Best Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids for 2014

Best Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids for 2014

Nissan Leaf Update: We’ve linked to the most recent tests or news of these cars, including some 2014 models.

Nissan LEAF is an all-electric car with 70 to 100 mile range. 50,000 have been delivered globally. Nissan delivers great value with the new 2013 price starting at $28,980. Drive it at 30 mph and you might get 140 miles; drive it at 70 mph running the air conditioner, 60 miles. LEAF Test drive. This 5-door, 5-seat, hatchback has the right size and range for many who drive under 100 miles daily, or for households with more than one car. The LEAF is the first electric car to earn five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The Leaf has had its price dropped since introduction and dealers offer some attractive lease programs. Chevy VOLT

Chevrolet Volt was awarded Car of the Year by Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine and awarded Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. General Motors is the current plug-in hybrid leader with the Chevrolet Volt,which has 38 to 40 miles of electric range and total range of 380 to 400 miles by engaging a small gasoline engine that is coupled with an electric generator. GM has a complete Voltec Propulsion System roadmap, which envisions added offerings of pure battery-electric and diesel plug-in hybrids. Our Volt Test Drive showed that this is plug-in hybrid is sportier to drive than regular hybrids and a great 4-door, 4-seat sedan for those who want to minimize fill-ups and avoid range anxiety. The Volt has dropped its retail pricing and typically offers very generous leases. GM has augmented the Volt with a sister model, the much more expensive Cadillac ELR, in 2014 and also introduced the diminutive, but powerful pure electric Chevy Spark EV.   ford focus electric

Ford Focus Electric starts at $39,200 with double the charge speed of the LEAF. You can go online and configure your car, select a dealer and place your order. Although Nissan and Chevrolet have been getting most of the electric car media attention, both automakers are worried about Ford who will give customers the widest choice of electric and plug-in hybrid cars and crossovers. Ford has also partnered with SunPower to offer an affordable rooftop solar system that will allow Focus Electric owners and other electric car drivers to “Drive Green for Life,” and charge with solar. Ford Focus Electric Test Drive

Ford C-Max EnergiFord C-MAX Energi, an exciting new crossover with more room than a small SUV. The 5-seat C-MAX Energi offers 550 miles of overall driving range using the lithium battery, electric motor, and gasoline engine – more than any other plug-in. Ford offers the passenger room and cargo space of the Prius V. Its 20 miles of electric range beats the Prius Plug-in, but falls short of the Chevrolet Volt. The C-MAX Energi starts at $33,745.  Ford C-MAX Energi   2013 Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion Energi SE is a beautiful 5-seat sedan with more safety and telematics features than any other car on this list. Drive this plug-in hybrid for 20 miles of electric range, then a small efficient gasoline engine extends your range by hundreds of miles. The Fusion Energi is a strong contender since its a midsize sedan with a good reputation for handling and reliability. According to EPA testing, the Fusion gets a combined 58 MPGe (combining its electric and gas modes). Models start at $34,700. Toyota Prius Plugin

Toyota Prius Plug-in starts at $32,000. The Prius Plug-in cost about $8,000 less than the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a 40-mile electric range in comparison to the Prius PHEV’s 15-mile. The Prius Plug-in costs about $8,500 more than the classic Prius Liftback, but the difference narrows to  $6,000 after Federal Tax Credit.  In California, Toyota Motor Corp also offers the all-electric SUV, the RAV4 EV. Toyota Prius Plug-in Test Drive and Review vs. the classic Liftback. Honda Fit EV

 

Honda Fit EV. 2013 Fit EV can be purchased for $36,200 or leased at a rate competitive with other EVs on the market. The new compact 5-door 5-passenger hatchback electric car uses Blue Energy lithium-ion battery pack for a 100-mile all-electric range. The new 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid is a premium midsized sedan, also available as a hybrid, which we tested.   Tesla S Sedan

