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The 5 best electric cars: Plus, the cheapest EV available
What is the best electric car? The Tesla Model 3 is ZDNET's top pick due to its generous range and robust performance and retains its value. We researched the top EV brands and compared their electric car models by factors such as innovation, affordability, energy efficiency, and more to find the best cheap electric car and other honorable mentions.
Gas prices are astronomical these days -- it's time to consider going electric. While the initial investment cost might be steeper with an electric car for certain options, the long-term payoff is worth it. Not every EV is expensive, either.
Electric cars are convenient, cost less to drive, and are much quieter to operate than other types of vehicles. They're also one of the best options on the road to environmental sustainability because they do not emit exhaust gases. Electric vehicles have the potential to transform transportation and mitigate air pollution in cities.
Whether your reasons are environmental, economic, or anything in between, we got you covered with the best electric cars. There are many options out there, so our unique priority was highlighting innovation as well as efficiency.
I once ordered a Lyft, and the driver showed up in a Model 3. I had no idea how to open the door. I didn't know right away that you had to press one side, and the other popped open as a handle. Once I was inside, I was blown away by the comfort of the car, the roof that took panoramic to another level, and the large touchscreen that the driver was using to navigate.
The car has futuristic features, like autopark and auto lane change (part of the $12,000 upgrade to full self-driving capability). It's expensive but a solid investment with some cool perks.
Take the Tesla key card, for example. It's a sleek black card that fits perfectly into your wallet: Forget your keys no longer! If you have more than one Tesla, spanning different models, you can use your one specific key card to unlock them all. If you lose the key card, you can delete it from the car and order a replacement for $25.
Say you forget to tap your card on your Tesla to lock it -- the car has a walk-away feature that detects when you walk away and locks automatically (watch YouTuber POGAuto demonstrate here). If you leave the windows open, the car will automatically close them for you when it locks. You can also control the car from the Tesla app, opening and closing the trunk, flashing the lights just in case you're in a dark space and need to locate it, and much more. If you've ever had that moment of "oh no, I think I left my trunk open," this is the car for you.
No key fob is necessary -- just use the Tesla key card or the app
Amazing level of control over the car, even from afar, through the app
Lock valuables in the glovebox, which only opens to your preset PIN number
Price: Starts at $40,900 before federal tax credit
If you want something different from a Tesla Model 3 but with similar specs and a comparable driving experience, look no further than the Polestar 2. This sleek electric vehicle has a panoramic roof and an Android tablet screen that connects seamlessly to Google Maps with no need for a phone connection -- and it has Spotify, a radio, and a "Hey Google" function too. You can even control the heated front seats (included) and the car's temperature from the tablet. Also included with the driving experience is a digital driver display behind the steering wheel with multiple views that helps you navigate to where you need to go without being distracted by your phone.
Speaking of phones, you can actually open this car with your phone! Just download the free Polestar app, link it to your Polestar ID, and safely unlock your car by touching the door handle. You can even set the car's temperature in advance -- perfect for hot days when your car feels like an oven or cold days when you need to warm up.
When it comes to the car's design, Polestar has its design roots in Volvo, which can be seen in subtle choices throughout the vehicle. The audio with the Polestar 2 is top-notch: The system delivers 250 watts through eight speakers, including one mounted underneath the hood, just underneath the windshield.
The Polestar 2 holds its own as an electric car with top-of-the-line features.
131 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent)
Estimated charging cost per year: $500
Up to 520 miles per charge
Max speed: 168 mph
Max power: 1,111 hp
Accelerates from 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds
Price: $87,500, with certain editions (the Air Dream and the Air Grand Touring) qualifying for up to $7,500 federal tax credit
This car won the prestigious 2022 MotorTrends Car of the Year award for a reason -- it's incredibly powerful in both range and horsepower. You get up to 520 miles per charge, and it only takes 20 minutes to charge the car up to 300 miles. The car is made of sustainable materials and finishes and has the option of a glass canopy roof.
Its staggering 1,111 hp max power is more than double that of the Polestar 2 and the Tesla Model 3, and that max power finds a perfect complement in the 2.5-second acceleration time needed to get from 0-60 mph.
I admired the dashboard display on the Polestar 2, but the Lucid Air takes it to a higher level with a 34-inch, 5K glass cockpit display, a 21-speaker surreal sound system, and Alexa-enabled voice commands.
The only downside is the luxury price range for this line of electric vehicles. The Lucid Air Pure starts at $87,400 while the most expensive option of the lot, the Lucid Air Dream Edition, starts at an eye-watering $169,000.
