Once upon a time electric cars were either compact commuters that screamed "tree hugger" or slick luxury models that cost more than six figures. But those days are over.
We're now into the third generation of some models, and we're even seeing the demise of some electrics, like the groundbreaking plug-in Chevy Volt. Today, there are dozens of different EV and plug-in hybrid models available in the U.S., with plenty of startups on the horizon. Models range from button-cute all-electric coupes cars to hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans to pickup trucks with electric assist. So, now there's real competition in electrification.
Here are the best-of-breed EV, plug-in and hybrid electrics, from least to most expensive.
Hyundai's latest compact crossover is a hit; it's fun yet practical, it's a joy to drive, and it's one of the best value propositions in what is perhaps the most competitive segment in the world right now. This year, Hyundai bolsters the Kona line with an EV model in the U.S. (that model's already available in other parts of the world).
The Kona Electric is powered by a 201-horsepower (150 kilowatt) motor with 291 pound-feet of torque, providing some pep to Hyundai's cute ute. The automaker estimates a total range of 258 miles on a single charge, besting the capacities of the Bolt and base Tesla Model 3. With the Kona Electric, customers will still receive a $7,500 tax incentive, making the price of the base SEL model less than $30,000; the Limited and Ultimate packages add more interior comforts, like ventilated leather seats, as well as smart cruise control and rain-sensing wipers.
Always sticking its technological neck out, Audi has some of the more audacious in-dash systems on the market. However, the automaker has taken a cautious approach to EVs, finally going all-electric with the e-tron five-seater SUV this year. It's an upper-class SUV, boasting restrained sophistication, dual-motor all-wheel-drive handling, a finely hewn interior, Alexa compatibility, and a nicely nuanced Bang & Olufsen sound system.
Its EV cred comes in the form of a 95-kWh battery capacity, and it will be the first U.S. model to take full advantage of 150-kw CCS-format DC fast chargers (Electrify America is one of the supporting networks). The company likes to compare the e-tron to the Tesla Model X and the Jaguar I-Pace and claims that it will deliver more range (160 miles) with a 30-minute fast charge than either of those two cars (with the same charge time, they get just 144.5 and 144 miles, respectively).
The hard-topped BMW i8 was a real looker when it was introduced back in 2013, but for some reason, it always felt less than exciting to drive. The 2019 Roadster i8 raises the roof, thankfully, giving the supercar some added vim and vigor. Better electrics on this plug-in hybrid have added a dozen units of horsepower, with the combined electric motor and turbocharged 1.5-liter gas engine propelling the i8 from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The car accelerates with a smooth, throaty noise, which you can now enjoy even more by sliding the roof back with the push of a button.
Handling is tweaked on the new i8, giving it a more natural feel, although it remains the sports car for a gentleman or gentlewoman of means. It's just that now, by retracting the roof, you can really let your hair down.
What was once the quintessentially dull EV, the 2019 Nissan Leaf has received another significant face-lift and technical enhancements that have this car gunning for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Sure, there's still the pure-electric Leaf, with a 150-mile range, but you'll want the Leaf Plus. It gets 226 miles on a single charge and better acceleration at highway speeds (it now has 214 horsepower compared to the old 147 hp).
For the money, that puts the Leaf squarely in contention against the Hyundai Kona, Bolt and Model 3. We recommend that you also get the SL version, which includes navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, blind-spot warnings, and a beefed-up Bose audio system. The price for that model: a cool $42,550.
Byton wants to do for autonomous vehicles what Tesla did for electric cars. Byton's prototypes are completely re-conceived electric vehicles built to be self-driving as soon as the software is available. What's different about Byton is the way the company has designed its corresponding interiors with the assumption that drivers can participate in things like social media without worrying about driving.
So the M-Byte crossover includes a screen that stretches across the whole front dashboard, about 49 inches. And while it won't be fully autonomous when it first appears, the car will have all the necessary sensors to make that happen ASAP. Byton has said it plans to begin production this year, but the company's factory in China is still under construction.
The biggest buzz this year in the EV space goes to Rivian. One doesn't generally think of pickup trucks as green, but Rivian wants to change that with a new fully electric model that promises a lot, and we do mean a lot: a 400-mile range, a wading depth of 3 feet, all-wheel drive, and a 0 to 60-mph time of just 3 seconds. Rivian also has given its truck a smooth facade and a raft of up-to-date features, like multiple charging stations, hideaway storage compartments and touch-screen controls. Like other startups, Rivian is taking preorders, but it doesn't expect to deliver until next year.
A harbinger of automotive designs to come, the Ioniq was conceived from the start as a car that would accommodate several different electrified power trains, with a view to an autonomous future. The Ioniq comes in three versions: as a pure electric-only car, as a hybrid (gas with battery assist) and as a forthcoming plug-in hybrid (electric only or gas plus electric).
The versatile hatchback has a range of 124 miles in its pure EV incarnation, gets 59 miles per gallon as a hybrid and is expected to go around 29 miles before the gas engine kicks in on its plug-in hybrid version. All versions of the Ioniq come with a 7-inch touch screen and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.