Tesla Model S Sedan has delivered its first 20,000 Model S electric cars and is still going strong, now charging into overseas markets. This luxury all-electric sedan that starts at $69,900 and has an optional battery pack for $20,000 more that gives the car a 265-mile range. Tesla will compete against these less expensive competitors with a luxury interior, electronics like a 17-inch display, 5 + 2 passenger capacity, switchable battery option, and up to triple the electric range of competitors. Tesla is now taking reservations for 2015 delivery of the new Model X SUV with all-wheel drive from two electric motors, breathtaking styling including winged doors, and the same roomy seating capacity as the Model S. Tesla Model S and Model X  

 

Smart Fortwo Electric is driven daily by thousands of Car2Go car sharing members in San Diego and Portland and cities around the world. The new Smart Electric can be purchased for only $25,000 ($17,500 after federal tax credit). The 2-seat Smart Electric has a range of about 70 miles, which is great for dense urban areas, where its small footprint also helps with parking. The new third-generation Smart Electric has a more powerful  55kW EM-motive motor and 17.6kWh ACCUmotive lithium battery.

BMW i8 Electric Sports Coupe BMW is now selling the all-electric i3 (which also comes in a range-extended version) cars. The i3 builds on the company’s experience with the ActiveE (which featured the i3 powertrain in a 1-Series body) in San Francisco’s DriveNow car sharing program and with lease customers. In 2014, you can order the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe that dazzled movie audiences in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. BMW will extend range with innovative super-strong, yet lightweight materials including an aluminum frame and carbon fiber reinforced plastic, or CFRP for short. The i3 body consists of two independent modules: the Drive Module consists of an aluminum chassis and the powertrain with the lithium-ion battery, the performance electronics and a compact but powerful electric motor.   Mitsubishi i

 

Mitsubishi i (official name with small “i”) is bigger and with more zip for the U.S. market compared with its Japanese-market predecessor. This pure-electric city car is selling starting at $29,125. Mitsubishi will challenge the Nissan LEAF, Ford Focus Electric, and Honda Fit Electric. This fun-to-drive 4-seat 5 door, will have a wheel base 5 inches wider for the U.S. market, but the micro-compact will still be able to get those precious city parking spaces that no other car can take except the Smart. The more powerful U.S. version will have an electric range of 62 miles (EPA adjusted) with a 16kWh lithium battery. Mitsubishi Electric Test Drive

Fiat division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles surprised everyone with the 500e, an all-electric version of the Fiat 500 that is in the

2013 Fiat 500e, fiat, 500e, electric car

2013 Fiat 500e

process of reintroducing the Italian automaker to America. The car surprised everyone because it was so good! While being presented to the media as a compliance car (i.e., the company would only build enough of them to meet California’s zero emission vehicle mandate and only sell them where credits toward that mandate would count), the early returns (including ours) lauded the car as exactly what an electric car should be – full of fun and projecting a personality commensurate with the significance of the vehicle for the environment.  

EV Forecasts and Renewable Energy

Electric car sales will triple in the U.S. each year from 20,000 in 2011 to 60,000 in 2012 to 180,000 in 2013. This report is about freeway-speed U.S. available all-electric and plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles. Accenture forecasts 1.5 million electric vehicles in the United States by 2015. Over 10 million electric vehicles are possible by 2020, especially if oil prices rise as battery prices fall. Single electric utilities have scenarios for charging over one million electric vehicles in their own service area by 2020. With renewable energy investment required of utilities in 30 states, these utilities are most interested in night time charging of electric vehicles with wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Utilities are also implementing smart grids and incentives for off-peak charging. More than 100 large and small competitors are fighting for share of the U.S. electric car and truck market. Some may be struggle to get significant share due to time delays and cost of safety and other regulatory approvals, delays in funding, or unpleasant surprises from a supplier. It’s a tough business. Even Tesla had to add 700 pounds and two years to get the first Roadsters in customers’ hands. We’ve been impressed with the performance of the VW e-Golfs that we’ve driven over the past few years and it is due to arrive late in 2014. Mercedes is in the process of preparing a B-Class electric for sale in the U.S. Electric cars with range extended by fuel cells continue to make progress. Hyundai is building 1,000 Tucson fuel cell vehicles and they are on sale in Southern California as of mid-2014. Mercedes has put 200 of the new F-Cell B-Class on global streets; Toyota putting 100 of its 400-mile range FCHV into fleet applications and has shown a concept of what the 2015 model will look like when it goes on sale; Honda also has shown its 2015 model in concept form and other auto companies are also moving forward with fuel cells. China could have several EV models delivered to U.S. customers in the near future from BYD or possibly other companies, but Coda’s experience trying to sell an electric version of a dated, poor quality Chinese model was not encouraging.