Up to 520 miles per charge means an unrivaled range
It only takes 20 minutes to charge the car up to 300 miles
It has a distinctive design that doesn't look like anything else on the road
Came out on top compared to other cars, electric or otherwise, to secure the car of the Year award. The criteria included efficiency, value, advancement in design, engineering excellence, safety, and performance.
120 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent)
Estimated charging cost per year: $550
Up to 259 miles on a single charge
Max speed: 90.1 mph
Max power: 200 hp
Accelerates 0-60 in 6.5 seconds
This car costs about the same to charge per year as a Tesla and has a 120 MPGe, which sets it apart as a highly efficient EV -- and yet it's much more affordable than cars with similar stats.
The standard model comes with Chevy Safety Assist, which has front pedestrian braking, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, distance indicator for a vehicle you're following, and auto high beams, which adjust to traffic conditions. That's a considerable amount of value for the standard model price tag.
Chevy will install a Level 2 charging outlet in your home for free if you purchase or lease a 2022 Bolt EV or EUV. If you go on a road trip, download the myChevrolet mobile app to calculate when you'll need to stop to charge along the way -- and find those needed charging stations too. The app uses the vehicle's current battery level and real-time weather to alert you when to stop and charge the car when you're on the road. It automatically changes its recommendations when driving conditions change.
The 8-inch graphic display behind the driving wheel shows you essential driver information, like the battery range. There's another screen above the radio, a built-in tablet, that wirelessly connects to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so that you can stay connected. The icing on the cake is a built-in Alexa that responds to every question and command. This car incorporates the essential high-tech features of luxury options at an accessible price point.
The 2023 Bolt is cheaper than the comparable Nissan Leaf and has a significantly higher driving range. It also has a 56.6 cubic feet cargo capacity with the rear seats folded down compared to the Leaf's 30 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Free Level 2 home charging outlet installation
myChevrolet mobile app tells you when it's time to charge
Wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto, and built-in Alexa
The standard model comes with Chevy Safety Assist
Only has 200 hp
Six-speaker audio system is not as powerful as other options
120 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent)
Estimated charging cost per year: $550
Up to 258 miles on one charge
Max speed: 103.8 mph
Max power: 201 hp
Price: $35,295, minus a federal tax credit up to $7,500
The Kona Electric is a formidable all-electric SUV that prioritizes safety and comfort. The steering wheel has mounted audio and cruise controls, the basic package comes with an 8-inch color touchscreen display for audio, and there's a push-button start.
There are some class-exclusive features of the Kona that aren't available on the Chevy Bolt EUV, like the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster. Class exclusive safety features include Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist. The vehicle can also avoid forward collisions with a pedestrian detect feature and monitors your driving patterns to detect drowsy or inattentive driving.
The convenience package is $3,500, and it gives you access to some of the perks that higher-end electric vehicles have, including heated front seats, a sunroof, LED interior lighting, and the Hyundai Digital Key, which is an app on your phone that you can use to control your car.
8-inch touchscreen display
Has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for your phone
Audio and digital controls are mounted to the steering wheel
Can upgrade to the Hyundai Digital Key, which allows you to control your car from your phone
It doesn't have the power or acceleration ability of some of the other options on this list
Upgrading to the convenience package costs an additional $3,500
You can't go wrong with a Tesla Model 3. It gives you the best MPGe and has a low charging cost per year, making it the most efficient model.
Tesla Model 3
Hyundai Kona Electric
Which is the right electric car for you?
Maybe you need an SUV or an affordable car or maybe you're in the market for something more luxurious. The right electric car for you depends on your budget and the features you absolutely cannot live without.
Choose this EV…
If you want…
Tesla Model 3
Great design and innovation
The most luxurious option
The most affordable option
Hyundai Kona Electric
An all-electric SUV
How did we choose these electric cars?
I looked at MPGe, affordability, charging cost, acceleration time, power, and innovation in terms of out-of-the-box features that set one car apart from another. One or more of these factors might mean more to you than the others, so I tried to cast a wide net for specs, but not too wide that you were drowning in the details, like available colors or wheel size.
What is the No. 1 selling electric car?
You guessed it -- it's the Tesla Model 3, with over a million units sold. The Nissan Leaf comes in second, with half a million units.
Which EV is the best value for the money?
I was impressed by the Chevy Bolt -- it packs in a lot of value and prioritizes safety. Also, the free Level 2 charging installation at home is a welcome perk.
How long do electric cars last?
An electric car battery usually lasts 10-20 years before it needs to be replaced, but EV manufacturers usually guarantee a shorter time frame of up to eight years.
Are there alternative EVs worth considering?
Yes there are! You can access a mix of luxury and affordable options below. These are all as high-efficiency as the top five, meaning that they have comparable MPGe values and cost to charge per year.