Shopping for a new car can be tough. If you’re looking at buying an electric car, it can be even more difficult. While EV ownership is a smooth process, there’s more to consider to ensure these cars are a good fit for your lifestyle. Thankfully, we have a group of expert editors here to help.
Do you want something cheaper and with a more limited range, or do you want to pony up some cash for luxury features and enough range for charge-free road trips? How are you supposed to choose the best EV?
We can’t tell you exactly which EV is right for your life, but we can narrow your choices down. See, we’ve driven just about every permutation of every current-production electric vehicle on sale in the US today, so we here at Roadshow have a better-than-average view of what’s good and what’s not in EVs right now.
After taking a look at our recommendations, don’t forget to check out our tips afterwards for buying your first EV.
Read more: Here’s every electric vehicle on sale in the US for 2020 and its range
Mini might be new to the EV game, but the brand’s first effort is a great one. What it lacks in overall range, it makes up for in being fun to drive and great to be in, all at a surprisingly reasonable price. We’re also a total sucker for those electrical outlet-style wheels.
The Mini SE may only do 110 miles to the charge, but with 181 horsepower and a boatload of torque in a small package, they’ll likely be 110 very fun miles. The good news is that on a 50-kilowatt fast charger, you’ll be able to get an 80% charge in around half an hour.
The 2021 Chevy Bolt is our runner-up thanks to its less-than-exciting driving dynamics and interior quality, but it offers phenomenal range for something in both its size and price classes. The Bolt benefits from a refresh for the 2022 model year, so if you have your heart set on an American EV, maybe wait a few months.
The Bolt is still one of the best bargains on the market when it comes to range versus cost. With a range of 259 miles in a cute-ish hatchback body style, there’s plenty of reason to recommend it. It’s also decent to drive thanks to its 200 horsepower. If you can spare the extra cash and need the range, the Bolt is a good way to go.
Ford is also new to the dedicated EV platform game with the Mustang Mach-E, but it’s a stellar effort. Despite its controversial name, the Mach-E offers good range, a great interior and excellent driving dynamics in an uber practical package that also boasts 29 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats up.
The Mach-E is currently available in several flavors, with hotter (and more expensive) GT versions on the horizon, but even the base model is pretty fun to drive and deserving of its Mustang badge. With 290 horsepower on tap in RWD form, or 346 hp in all-wheel drive trim, the Mach-E easily gets out of its own way. The chassis is great and the cabin is a pleasant place to be. The Mach-E is one of the best all-rounder EVs on sale now.
Read our 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E preview.
Tesla’s Model 3 is a super popular choice among electric car shoppers, and for good reason. It’s great to drive, cool to look at and offers both a killer range and a very, ahem, active community of owners. But because of its higher price tag (when you include the FSD bundle), build quality issues and lack of service centers in some areas, it had to be our runner-up.
While it’s far from perfect, the Model 3 is still a perfectly lovely car to drive. It offers tons of electric power to make passing or merging a breeze and its chassis is way more competent and sporty than it has any right to be. The interior is basic, sure, but it offers plenty of storage space thanks to its two trunks. Being a Tesla, the Model 3 also offers awesome, best-in-class range. The cheapest version will still let you travel 263 miles between charges, but if you move up to the Long Range version, that goes to 353 miles. You’ll be able to skip a few charging stations.
On paper, the Porsche Taycan is kind of a tough sell. It’s expensive (it’s a Porsche, after all) and its range estimate looks straight-up bad. Driving a Taycan tells a completely different story and we’re confident that this is the best EV you can buy right now. Its real-world range is totally adequate for all but long road trips and its build quality and driving dynamics are basically unassailable.
Presently, the best you’re going to be able to do officially with a Taycan is 227 miles and that’s in the 4S trim with the performance battery option. Even if that were totally accurate in the real world, that’s still plenty for most people on most days. Even the base Taycan offers a driving experience that’s leaps and bounds beyond any other EV on sale right now and does so with just 400 horsepower. Once Porsche figures out the range thing, the rest of the industry better look out.
Read our 2020 Porsche Taycan preview.
2021 Porsche Taycan is a good-driving EV in an awesome pink wrapper
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There’s no arguing that right now Tesla’s Model S is the king of the jungle when it comes to range. It’s also an aging platform with well-known and oft-criticized quality control issues. It’s a great car to drive — in previous forms, since nobody has driven the refreshed version — but it still falls behind the brilliant Taycan in this regard.
While Tesla can’t quite keep up with Porsche when it comes to driving dynamics or build quality, the Model S has the kind of name recognition that it does for a reason. It’s still a comfortable, ludicrously powerful luxury EV and if you’re only interested in doing insanely long drives without too many charging breaks, then it’s the way to go for sure.
The new Plaid Plus version takes the whole fast EV thing to another level entirely, too. Tesla claims that it will do better than 520 miles on a charge while delivering over 1,100 horsepower and sub-2-second launches to 60 mph. Will this actually play out as Elon Musk says? We don’t know, but it’d be cool if it did.
Many people shopping for their first electric vehicle are going to be looking for something affordable. While EVs still haven’t reached price parity with internal combustion vehicles, there are tons of great examples under $50,000. Our favorite among these is the Hyundai Kona Electric. We picked the Kona because it offers great range, a practical small-SUV-style body and a stellar warranty.
The Kona Electric offers a super respectable range of 258 miles and a drivetrain that produces 201 horsepower, all in a package that will work for most families. It has a decent amount of cargo space — 19.2 cubic feet with all the seats up, to be specific — and because it’s a Hyundai, it also has tons of creature comforts as standard equipment. Don’t even get us started on the warranty. If you can live with the styling (we like it) and you can stretch your buck far enough, the Kona is an almost perfect first EV.
