Edmunds' EV Buying Guide
If you are interested in buying an electric vehicle, Edmunds' editors are here to help. In this EV buying guide, we'll walk you through what you need to know about EVs and make recommendations tailored to what you're looking for in an electric vehicle.
By Cameron Rogers | May 6th, 2021(updated February 27th, 2023)
Know before you buy
If you're considering buying an electrified vehicle as your next car, you might find this new world daunting, what with all the unfamiliar acronyms, definitions, specifications and other things to consider. Accordingly, our first recommendation, borrowed from the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is as follows: DON'T PANIC.
We say this because the EV landscape really isn't that complicated if you have someone to talk you through it, which is the role we'll be playing here. At the highest level, there are several types of electrified vehicles to be aware of, from hybrids (HEVs) to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and fully electric vehicles (EVs), each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. So let's start there and then move on to charging, range, costs, performance and anything else we can think of that you should know before you buy.
Types of electrified vehicles
HEVs, MHEVs, PHEVs, BEVs, EVs — there are a lot of acronyms used to describe electrified vehicles, and first-timers might find the nomenclature confusing. In a nutshell, there are really three types of electrified vehicles: those that only use gasoline as a fuel input, those that only use electricity, and those that are somewhere in between.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs, or simply EVs) are what most people think of when the term "electric car" comes up. These vehicles do not have conventional engines at all — fossil fuels are simply not involved in their operation. Instead, EVs rely on electricity from large battery packs, which must be recharged by plugging the car in. When you accelerate in an EV, electricity flows from the battery pack to the electric motor (or motors) driving the wheels. EVs can be recharged using a conventional three-prong outlet, but this only adds a few miles of range per hour. Using a dedicated wall charger or stand-alone charging station is much faster (more on that below).
Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, are an intriguing halfway point between EVs and regular cars. They offer both a gasoline engine and an electric battery pack that can be recharged by, you guessed it, plugging the vehicle in. Typically, PHEVs use the electricity stored in the battery pack first, then switch over to the gas engine when needed. PHEV battery packs are smaller than the packs in pure EVs, but you still get usable electric range before the gas engine kicks on. If you recharge every night and don't travel very far, it could be quite a while before you have to visit a gas station again.
Finally, hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, feature a gasoline-powered engine paired with an electric motor (or motors) — but unlike PHEVs, they cannot be plugged in. In other words, you top the car off at a gas station and ... that's it. No plugs, no cords. Nonetheless, the driving experience is typically quite different from conventional norms because the point of an HEV is to deliver big-time improvements in fuel economy. Toyota hybrids, for example, use a special transmission type that elicits a monotonous drone from the gas engine during hard acceleration. That's part of the price you pay for getting 50-plus mpg in a Prius. In short, you won't have to change your refueling routine if you drive an HEV, but you'll definitely feel the difference from behind the wheel.
There are a lot of acronyms used to describe electrified vehicles, and it can get confusing. Simply put, there are really three types of electrified vehicles: those that only use gasoline as a fuel input, those that only use electricity, and those that are somewhere in between.
As a side note, mild hybrid vehicles, or MHEVs, have much smaller battery packs and use their electric power to augment engine performance or power the car's electrical systems. These vehicles are generally best thought of as hybrids in name only since the driving experience and fuel economy aren't much affected. The function of hybrid technology here is to optimize the traditional gas-powered car, as opposed to the HEV strategy of employing dramatic powertrain changes to minimize fuel consumption. Examples of MHEV variants include such unlikely "hybrids" as the Dodge Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler (though the latter is also offered as a proper PHEV).
Charging at home
Most EV and PHEV owners will charge at home if they can. Due to their smaller battery packs, PHEVs can generally be charged overnight using a standard 120-volt outlet. Charging this way only adds about 2-3 miles of range per hour, but since many PHEVs offer fewer than 30 miles of electric range, most will be topped off by the time you leave for work in the morning.
