What’s the Best Electric Car?
07.09.2017 - by Joel Levin
What’s the Best Electric Car?

I get this question a lot. But there isn’t really a single answer. As with gas cars (and toasters) the real question to ask is, “what’s the best electric car for me?” People have varied needs and tastes, and the car (or toaster) that works best for me might not fit your lifestyle at all. This applies even more to electric cars than to most other consumer goods. There are a few questions you should first ask yourself to narrow the set of cars you are considering.

1. How much can you spend a month for your car? Budget seems obvious, but you should also keep in mind the savings in fuel and maintenance relative to a gas car, plus tax credits and rebates that you may qualify for. When you take these into account, you might be able to afford more EV than you initially thought. There are also some great deals on used EVs. Check out our page on used EVs to learn more about that.

2. How far do you generally drive each day? You’ll want to make sure that your EV can comfortably accommodate your typical daily drive. The average American commutes about 30 miles to work, round trip, which is well within the range of every EV. If you are looking at plug-in hybrids, be sure the electric range covers your daily drive, otherwise you’ll end up annoyed that you are doing most of your driving on gas.

3. Will there be another car in your household? This question is really important. In a two car household with one EV and one gas (or plug-in hybrid) car, the EV can be used for trips around town and the other car can go on road trips. In this case, the range of the EV is much less critical, because you’ll be using it mostly for short trips. For example, my Nissan LEAF has a range of 85 miles, but because we generally drive it 25-35 miles a day, it wouldn’t matter (at least on a day-to-day basis) if the range were 500 miles, we’d still be driving it 25-35 miles. If range doesn’t matter, a used EV can be a great option too.

4. What is your charging situation? Big question. Will you be able to charge at home? Will you be able to charge at work? Is there public charging very near your home or work or Mom’s house or someplace else that you spend a lot of time? With a battery electric car, you want to be sure you have very consistent access to charging—someplace. With a plug-in hybrid, you have a bit more flexibility, but you want to have some idea of where you will charge to maximize your electric miles. Many EVs come standard with their own charging station finders, and you should check out PlugShare and other useful apps to find stations.

If you live in a condominium or apartment without existing chargers or access to an electrical outlet, also known as “multiple unit dwellings” or “MUDs,” things can get more complicated, but not insurmountable. See our 2016 webinar and related documents on how “MUD” EV drivers can work with building management to get charging installed.

My Nissan LEAF has a range of 85 miles, but because we generally drive it 25-35 miles a day, it wouldn’t matter (at least on a day-to-day basis) if the range were 500 miles, we’d still be driving it 25-35 miles. If range doesn’t matter, a used EV can be a great option too.

5. How often do you go on long trips? If you have never driven across the country, then you probably don’t need to buy a car that accommodates cross-country trips, just in case. But if you really drive to Vegas from LA, Chicago to St. Louis, or Philadelphia to Boston regularly, then you need to think about that. Do you need a car that accommodates those trips or are you comfortable renting a car or making some other arrangement? For all-electric drivers, some creative car dealers have offered five or six free gasoline car rentals with EV leases, making this concern moot. For plug-in hybrid drivers or longer range BEVs, this also may be alleviated with a little trip planning.

6. How much capacity do you need? Do you need a back seat that holds 2 or 3 or zero? (There are some great EVs with tiny back seats, which works for some people, but not for others.) How much cargo space do you realistically need?  If you’re okay with a single seat, you might want to consider an electric motorcycle.

7. What cars are available in your area? Some parts of the country have a limited selection of electric cars. You might also want to consider neighboring states. Phoenix has a limited selection of vehicles, but if you are willing to travel to Los Angeles, you will have a lot more options. Tesla is banned from selling its cars in Connecticut, but they do a brisk business in New York.

Once you have given these questions some serious thought, you will likely be left with a short list of options that fit your needs. Then, go take some fun test drives and find the car that best fits your taste and preferences.

If you’re looking to purchase or lease a car in the later summer, early fall, don’t forget to check out National Drive Electric Week, held every September. These fun community events, led by EV owners themselves, offer no-pressure educational experiences and allow consumers to check out electric cars without feeling sales pressure.

 

17 comments on “What’s the Best Electric Car?”
  1. Tom Hendren says:

    I’ve hac a 2013 Chevy Volt for 4 years with 60k miles. My mileage shows 132 mpg becaused I took trips on gas. My longest three trips were up to 2500 miles on gas only, on Hi Test gas (2013 Volt usess super) It gets 38 mpg in the summer and 30 in the winter (down to 20 degrees) Around town I seldom go over the 40 mile range except on the weekends. LA to San Diego & back, 180 miles, gets 55 mpg. On long trips I use the engine on on the freeways to save electric for around towns. Why charge it on trips when you can drive 300 miles on gas? I also always use MOUNTAIN MODE or HOLD on real long trips to keep the charge at over 15 miles. This prevents the low power message.

