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, but there are plenty on the market. These are the best electric cars on the market right now.
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 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 $30,000 after tax credits are factored in, 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.
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. It’s available in all 50 states and there’s no waiting time to get one.
The best affordable EV
2018 Nissan Leaf
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 40kWh 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, be patient — we hear Nissan will launch a version with more range in the coming months.
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.
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?
Weirdness aside, the i3 is one of the most energy-efficient cars currently sold in the U.S., with an EPA-rated 118 MPGe combined for the 2017 model, which also has up to 114 miles of range. It’s 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.
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: $136,500
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 $84,300, the fact remains that many people simply can’t afford to drive a Tesla. The $35,000 Model 3 will change that sooner or later, though the company is having a difficult time ramping up production and the waiting list is getting excruciatingly long.
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 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 one of the quickest production cars 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 semi-autonomous convenience and safety features. Moving forward, all Teslas will include full self-driving hardware, which means truly driverless capabilities are just around the corner — assuming lawmakers keep up with the technology.
The best electric crossover/SUV
Kia Soul EV
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: $32,250
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 unquestionably on the low-side. 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-view 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.
The only other electric crossover on the market is the Tesla Model X, which is over twice as expensive as the Soul EV before you begin piling on options. Companies like Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, and Volkswagen are planning to release a veritable onslaught of electric crossovers and SUVs in the coming years. The segment is going to get really crowded, really fast; watch this space.
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.