But if you drive a full EV or even a PHEV with a more substantial battery pack (such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime or Volvo S60 Recharge), you're going to want to upgrade your home charging situation. A qualified electrician can install a Level 2 charging station in your garage or on the exterior of your house, which speeds up charging times drastically. These chargers use a 240-volt connection and can add between 12 and 60 miles of range per hour, according to ChargePoint. Note that range per hour added depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the vehicle battery, the capacity of the vehicle's onboard charger, and the output of the charging station itself. For a deep dive into home charging, check out this article.
2020 Tesla Model Y
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average round-trip commute from home to work is just over 55 minutes. Even if we assume that the commute happens primarily at highway speed (which uses more energy), nearly every electric vehicle on sale today can cover it with range to spare. But if you don't plan on recharging every night, or you live in a dwelling where charging isn't available, or you foresee long-distance road trips in your future, you're going to want to research destination charging options.
PlugShare is a great resource for drivers looking to charge on the go. The website and app display the nearest charging stations and let you filter by your vehicle's plug type and the station's power output. Some charging stations are Level 2, similar to what you can add in your home. But there are two types of rapid-charging stations that can fill your battery much faster, provided your vehicle has the necessary inputs: Tesla's Supercharger stations and DC fast-charging stations.
Tesla's Supercharger stations and DC fast-charging stations operate on the same principle to achieve rapid results. Rather than relying on the car's limited onboard charger to convert the power grid's alternating current to direct current — necessary for storing electricity in your car's battery — these larger stand-alone stations do the conversion for you and pump that sweet, sweet DC right into your car. The result is a drastically reduced charging time. For instance, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Edmunds Top Rated Electric SUV for 2023, with its extended-range battery pack can charge from 10% to 80% capacity in as few as 18 minutes using a 350-kW DC fast-charging station, according to Hyundai. Charging from 10% to full takes about six hours and 45 minutes using a Level 2 station.
Compare EV vehicles
|Audi e-tron Sportback||$65,900||8.2||238 miles||$7,500|
|Audi RS e-tron GT||$100,000||N/A||285 miles||$7,500|
|BMW i3||$44,450||7.8||not avail.||$7,500|
|Chevrolet Bolt EV||$36,500||7.9||278 miles||$0|
|Ford Mustang Mach-E||$42,895||8.3||264 miles||$7,500|
|Hyundai Kona Electric||$37,390||8.1||315 miles||$7,500|
|Hyundai Ioniq Electric||$33,245||7.8||202 miles||$7,500|
|Jaguar I-PACE||$69,850||7.9||not avail.||$7,500|
|Kia Niro EV||$39,090||8.3||285 miles||$7,500|
|Mercedes-Benz EQS||$103,360||8.2||422 miles||$0|
|MINI Cooper SE||$29,900||7.8||150 miles||$7,500|
|Nissan Leaf||$31,670||7.9||237 miles||$7,500|
|Polestar 2||$59,900||8.1||228 miles||$7,500|
|Porsche Taycan 4S||$79,900||8.2||323 miles||$7,500|
|Rivian R1T||$68,575||8.4||317 miles||$7,500|
|Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus||$39,990||8.4||232 miles||$0|
|Tesla Model 3 Performance||$56,990||8.1||256 miles||$0|
|Tesla Model S Long Range||$79,900||8.1||not avail.||$0|
|Tesla Model Y Long Range||$51,990||8.2||317 miles||$0|
|Tesla Model Y Performance||$60,990||8.1||263 miles||$0|
|Tesla Model X Long Range||$89,990||8.1||294 miles||$0|
|Volkswagen ID.4||$39,995||8.2||288 miles||$7,500|
|Volvo XC40 Recharge||$55,300||7.9||240 miles||$7,500|
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E
Unless you've driven for long stretches through a desolate part of the country, you probably haven't had to think much about your maximum driving range in a gas- or diesel-burning vehicle. Running low? Just stop at the next filling station and you're set. But since EV charging stations can be few and far between, and it takes a while for your vehicle to charge once you reach one and plug in, EV range is a whole new ballgame.
Very few EVs on sale today offer less than an EPA-estimated 100 miles of range, with even wallet-friendly options such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and Chevrolet Bolt EV delivering well over 200 miles on a full charge. The U.S. Department of Energy's website for alternative fuel vehicles lists all vehicles currently on the market, in addition to their EPA range estimates. At Edmunds, we test every significant new EV on our real-world driving loop to see how realistic the EPA projections are — you can see our latest results here.