We’ve talked about our issues with Model 3’s build quality, but what really kills it in this instance is price. The cheapest Model 3 you can buy comes in at $37,990, though it doesn’t include paint that isn’t white or any of the driver aids that are bundled with the now-$10,000 Full Self-Driving package. The range is good though, even in basic form at 263 miles, and so is the driving experience, hence our second place.
The Model 3 offers a lot of practicality despite its sleek shape. Its two trunks mean there’s plenty of room for all your stuff, though some may prefer the big hatch of an SUV or a hatchback. The Model Y could serve this need, but we haven’t driven it, so we can’t recommend it. We also worry about how well the Model 3 will hold up to a family with kids, even with its basic interior.
So maybe you’re shopping for your first EV and you have a little more money to spend. In that case we can find no better EV to recommend than the Porsche Taycan. It’s comfortable, fast, practical and highly configurable. The real-world range is much better than the EPA estimate, too, so it’s going to work for most people. This one was a unanimous choice by Roadshow editors. The Taycan is tough to beat.
If you want to live large, the Taycan Turbo S is basically unimpeachable when it comes to its power, chassis and interior quality. With 750 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 2.6 seconds, you’ll rarely find yourself bored behind the wheel. Even if you do get bored, Porsche’s excellent PCCM infotainment system is easy to live with and a delight to look at.
Read our 2020 Porsche Taycan preview.
Maybe you’re specifically shopping for an electric SUV. There just aren’t that many to choose from yet and many of those that are currently available are kind of small. That’s why we’re once again recommending Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. It offers plenty of cargo space, lots of room for passengers, a good range, great driving dynamics and good infotainment. It’s also priced very competitively.
Nothing is selling like SUVs these days, so Ford’s plan to make its first dedicated EV an SUV was a good one. It works out even better for the Blue Oval that the Mach-E is so damned nice to drive and easy to live with. Despite its rakish shape and sporty badge, the Mach-E should be a super practical midsize EV that almost any family would have no trouble living with. If you need something sporty, Ford even has you covered with a GT model that’s coming soon.
Read our 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E preview.
Audi’s E-Tron is one of those EVs, like the Taycan, that doesn’t seem as impressive on paper but once you drive it for a bit, its price seems much more justified. It features great build quality, as befits a German luxury SUV, and a lovely interior. It’s a well-considered first effort from Audi and even though it lacks huge range capability, it’s a compelling car with all the practicality of an SUV. It’s even got 28.5 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats up. Its cost kept it out of the first place spot.
We also really enjoyed Audi’s E-Tron Sportback, but had to go with the more traditional SUV for practicality’s sake, and practical it is. It’s the right size to fit a family and their stuff while also being easy to get around in a busy city. It looks and feels like an Audi and aside from the amazing Jetsons low-speed noise, you could mistake it for a Q5. For some folks, going under the radar is preferable to shouting things out. It’s also fun to drive thanks to its 355 horsepower and all-wheel drive. If you can afford one, you’ll be happy with it.
Comparison of the best electric cars for 2021
Best electric small car
Best electric small car runner-up
Best electric midsize car
Best electric midsize car runner-up
Best electric large car
Best electric large car runner-up
Best affordable electric car
Best affordable electric car runner-up
Best luxury electric car
Best electric SUV or crossover
Best electric SUV or crossover runner-up
Consider this before buying an EV
Picking a car isn’t the only consideration when making the jump to an electric vehicle. Not being able to just zip over to the gas station around the corner does complicate things a bit, but we can help you with this too.
The first thing you should consider when shopping for an electric vehicle — hell, even before you start shopping — is figuring out how you’re going to charge it. The fact is that while every EV comes with an adapter that will let you plug into any old 110-volt outlet (in the US, anyway), the size of modern EV batteries means that you could spend days waiting for a decent charge.
If you own your own home, you’ll need to look into getting a Level 2 charger installed. Luckily, these aren’t that expensive on their own. While getting one put in does require a contractor’s services (these are dangerous voltages and currents we’re working with here), there can be tax breaks for doing so — especially if you decide to make the jump to solar at the same time.
If you don’t own your own home, you’ll be using a charging network. You should look into which ones are the most well-established where you live and drive most often. If you have a Tesla, this is pretty easy. If you have other EVs, you’ll have to do a little research, but the most common nonproprietary networks are Electrify America, Chargepoint and EVGo. They all have different apps and pricing, but they all work more or less the same. These charging networks will offer Level 2 charging or DC fast-charging. The latter is considerably more expensive, but it’s much faster.
The next thing to think about is maintenance and service. EVs, in general, require a lot less service than an internal-combustion-powered car. Still, if you have your heart set on a Tesla and you don’t live anywhere near a Tesla service center, you might end up in an inconvenient position should something break. In this case, maybe an EV from a more traditional brand would be better for you.
Tax incentives are an important part of many people’s decisions to switch to an EV, and that’s totally valid. It’s important, though, to understand that not all manufacturers qualify for all of the incentives (Tesla, notably), and not all buyers will be able to take advantage of the full federal incentive, even if it’s offered. It’s worth talking to a tax professional before factoring a $7,500 tax credit into your purchase — even if a manufacturer tries to include that in its advertised prices. Also, be sure to look into whether you might qualify for state and local tax incentives — don’t leave money on the table.
Finally, be prepared to talk about your electric car. People will ask you about it — friends, family and strangers — especially if you live somewhere EVs aren’t super common yet. Some of those questions might seem silly or even dumb, but you’re going to hear them, and depending on how you answer, you might just help convince those people that an EV could work for them too.
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