The best electric car on the market is the . It’s ahead of the competition in terms of powertrain technology, infotainment technology, and semi-autonomous driving features. It’s seriously quick off the line thanks to the instant torque generated by its electric drivetrain, and Tesla has finally solved the quality problems it experienced early in the car’s production run so it’s relatively well-made.
If the Model 3 isn’t for you, rest assured the list of great alternatives grows on a nearly monthly basis. Digital Trends travels all over the world to drive the newest electric cars, and we’ve selected the best performance EV as well as the best affordable EV, among other picks.
At a glance
|Tesla Model 3||Best electric car overall||5 out of 5|
|Chevrolet Bolt EV||Best long-range EV alternative||4 out of 5|
|2018 Nissan Leaf||Best affordable EV||Not yet rated|
|BMW i3||Best luxury electric car||Not yet rated|
|Tesla Model S P100D||Best electric performance car||Not yet rated|
|Audi E-Tron||Best electric crossover/SUV||Not yet rated|
Tesla Model 3
Why should you buy this? It is simply the best electric vehicle on sale.
Who’s it for? Those willing to expand their horizons and experience the future of transportation — today.
How much will it cost? $39,500
Why we picked the Tesla Model 3:
The most exciting vehicle on the market isn’t a million-dollar supercar, a broad-shouldered truck, or a seven-passenger SUV. No, the car the world can’t wait to drive is an all-electric sedan from a startup automaker called Tesla.
Modestly stylish on the outside, luxurious on the inside, surprisingly fun to drive, and available with up to 310 miles of range, the Tesla Model 3 checks all the right boxes. But that’s just the beginning. Where the Model 3 truly impresses is its innovative convenience and safety features (including some of the industry’s best semi-autonomous driving aids) and future-proofed technology. Thanks to Tesla’s over-the-air updates, the Model 3 is always improving, and can be reconfigured according to your needs and wants — even after you buy the car.
Tesla may be experiencing the growing pains most mainstream automakers have long overcome, and the Model 3 hasn’t been immune from quality-related problems, but the tech startup has much to teach the automotive industry about how to build a compelling product. Though it may be a while before your Model 3 order is fulfilled, we can assure you this one is worth the wait.
Read our full Tesla Model 3 review
Chevrolet Bolt EV
The best long-range EV alternative
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? $36,620
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 original Nissan Leaf could be procured for under $30,000, but they needed recharging after about 80 miles which is inconvenient at best. 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 2018, we finally have an electric car for the everyman — the Chevy Bolt EV. Boasting a range of up to 238 miles and a cost under $40,000, the crossover-esque 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 sleeve. While we prefer the more expensive Model 3, if you won’t be able to your hands on a Model 3 for a while (and need an electric commuter ASAP), the Bolt is a fantastic alternative.
With a total output of 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, the Bolt EV is quite zippy. 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. It’s available in all 50 states and there’s no waiting time to get one.
Read our full Chevrolet Bolt EV review
The best affordable EV
Why you should buy this? The Nissan Leaf is one of the most well-rounded electric cars on the market. It’s affordable and it’s available right away all across the nation.
Who’s it for? Eco-conscious commuters seeking a zero-emissions ride to work.
How much will it cost? $29,990
Why we picked the Nissan Leaf:
Nissan made waves when it introduced the original Leaf in 2010. The UFO-styled hatchback was the first affordable, mass-market electric car of the 21st century. The Japanese firm let it wither on the vine for too long, however, and it undeniably showed its age as it entered its seventh year on the market. We recently drove the brand-new, second-generation model and concluded it was worth the wait.
Not as wild-looking as its predecessor, the new Leaf offers 150 miles of range thanks to a 40-kWh battery pack that feeds a 147-hp electric motor. It still doesn’t qualify for the coveted “long-range” label but it’s a lot more usable than its predecessor. If that’s not enough, Nissan also offers a more expensive model called Leaf e+ with up to 226 miles of range thanks in part to a bigger, 62-kWh battery pack.
The redesign ups the Leaf’s tech quotient, too. It’s now available with ProPilot Assist, which is Nissan-speak for a suit of semi-autonomous driving aids that lets the Leaf accelerate, steer, and brake on its own when the right conditions are met. We tested the system and concluded it’s basically an adaptive cruise control system with added steering assist.
Read our Nissan Leaf first drive review
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? $44,450
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 an advanced 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 one is for?
With up to 153 miles of range, the i3 is quiet, smooth, and luxury car cozy, but with a handling prowess absent from most battery-powered cars currently on the market. 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.
BMW also offers the i3 REx with a two-cylinder gasoline engine that acts as a generator to provide up to 180 miles of range. The REx model is no longer a zero-emissions car, but it becomes a lot more usable than the standard battery-powered i3.
Tesla Model S Performance
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? $119,000
Why we picked the Tesla Model S Performance:
If we were to judge based on capability alone, the Tesla Model S would unquestionably be our pick for the best electric vehicle. We live in the real world though, and with a starting price of $78,000, the fact remains that many people simply can’t afford to drive a new Tesla.
However, if you can swing the Porsche-like base price, and you’re looking for something fast, comfy, and emissions-free, the range-topping Model S Performance equipped with the optional Ludicrous Mode is right up your alley. With its 100-kWh battery, the Performance boasts a zero to 60 time of just 2.4 seconds, making it one of the quickest production cars on the planet. The big battery gives the sedan an impressive 345 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 semi-autonomous convenience and safety features.
The best electric crossover/SUV
Why should you buy this? It’s fast and luxurious like an Audi should be (and electric).
Product card: Audi made the E-Tron one of the most compelling choices in the electric car segment.
Who’s it for? Buyers willing to pay a little bit more for luxury and convenience.
How much will it cost? $74,800
Why we picked the Audi E-Tron:
By showing a surprising amount of foresight, Audi beat rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW to the electric SUV segment. The E-Tron is a brand-new type of Audi that puts a fresh spin on the values that have defined the German brand for decades. It’s a model well worth paying attention to, because it paves the road that future electric Audi models will follow.
The E-Tron doesn’t break the mold, and that’s intentional. It’s recognizable as a member of the Audi family thanks to its sharp headlights and its hexagonal grille. It’s not shaped like a spaceship, either. The basic idea was to create a great car that’s electric, not one whose only selling point is its battery. Inside, it shares its dual-screen MMI Touch Response infotainment system with other members of the Audi family, including the Q8, the A6, and the A7. It’s highly intuitive to use, it looks good, and it responds quickly to touch inputs.
The sheet metal hides a skateboard-like platform built around a 95-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s about as big as a king-size mattress. It channels its charge to two electric motors (one over each axle). The system provides 360 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque in normal driving conditions. These figures go up to 408 and 489, respectively, when a boost mode kicks in. The E-Tron isn’t light, it tips the scale at nearly 5,500 pounds, but it performs the zero-to-60-mph sprint in 5.7 seconds with the boost mode engaged. That’s a respectable statistic considering its size, segment, and mission. Range checks in at 204 miles.
Read our full Audi E-Tron review
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.