  2. Robin says:

    I bought a used 2013 Leaf with 1500 miles on it 2 years ago for my 50 mile round trip commute to my new job. I had to get a car for the drive, and I chose a Leaf. I did have to put in a level 2 charger when it got colder ( I live in NW Washington State). When it gets really cold I charge to 100%. I love the car! True, planning a longer trip requires a little planning, but the Leaf is the perfect car for what it is used for. Rolled 26K a couple weeks ago, and still performs as it should.

  3. Chris Yoder says:

    Great article! I completely agree with your points – analyze your needs, figure out which vehicle best suits that. Just like you would with an ICE car.

    Service is important — but I think that the manufacturers who’ve shown real commitment to building EVs (Tesla, Nissan, Chevrolet) will get through the learning curve. For the others, you really want to be in California or near a dealer who is actively selling the car that you want. Still, it’s not like the car goes in for anything other than a yearly check-up and I knew guys who were willing to ship their EV1 from Colorado to Los Angeles every year for service.

    Also, if you have a Tesla Model S, body work, even for just a parking lot ding, can be a real PITA because of the fact that the body is aluminum. (I live in Pasadena, but I had to take my car over to Glendale to find somebody who was certified to do the work.)

    1. Rafael de Mestre says:

      Ah yes! There was something named service … I just forgot it after 50.000 miles having no service at my Tesla Model S. And the sweets stations named by my nephews are the ones I bought some explosive liquid 7 years ago named …, well I forgot :)))

  4. Claire in California says:

    Another consideration is availability of experienced service options. After a recent collision, I was at the mercy of my local Chevy dealership, the only option for my Volt–and it was NOT a happy experience…(although I have been very happy with the car previously, and again now that I finally have it back…)

  5. Richard Katz says:

    Start with the BoltEV and work your way down

  6. Ken Jackson says:

    Cargo space IS a consideration, but my next EV will have doors, seats, and legroom appropriate my 6’1″ bad knees frame.

  7. Ken Jackson says:

    The one you own.

    1. Brian says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. The one that’s paid for!

  8. Jim stack says:

    Exactly ,like any vehicle it has to fix your needs for room, range and cost. Everyone wants a Tesla but many time a Chevy Spark EV will cover you commute,and save you lots.
    Also check for the on board charger and a,dc fast charge option. They can make a difference on trips.
    Be careful of plugin that don’t have battery cooling. They can degrade and not be useful after 1 to 2 years.

  9. Stephen Russell says:

    From piece I see that the EV IE Tesla is used local while Car X is used for Long Range trips Unless they expand Charging Grids statewide for CA alone say, correct?
    Have to wait on Autonomous drive for Long Range & say Tesla S from my home to say Laguna Beach??

    1. Chris Yoder says:

      As the article says, you really need to analyze what you want to do with the car for it’s purposes.

      From my own personal experience of driving EVs for the last 26 years (Conversion, EV1, RAV4-EV, Leaf, and now Tesla Model S) I will say that the EV will be your primary car and if you keep a gas car it will mostly just sit. To this comment I say:

      Long distance trips are all about the car that you have. A resource that is quite handy:

      https://evtripplanner.com/

      Assuming that you are using L3 charging, I have the following opinions about the suitability of EVs for long distance trips:

      With a Tesla and some small amount of planning you can go to the vast majority of destinations in the lower 48 that you would take an ICE car. Long distance trips are just driving trips where you get reasonable breaks. You drive 150 miles or so, plug in for 30-35 minutes (get a drink, stretch your legs, talk to the other friendly folks at the Supercharger) and take the next leg of the trip. As far as road trips are concerned, I don’t want to take a gas car just because the Tesla road trip rhythm is *SO* much more pleasant. (I live in LA and have been to Vegas a couple of times, up to the Bay Area every 3-4 months and my poor VW EuroVan has been less than 1,000 miles in the 2 years that I’ve owned the Tesla.)

      In a Bolt you’ll have to do more preplanning and be prepared to wait longer at the charging stops, but the LA Bay Area run in a day is not out of the question. Combo SAE fast chargers are getting out there — they are slower than Superchargers, but if you’re only making the trip every year or so it’s adequate.

      I wouldn’t do that trip in a Leaf – and I say that as someone who really loved driving a Leaf, but I know that people have don it. I just think that it’s punishing to have to stop every 50 miles or so and wait 30 min to charge. (For the record I did the LA Sacramento run in an EV1 using L2 charging, but I wasn’t willing to push really hard so it took me 3 days each way.)

  10. Ron Nath says:

    Let’s not forget about electric motorcycles such as those from Zero Motorcycles. These are even better as commuters than electric cars for those in the sunbelt.

    1. John U'Ren says:

      Hi Ron,

      Excellent point! We’ve added electric motorcycles to this post and included a link to our interview with Harlan Flagg from Zero Motorcycles about the present and future of electric motorcycles.

      1. Richard Katz says:

        Where’s the interview??

    2. Baker says:

      I’ve had a Chevy Volt for 5 1/2 years, and though I love it, almost all my driving is now actually riding. I bought a Zero S last December for getting around town. I only charge (long extension cord in the alley) about once a week. No big deal whatsoever.

      On 11 kWh, which the EPA says is equal to about 1/3 gal of gas, I ride about 160 miles! The mpge in town is 475!!

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