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The Complete Electric Car Buying Guide: Every Model, Explained
Electric cars are the future. At least, that’s the idea most automakers are banking on. Elon Musk and Tesla have shown off the immense potential for battery electric vehicles (also known as BEVs), delivering models that offer prodigious range equal to gas-powered equivalents and “ludicrous” acceleration that exceeds most internal-combustion cars.
The biggest hurdle for automakers looking to build new EVs is battery technology; power storage units remain heavy, cumbersome and expensive compared with gasoline. So far, battery limitations have been one of the main constraints what types of BEVs can be made, who can afford them, and how much — if any — profit automakers can make from them. But that’s starting to change. The 2020 model year should be a tipping point for EVs, with heavyweight manufacturers like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz diving into the mix, as well as intriguing startups like Rivian launching new vehicles.
That’s not to say the electric car marketplace is barren right now, however: Early adopters can still choose from an array of compelling options. Here, then, we present the Gear Patrol guide for every battery electric vehicle currently available for sale in the U.S.
Level 1 Charging: A standard 120-volt wall outlet. It can take 24 hours or more to fully charge an EV.
Level 2 Charging: Most home charging systems and public charge points; they deliver power at 240 volts, and charge vehicles about five to six times faster than Level 1. These can add significant range in a few hours, or fully charge a vehicle overnight. Almost every electric vehicle is compatible with a Level 2 charger.
Level 3 Charging: Refers to a number of methods that generally deliver a “fast charge,” raising a battery to 80 percent in less than an hour. These chargers are less common. Not all EVs accept Level 3 charging.
SAE J1772: The standard five-pin connector used on most Level 2 charging systems.
CCS: “Combined charging system.” Combines the five-pin SAE J1772 “J-plug” with an additional plug to accommodate DC fast-charging.
CHAdeMO: DC-only fast-charging connector, most commonly used on Japanese and Korean vehicles.
Tesla Supercharger: Tesla uses its own proprietary connectors that accommodate fast charging, which they call “Supercharging.” Tesla sells SAE J1772 and CHAdeMO adapters. European Teslas are fitted with a CCS plug.
Other Useful EV Terms
BEV: “Battery-electric vehicle.” Used interchangeably with “EV” to describe electric vehicles.
Federal Tax Credit: In America, EVs come with a $7,500 federal tax credit that lowers the effective cost of purchase. The tax credit begins to phase out after a manufacturer sells 200,000 electric vehicles.
ICE-ing: Internal combustion enthusiasts parking their large trucks in a manner to block public charging points.
kWh: “Kilowatt-hour.” This is the energy unit used to measure battery capacity.
MPGe: “Miles per gallon equivalent.” Designed to measure how many miles an EV will travel on the energy equivalent of one gallon of gas. Works as a vague basis of comparison between internal-combustion and electric vehicles.
One-Pedal Driving: Many EVs use a regenerative braking system, where lifting off the accelerator causes the electric motor to create resistance and braking, sending electricty to the battery. This permits the driver, for the most part, to drive without using the brake pedal. It improves efficiency in stop-and-go traffic. Most cars will let the driver adjust the system’s strength.
Range Anxiety: Fear that an EV won’t be able to travel sufficiently far on a charge. Considered a major barrier to widespread EV adoption.
Torque: The rotational equivalent of linear force, which provides forward acceleration in a vehicle. Internal combustion engines must build their revolutions to a specific speed range to achieve peak torque, while EVs reach peak torque immediately, enabling tghem to accelerate more quickly and feel quicker still.
WLTP: The World Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure, used for testing efficiency and energy emissions in non-U.S. markets. Manufacturers often cite it because it gives a more favorable range estimate than America testing, which is closer to real-world driving.
Audi recently debuted the E-tron, a midsize luxury crossover. It is the first of 12 electric Audi models set to launch by 2025. The E-tron looks like a standard Audi SUV, all the way down to the (unnecessary) grille. The e-tron SUV’s two electric motors generate a maximum of a combined 402 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque, and accelerate it from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
While the E-Tron SUV’s EPA range of 204 miles disappoints compared to its closest competitors, the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X, Audi would counter that by saying using only 88 percent of battery capacity improves battery lifetime and reliability. Nevertheless, at 74 MPGe, the e-tron SUV is the least energy efficient electric vehicle produced by a major manufacturer.
