Following my post on “10 Top Cleantech Christmas Gifts” and other recent discussions, I thought it made sense to write an article on what I think are the “best electric cars for the money” right now.
Naturally, this is a subjective top 10 list. Because of the difficulty in comparing some models and the subjective nature of the list, I’m not ranking these 10 — these are just, overall, the 10 electric cars that I think offer the best value for the money.
The first long-range affordable electric car (as of October 1), the simple but smooth & comfy Renault ZOE is a wonderful buy. Well, if you live in Europe. The ZOE, as you are probably well aware, is not available on the west side of the Atlantic.
My summary impression from test driving the ZOE last year was that it was pretty basic but comfortable and fun to drive — much more fun than the more expensive and “sporty” Audi A3 e-Tron that I drove right afterwards (due to the e-Tron’s plug-in-hybrid powertrain). I like the smooth and sleek look of the ZOE, and as someone who doesn’t see much appeal in gaudy excess, I also appreciated the ZOE’s sparse yet functional design.
The new ZOE has 400 kilometers (250 miles) of range on the NEDC, or 300 kilometers (186 miles) of real-world range. At 40 kWh, the ZOE has the largest battery of any “affordable” electric car.
Pricing (add €8,000 to the prices to purchase the battery as well):
|VERSION||RETAIL PRICE INCL VAT (€) *|
|Life Range 2017||€23,600|
|Life Range 2017 Quick Charge||€24,100|
|Zen Range 2017||€24,800|
|Zen Range 2017 Quick Charge||€25,300|
|Intens Range 2017||€25,600|
|Intens Range 2017 Quick Charge||€26,100|
|SL EDITION ONE||€28,000|
|SL EDITION ONE Quick Charge||€28,500|
Battery leasing options are as follows:
“Flex Z.E. 40” offer, 7,500 km included (additional mileage: €0.05 per km) No minimum commitment period
Starting at €69 / month
“Relax”, unlimited km offer (reserved for private individuals) No minimum commitment period
Starting at €119 / month
You can lease the battery and the car together starting at €149/month.
Chevy Bolt / Opel Ampera-E
Deliveries haven’t yet begun (from what we’ve heard), but they should any day now. While the ZOE did inch in as the first long-range affordable electric car, the Chevy Bolt / Opel Ampera-E is offering a big step up on the range front. It is set to offer 238 miles of real-world range, according to the US EPA.
Another hatchback, the Bolt may not remind you of a sexy Porsche or Tesla, but it is a functional car that gets the job done — great for people who see a car as a tool rather than a trophy.
That’s not to say the car doesn’t have some snazzy tech too — as Kyle relayed to us in January after test driving the Bolt — including a wide-angle rearview camera.
For this kind of standard, every-person, hatchback, I actually think the Bolt looks pretty good. but looks are clearly a highly subjective matter. And it’s hard to think of any things the Bolt needs in order to improve (some glaring ones, though, are superfast charging capability and a Tesla-level autonomous driving suite).
Overall, it’s hard to claim any other electric car under $40,000 competes with a Chevy Bolt in the current market. Nonetheless, the fact that you could get a used Model S for $48,000, a used LEAF or Volt or i3 for $7,000–23,000, or hold out one year for a Tesla Model 3 would make this a hard purchase to justify for me at the moment.
- $37,495 before US federal tax credit
- $29,995 after US federal tax credit
If you need to travel seriously long distances and a Bolt or new ZOE doesn’t cut it for you, yet you can’t afford a Tesla, I don’t think there’s another option that compares to the Chevy Volt.
With 53 miles of all-electric range, basically any innercity driving should be covered on electricity alone, but you also have a gas backup if you go on regular drives to Key West (Florida) or Juneau (Alaska).
The Volt is also a sharp-looking car with decent tech and interior comforts. Its owners are ecstatic about it — which should tell you something. And it’s won more awards than nearly any other electric car out there.
The biggest problems with the Volt are pretty obvious and dependent on your needs: “only” 53 miles of electric range, only 4 genuinely comfortable seats, excessively tiny chrome on the front (but you can fix that with a little aftermarket detailing).
If you’re really looking to get a good deal, a used Volt is certainly the way to go. You can get one for as low as $9,500 (2012 Volt)
right now in the US, and there are 261 used options on the market for $15,000 or less.
- $33,220 before US federal tax credit
- $25,720 after US federal tax credit
The Nissan LEAF may have just been demoted to 12th man, but it’s still one of the best buys for the money on the electric car market, in my humble opinion, and the fact that you can get a used LEAF for under $7,000 — or choose from 378 for $10,000 or less — could make it the most competitive option on the market.
