A decade ago, when the Nissan Leaf appeared as the first widely available mainstream electric car, the only drivers genuinely interested in buying one were early adopters with short commutes. With only about 100 miles of range and a new consumer phenomenon later dubbed “range anxiety,” the Leaf had limited appeal.
But in subsequent years, advances in battery design and packaging meant more miles, broadening the acceptance of electric vehicles. Gradually, more buyers could envision using an EV for trips to and from work or for errand runs around town. Today’s EVs range from pokey and basic to fast and luxurious, with price tags to match. But if you don’t need a lot of range, some of today’s top electric vehicles can be had for the price of an average sedan, and for even less when you factor in federal and state incentives.
We’ve gathered up the most affordable electric vehicles you can buy today and tip you off about some notable options on the horizon. If you’ve been hesitant to dip a toe in the electric waters (irresponsible metaphor aside), now is a great time to make a relatively low-risk leap.
Best Range Electric Cars
Not surprisingly, Tesla dominates the top of this list with expensive cars that have large batteries to cover long distances. But the remainder of the list shows just how close the other competitors are to each other; just 25 miles of range separate Jaguar luxury from Chevy Bolt practicality. Others, such as the Nissan Leaf and the Audi e-tron, fall just outside the list. Tesla’s advances, meanwhile, demonstrate how close the mainstream automakers are coming to the 300-mile threshold.
- 2019 Tesla Model S lineup: up to 370 miles
- 2019 Tesla Model X lineup: up to 325 miles
- 2019 Tesla Model 3 lineup: up to 322 miles
- 2020 Chevrolet Bolt: 259 miles
- 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric: 258 miles
- 2019 Kia Niro Electric: 239 miles
- 2020 Jaguar I-Pace: 234 miles
Fuel Cost: Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars
Comparing the costs of electricity required to run an electric car versus the costs of gasoline to power a regular car is still an arcane science with many variables. Charging at home overnight, for example, allows you to charge at off-peak hours, reducing your costs. If you charge during the day, you’ll see those rates jump. If you often charge at work or an outside charging station, you’ll need an account with one of the growing numbers of electricity providers that often offer flat-rate charging ($5 per session, for example). Generally speaking, electricity costs less than gasoline and its pricing is more stable. But there’s a learning curve to understanding when it’s cheapest to tap into the grid to top up your EV.
Fully Electric Cars vs. Plug-In Hybrid
Electric cars are just that: cars powered solely by electricity stored in a battery pack. Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, use a regular gasoline engine paired with a battery pack and electric motor. The battery pack can be recharged from an electrical outlet or charging station, but it can also store energy recaptured during braking. Usually the battery pack on a plug-in runs out of electricity within 20-30 miles, at which point the gas engine takes over, so you never need to worry about running out of juice. Full EVs require more thought, route planning, and an evolving knowledge of the location of charging stations. (Most onboard navigation systems can help locate stations and eliminate the guesswork in unfamiliar areas.)
For many buyers, an electric car makes perfect sense. Even drivers with average commutes can often make it through a full workweek on a single charge. Electric cars offer a clean commuting alternative and are usually eligible to use HOV lanes with a single driver. And today’s electric cars range from mainstream compact picks to European luxury comfort, so there’s something for every budget. For drivers not quite ready to take the all-electric plunge, plug-in hybrids are an excellent alternative. When you’re ready to explore the world of plug-in and electric cars, Edmunds can help you research EVs and find a great deal in your area.