2013 Fiat 500e Road Test

2013 Fiat 500e Road Test

fiat,500e,electric car

Fiat 500e Combines Style & Performance

Ed. note: Up-front, we’ll apologize Meredith Willson and anyone who’s ever performed in The Music Man.

It’s all about fun with a capital “F” and that stands for Fiat. And that rhymes with nothing that relates to electric cars. But more importantly it does not stand for any of that bad old stuff that Fiat used to stand for. The Fiat 500e is flat-out the most fun of the pack of electric cars that I have driven over the past two decades. It’s got the sportiness of the original EV1 with a hip Italian package.

Yes, it’s a limited vehicle, as is its gasoline-powered cousin. Ostensibly a four-passenger vehicle, the two-door Fiat 500 with either an electric or gas powertrain is really a two-passenger vehicle with some space for small people or children in the rear, particularly with average-size American males in front. Also, it really is a city car. The combination of the Fiat’s short wheelbase and American freeways full of big rigs and expansion joints is not something to be enjoyed long-term. Of course, the 500e solves that by offering an approximate 100-mile range (less at highway speeds, of course) to keep you from having to test your endurance in that environment.

The 500e’s natural habitat is the city. That is where the fun begins. The zippy and aerodynamic car gets low center of gravity created by its 24 kWh liquid-cooled/heated lithium-ion battery pack, which is located in the middle of the car to enhance its handling. As was disclosed recently, the 500e was largely engineered by Fiat’s supplier, Robert Bosch. The company tailored a suspension with increased spring rates and unique front-strut and rear-shock tuning. The 16.3:1 electronic power steering is responsive, delivering a feeling more akin to the Abarth performance version of the 500 than its tamer standard trim. Some of that performance has to be attributed to the torquey 111 hp (83 kW) electric motor that drives the front wheels.

Fiat doesn’t shy away from quirkiness and there’s plenty here, not all of it as charming as the hard-charging performance. the push-bottom transmission is one. It doesn’t hamper the operation of the car, but it is definitely not a typical set up.

fiat,500e,electric car

Fiat 500e’s plug is in back

Fiat (and Chrysler) CEO Sergio Marchionne is famous for repeatedly complaining that his company would lose about $10,000 on each 500e sold. With that kind of attitude, the presumption among the automotive media was that the car would end up a weak representative designed to cut corners on cost rather than on the track. How wrong they were, as evidenced by the report above. But some evidence of cost-saving is evident. The connection for charging was placed in a location that allowed Fiat to keep the same basic body configuration as the gas version–behind the fuel filler door. The problem with that is most chargers are located and vehicles are designed for a charging port in the front of the vehicle. That’s leads to situations where you have to back the 500e into a charging spot. Not a problem, given its short wheelbase and tight steering, but a complication that shouldn’t have been necessary. Then there’s the key start. This was the first electric car I’ve been in that required a key inserted to start operation. With many gas-only and hybrids going keyless, it seemed like another shortcut.

The flipside of all of the complaints about the cost of making the vehicle is Fiat is retailing the vehicle for $32,500 (delivered price including destination charge) and offering discounted leases at $199/month. The lease puts it in line with competition from Nissan, Ford and Chevy.

Around town, as I’ve noted, the 500e is a blast. The range is long enough that most short runs won’t cause any stress. Or it may be that because the drive is so much fun, you forget to focus on range issues. Of course, being such a fun drive also means there’s a temptation is to use it hard and extend its use whenever possible. So looking for charging spots becomes part of the daily drive. On a typical day I left with 42 miles of range and decided to see what an hour of charging would do. After an hour it showed a 60-mile range, but that dropped quickly to 53 miles after a block or two. Just another bump on the road of getting used to living with an electric car. The good news with the 500e is however far you go or whatever direction you point it, you’re heading for a fun ride.

2013 Fiat 500e, fiat, 500e, electric car

2013 Fiat 500e

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