Also, note that the base LEAF (new) is still ~$7,000 cheaper than the base Chevy Bolt. That could explain why it continues to see >1000 sales a month despite the looming arrival of the Chevy Bolt.
The LEAF is a great all-around car. It does have some drawbacks, but there’s a lot more to love than to dislike, and it’s the top-selling electric car in the history of the world for a reason or four.
I understand that some people don’t like the looks of the LEAF, but I love its design. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this is just one of those subjective factors we each judge on our own.
Again, I encourage you to take a look at our long-term LEAF review with no home charging.
- $30,680 before US federal tax credit
- $23,180 after US federal tax credit
Tesla Model S
It’s been named the best car ever produced, named “Car of the Century” by Car & Driver, named one of America’s top 10 cars of all time by Motor Trend, got the highest rating in history by the Consumer Reports car review team, was the most loved car of its owners since it was launched according to Consumer Reports data, and has won who knows how any other awards? Yeah, you sort of have to include it — not that I would have any reason not to do so.
The Model S is also crushing the large luxury sedan competition in the US, and perhaps beating the competition in Europe too.
I think you know well enough what the pros and cons of the Model S are, so I won’t go on about this one.
- $68,000 before US federal tax credit
- $60,500 after US federal tax credit
Tesla Model X
The Tesla Model S’s younger but bigger sibling is considered by many to be even better than the Model S. Others are turned off by the vehicles automatic and unique falcon-wing doors. No matter where you stand, though, the Model X is the quickest SUV in history, includes Tesla’s market-leading Autopilot driver-assist suite, and seats 7 people about as well as anything on the market — or better than anything on the market.
I think the Model X is the best vehicle you can buy unless you want to accelerate absolutely as quickly as possible — then you’d buy the Model S P100D.
Of course, the Model X isn’t cheap. The lowest price for an inventory X is currently $89,600 (base prices for non-inventory, custom-designed, new X SUVs are below).
- $88,000 before US federal tax credit
- $80,500 after US federal tax credit
Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid
It may be a compliance car, but it’s one so popular that it never made it to the US market. That’s because it was long the only SUV in the plug-in car market, and it offers a decent balance between affordability and comfort/performance.
There are a handful of electric SUVs on the market now, but none come close to the relatively low price of this model. That’s not to say it’s a bland vehicle, though. From my time test driving the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid, I thought it was super comfortable, spacious, and slick. I’d recommend it to someone looking for an EV in that class — oh, yeah, that’s precisely what I’m doing here.
All of that said, yes, this electric SUV still isn’t available in the US. European and Japanese buyers can enjoy it, though.
Base price (UK): £31,749 after the £2,500 UK Plug-In Car Grant.
I haven’t been shy to admit — despite plenty of criticism of the car — that I personally love the BMW i3. Despite a relatively high price, I still think the BMW i3 is a great buy. It is superbly fun to drive. I love the innovative and super green interior. I love the use of carbon fiber.
Honestly, if you are spending so much money on a car, I think you want a toy to some extent — and the BMW i3 is a ton of fun to play with.
Also, remember that there are some great deals on the used car market and you can get a used 2014 BMW i3 for as low as $18,400, with 55 cars available in the US for $25,000 or less. (It’s a similar story in Europe if that’s where you’re living.)
- $42,400 before US federal tax credit
- $34,900 after US federal tax credit
I love the Renault Twizy. It may not be the most utilitarian vehicle on the planet, but it’s a super fun commuter/city car that I could really enjoy on a regular basis. It is basic — super basic — and that helps to bring the price down without taking away from the fun.
Again, this is a European model, so Americans and Canadians are basically out of luck for now. Too bad.
Granted, given that you can get a used LEAF or ZOE for approximately the price of a new Twizy, I can see why Twizy sales are so low these days.
Base price (UK): £6,995 without battery leasing (which you must also pay for)
Some PHEV … Or Any Other Electric Car
There are various plug-in hybrids on the market that I’d have a hard time recommending … except in specific circumstances. If you do drive a ton or regularly drive long distances where a Chevy Bolt just doesn’t cut it — and assuming you can’t afford a Tesla and don’t like the Volt or i3 REx for some reason — there are dozens of plug-in hybrids on the market with their own benefits.
Of course, given one’s style preferences and individual needs or lack thereof, if you live in one of a few select markets, a pure-electric Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Kia Soul EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, Volkswagen e-Up!, Smart Electric Drive, or Mitsubishi i-MiEV can also be a great buy! I’ve heard from happy owners of most of those who loved their decision. That’s the beauty of the car market — so much variation.
Overall, I don’t think you can really go wrong with any electric model if you do your research and understand your own unique personal/family needs.
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