- Audi e-Tron SUV
- Dual motors, all-wheel-drive, 95-kWh battery
- 204 miles
Base Price: $74,800
BMW’s only pure electric vehicle, for now, is the i3, a subcompact hatchback that debuted in 2013. The i3 is a bit of a throwback to the early 2010s, when EVs needed quirky, avant-garde designs to appeal to early adopters. There are two trims: the standard i3 that makes 170 hp and a sportier i3s making 181 hp. Both can achieve 153 miles of EPA range. Those willing to tolerate some vehicular emissions can bump the range to 200 miles with a gasoline range extender.
The major knock on the i3 is that the competition has caught up since 2013. Cars like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 offer far better performance, space and range, at a similar–if not lower–price point.
- Rear motor, rear-wheel-drive, 42-kWh battery
- 153 miles
Base Price: $44,450
Chevrolet makes the pure electric Bolt, which is not to be confused with the soon-to-be-discontinued Volt, a plug-in hybrid. The Bolt is a small hatchback with an engine producing 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. It has an EPA range of 238 miles. The Bolt is well-regarded for its capability, but not so much for its looks. Chevy markets the Bolt as the affordable EV, with a base price of $36,060 before any tax incentives. But the Bolt and is about to become less affordable; the $7,500 federal tax credit began its graduated phase-out in April 2019.
- Chevrolet Bolt EV
- Front motor, front-wheel-drive, 60-kWh battery
- 238 miles
Base Price: $36,060
Fiat is expected to reveal its exciting electrified future at the 2020 Geneva Auto Show. For now, Fiat offers the ill-supported 500e. It has all the practicality drawbacks of the standard Fiat 500, with the added charm of only being sold in California and Oregon. The 500e is reasonably powered, at 111 hp and 147 lb-ft. The trouble is the 84-mile EPA range, which limits the 500e to being a city car, and makes it a poor value compared to the alternatives.
- Fiat 500e
- Front engine, FWD, 24-kWh battery
- 84 miles
Base Price: $33,210
Honda uses the “Clarity” name for its stable of super-clean vehicles, including a pure BEV, a plug-in hybrid, and a hydrogen fuel cell car. The Clarity Electric debuted for the 2017 model year. It’s a midsize sedan making 160 hp and 221 lb-ft. But,there are some downsides: the Clarity Electric’s EPA range is only 89 miles; it is only available in California and Oregon; and we can’t give you a base price because you can only lease it, for $199 per month on a three-year lease with $1,799 down.
- Honda Clarity Electric
- Front engine, FWD, 25.5-kWh battery
- 89 miles
Base Price: $199 per month lease
Hyundai offers two electric vehicles. The first is the Ioniq, a compact four-door hatchback that debuted in 2017. Its engine produces 118 hp and 218 lb-ft and it boasts a 124-mile EPA range. At 136 MPGe, the Ioniq Electric is the most efficient EPA-rated electric vehicle. It is only sold in 10 states: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The other option is the Kona EV, which debuted in the U.S. for the 2019 model year. The Kona EV is more of a mass-market vehicle, a full-fledged competitor for the Tesla Model 3. It’s an electrified version of the Kona subcompact crossover, with 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Its EPA range of 258 miles is the highest among non-Tesla electric vehicles. The Kona Electric was named the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year.
- Ioniq Electric
- Kona Electric
- Ioniq: Front engine, FWD, 28-kWh battery
- Kona: Front engine, FWD, 64-kWh battery
- Ioniq: 124 miles
- Kona: 258 miles
Designed by famed British designer Ian Callum, the Jaguar I-Pace is an electric performance SUV. The dual-motor system produces 394 hp and 512 lb-ft of torque. It can hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph. The impressive I-Pace won Car of the Year, World Car of the Year, and Design of the Year at the World Car Awards. All that performance and style do come with an efficiency drawback, though: The EPA rates it at just 76 MPGe, only slightly above the Audi e-tron SUV.
- Dual motor, AWD, 90-kWh battery
- 234 miles
Base Price: $69,500
Kia offers the Niro EV, a small crossover. It is similar — though not identical — to its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Kona EV. The Niro is built on the same platform as the Kona; its engine also makes 201 hp and 291 lb-ft, and battery size is the same at 64 kWh. The Kona EV is more efficient, per EPA ratings, while the Niro EV is bigger and slightly more expensive.
