For those of you who read CleanTechnica regularly and follow authors, you probably know about my oddball project I’m undertaking with my Chevy Bolt EUV. I’m under no delusions that it’s a real SUV, because it’s obviously just a chunky Bolt EV hatchback. Interior room is better in the backseat, and the front of the car looks more SUV-like, but mechanically and in terms of ground clearance, it’s no different than a Bolt. The only substantive difference is more of a soft suspension and the upgraded tires I put on.
But, for most of what I do, it won’t be a problem. I don’t try to rock crawl, blast along trails like a Baja racer, or anything like that. I’m just cruising along the roughest of roads, like you’d find sort of maintained by the US Forest Service or a rural western county.
All-wheel drive would sure be nice, though. As it stands now, I have to avoid deeper sand and winter mud in the mountains, because my Bolt EUV only has front-wheel drive. Sadly, though, “would sure be nice with AWD” and “I can afford to do that” don’t really overlap with electric vehicles right now. As of January 2023, the all-wheel drive crossovers mostly cost over $50,000 and the cheapest options start at around $45,000. I get paid fairly well for my work here, so I can’t blame CleanTechnica for this, but I have a number of family obligations that put my car payment budget closer to $35,000.
I’m actually very happy with the Bolt EUV, but I know that many people who can’t afford a $50,000 car would like to drive something that can handle a little more sand and mud. And, in a few years, I’ll probably want to get an EV with more towing capacity and all-wheel drive, so I’m always looking at what’s coming up that checks those boxes.
What I’m finding is probably going to surprise many readers, though.
Boxes To Check
For the purposes of this article, I have several criteria that I think are required to call something an “Affordable Electric Adventure Vehicle.” You can probably gather what they are from the paragraphs above, but let’s do some bullet points to make this clear for the skimmers and people who don’t want to read the article several times.
- Electric: Must be a BEV (not a hybrid or plugin hybrid)
- Affordable: Under $40,000 new (2019 pre-shortage new car prices were under $37,000)
- All-wheel drive at the above price or lower
- Can be fitted with truck tires or all-terrain tires (true for just about all vehicles)
If you look around, you won’t find anything new that checks all of those boxes right now, and there are only a few upcoming vehicles that will do it. And, it’s probably going to surprise you what those are.
The Equinox EV (& Honda Prologue)
Next year, we’re going to see the first vehicle that fits these requirements. Pricing for the base cloth-seat 1LT model is supposed to be at $30,000, but at that price you’ll get a slightly larger Bolt EUV that charges faster (which is a big deal). To get all-wheel drive, you’ll have to go for the larger battery pack option and also get eAWD. According to Chevrolet’s press releases, you’ll be able to do this to the base 1LT Equinox, and I highly doubt that a bigger battery and rear motor will cost more than $10,000.
It doesn’t look like a ground clearance king, but with some spacers to add a couple of inches of lift and some upgraded tires, the Equinox EV should be able to go out and get into a lot of places that the Bolt EUV wouldn’t quite get to. Plus, with the Ultium battery pack and 150 kW charging, it’ll get to those places a lot faster than my Bolt does, which will make it a very tolerable car for many people switching from gas to electric.
There are still some important question marks, though. For people trying to pull a little camper out into the backcountry, there still hasn’t been any kind of tow rating announced. My Bolt EUV can safely do 2,000-2,500 pounds with an aftermarket hitch, but range obviously suffers. I’d guess that the Equinox will probably have a 3,500-pound tow rating, but you’d still be wise to not expect more than about 150-160 miles of range towing (and that’s assuming you take it easy).
Unless somebody else comes out of left field and offers something compelling in this price range, this is probably going to be my next vehicle when I’m ready to trade again in late 2024 or 2025.
It’s also worth noting that Honda will be selling a version of this vehicle, but with some changes to “Hondafy” its looks. I’d imagine that it will sell at a similar price point with similar capabilities. It’s really not worth getting into further because it’s really not going to differ from the Equinox in any way but cosmetics. But, it’s still a neat looking vehicle!
After doing a lot of searching, the only other affordable upcoming vehicle that would fit the criteria was the Aptera. This probably surprises a lot of readers, who think of it as a commuter vehicle, but it does have some interesting options and unique characteristics worth thinking about.
If you look at the vehicle, it actually has quite a bit of clearance. Instead of being low to the ground like most efficient cars, it’s got a smooth shape that makes air passing beneath it not a problem. So, you’re already starting out with a vehicle that may even be able to do some mild rock crawling (with some cheap to free modifications like removing/cutting the fenders). Apteras also will have in-wheel hub motors, so you don’t have to worry about wiping out CV joints if you raise the suspension a bit for more clearance. The three independent motors actually make for a better all-wheel drive system than most EVs (which only have a motor for each axle in most cases).
I went through the build tool on the Aptera website, and the 600-mile battery, all-wheel drive, and full solar kit comes out to only $38,000. It’s possible to get a 250-mile AWD version for thousands cheaper, too. They offer an off-road kit before checkout (which will probably have better tires and more clearance around the fenders), and the camping kit (that turns the rear of the vehicle into a tent) adds $600.
So, you’d get an EV with 600 miles of EPA range, all-wheel drive, clearance, some off-road upgrades, and camping gear for under $40,000.
The only downside for many people will be that it only has two seats, but it would make a hell of an adventure vehicle for two! Getting used to picking lines for 3-wheel paths is also going to be a bit different compared to taking on terrain in a 4-wheeled vehicle.
If that sounds like something you’d want, be sure to use our referral link to save $30 on your reservation fee here.
Featured image provided by GM.
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