charge: Fast chargers utilize a higher current than a standard domestic outlet. For example, a Tesla Supercharger can charge a 90kWh Model S to 80 percent in 40 minutes. In a standard outlet, the same process would take a few hours.
- kWh: Short for kilowatt hour.
- Lead Acid Battery: An older style of battery that uses lead and sulfuric acid to transfer and store energy. They are much cheaper than Lithium-Ion batteries but have a shorter service life.
- Lithium-Ion Battery: Often shortened to Li-Ion, batteries of this type are common on modern electric cars and use a compound called lithium-cobalt oxide to transfer and store energy.
- MPGe: Short for miles per gallon (of gasoline) equivalent. To calculate MPGe numbers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculated that there are approximately 115,000 BTUs of energy in one gallon of gasoline, and used that formula to convey the amount power an electric car uses in terms most drivers are familiar with.
- Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery: Often shortened to NiMH, batteries of this type are found on some older electric cars, however most automakers prefer Lithium-Ion.
- Regenerative braking: A system that uses energy created by braking to refill the battery.