- Niro EV
- Front motor, FWD, 64-kWh battery
- 239 miles
Base Price: $38,500
The Nissan Leaf is a compact four-door hatchback. It first debuted in 2010, with the second generation coming out for the 2018 model year. The Leaf comes in two versions, the Leaf and the Leaf Plus. The Leaf is the entry-level EV, offering 147 hp and 236lb-ft, a base price under $30,000, and a range of 150 miles. The more expensive Leaf Plus is a competitor for the Kona EV, Bolt and Model 3. It is more powerful, packing 214 hp and 250 lb-ft, and has a longer EPA range of 226 miles thanks to its a bigger 62-kWh battery.
- Leaf Plus
- Front motor, FWD, 40-kWh battery
- Front motor, FWD, 62-kWh battery
- Leaf: 150 miles
- Leaf Plus: 226 miles
Base Price: $29,990
Tesla has redefined the paradigm for electric vehicles, producing cars with an unmatched combination of performance, range and practicality. With more than 250,000 sales in 2018, the brand has also shown the mass-market potential for BEVs. Tesla’s ambition and success, however, have been tempered by concerns about build quality, safety and the company’s long-term stability. Tesla’s federal tax credit dips to $1,875 on July 1, 2019, and expires at the end of the year.
At present, Tesla offers three electric vehicles. The Model S is a four-door liftback sedan that entered production in 2012. It comes in three trims: Standard Range (285 miles of range, 0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds), Long Range (370 miles of range, 0-60 mph in 3.7 sec), and Performance (345 miles of range, 0-60 mph in 3.0 sec). For an additional $20,000, you can purchase “Ludicrous Mode” for Performance models; that improves the 0-60 mph acceleration to just 2.4 seconds.
The Model X is a mid-size luxury SUV Tesla began producing in 2015. Like the Model S, it has been simplified to three trims: Standard Range (255 miles, 0-60 mph in 4.6 sec), Long Range (325 miles, 0-60 mph in 4.4 sec), and Performance (305 miles, 0-60 mph in 3.4 sec). Ludicrous Mode will bring the latter Model X’s 0-60 time down to 2.7 seconds.
The Model 3 is a four-door fastback sedan that entered production in 2017. It was both the best-selling electric vehicle and best-selling luxury vehicle in the U.S. in 2018. There is a base RWD model, the Standard Range Plus (240 miles of range, 0-60 mph in 5.3sec) that comes with what Tesla describes as a “partial premium interior.” There are also AWD Long Range (310 miles, 0-60 mph in 4.4 sec) and Performance (310 miles, 0-60 mph in 3.2 sec) trims. None of the Model 3s offer Ludicrous Mode.
The company is taking orders on the upcoming Model Y compact crossover. Tesla also has a pickup truck purported to be more capable than the Ford F-150 and Porsche 911 in the works, as well as the Tesla Roadster, which purportedly will do 0-60 mph in 1.9 seconds, top out at more than 250 mph, and offer a 620-mile range.
- Model S
- Model X
- Model 3
- Model S: Dual motor, AWD, 100-kWh battery
- Model X: Dual motor, AWD, 75-, 90- or 100-kWh battery
- Model 3: Rear motor, RWD 50-kWh battery; Dual Motor AWD 62- or 75-kWh battery
- Model S: 285-370 miles
- Model X: 255-325 miles
- Model 3: 240-310 miles
The E-Golf is Volkswagen’s early attempt at an EV, one that launched in 2015. It got somewhat lost in the shuffle following the Dieselgate scandal and the carmaker’s decision to launch the upcoming ID range of electric vehicles. It’s a well-hidden gem, a practical-yet-fun-to-drive VW Golf that happens to run on electricity. Its 134-hp, 214-lb-ft powertrain gives it a fun-to-drive dynamic much like the rest of its siblings. The major sticking point, however, is the 125-mile range — which may be adequate for most driving, but doesn’t match up to the competition in 2019.
- Front motor, FWD, 35.8-kWh battery
- 125 miles
Base Price: $31,895
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