Electric vehicles and PHEVs are generally more expensive than an equivalent gasoline vehicle — a Kona Electric SE, for instance, costs about $11,500 more than a regular Kona SE.
But federal, state and sometimes even local governments put up tax credits and other incentives to help persuade shoppers to go electric. If you and the vehicle you're considering qualify for these credits and incentives, the cost of buying an EV or PHEV drops dramatically. However, with the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, federal EV tax credits have become pretty complicated. Never fear, though: We have a helpful guide that lays it all out right here.
There are a few other financial aspects to consider. Because they have fewer running parts, EVs have lower maintenance costs. A typical service visit for a Chevrolet Bolt EV, for example, consists of just a tire rotation and an inspection. And as long as you aren't refueling at a rapid-charging station (which commands a price premium for its quick electricity payload), it's generally less expensive to top off a battery pack than it is to refuel a gas tank. That said, the actual cost savings will vary based on electricity and gas/diesel rates in your area.
Electric vehicles are engineered to drive like fuel-burning ones, but there are some key differences worth noting. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque without revving up and most EVs have only one transmission "gear," acceleration is instantaneous and often very quick. While not every electric vehicle makes the most of the potential power — the Mazda MX-30, for example, requires a leisurely 9 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph — most feel quite sprightly from behind the wheel. Case in point: A base model Tesla Model 3 rockets to 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds, and that's about the slowest Tesla you'll find.
Electric vehicles are engineered to drive like fuel-burning ones, but there are some key differences worth noting. For instance, acceleration is instantaneous and often very quick. While not every EV makes the most of the potential power, most feel quite sprightly from behind the wheel.
Braking is also a little different. All hybrids, PHEVs and EVs harvest energy that is normally lost during braking to help charge the battery. When you lift off the accelerator or use the brake pedal, the electric motor that drives the wheels essentially runs in reverse, acting as a generator to convert braking energy into storable electricity. Traditional friction brakes are still used when braking hard, and sometimes during the last few feet as your vehicle comes to a stop. Because regenerative braking can significantly benefit range in stop-and-go situations, some manufacturers dial in a fairly aggressive regenerative braking action when you lift off the accelerator pedal. Others deliver a more natural "coasting" feel and leave the stopping duties up the driver's brake pedal. But many PHEVs and EVs these days allow the driver to customize the level of regeneration for a more tailored driving experience.
Dream vehicles. Very real offers.
Finding the best EV for you
Although EVs are in their infancy compared to fossil-fueled cars, there are more and more options on the market with each passing year. So where do you start if you're considering buying an EV? We can understand if it all feels a bit overwhelming.
That's why we put our heads together and came up with the best EVs for specific shopping scenarios. Got kids? Love road trips? Known for having a lead foot? Want to get out and enjoy nature? Here are our top recommendations for you — just find the category that resonates the most. And if none quite fits, check out our latest EV rankings for the Edmunds testing team's official verdicts.
Best EV for families
Our pick: Hyundai Ioniq 5
Hyundai's Ioniq 5 is a practical and stylish option for small families and the Edmunds Top Rated Electric SUV for 2023. It features a comfortable and spacious cabin for passengers, a nice amount of rear cargo room, and controls that are easy to use. But beyond just being practical, it also delivers quick acceleration and is fun and engaging to drive, especially the dual-motor all-wheel-drive versions. So you can enjoy it even without the family in tow. During our real-world EV range testing, an all-wheel-drive Ioniq 5 traveled a respectable 270 miles on single charge, besting its EPA estimate of 256 miles. Lastly, the Ioniq 5 is also one of the quickest-charging EVs on the market and is compatible with the latest 350-kW DC fast-charging stations. That's less time spent waiting while charging on the go, and in some cases, every minute counts.
Second opinion: BMW iX xDrive50
If you're looking for a little more space and luxury, you might check out the BMW iX. The midsize iX's impressive combination of power, efficiency and comfort made it a finalist in Edmunds' Top Rated Awards for 2023. Though expensive, the iX also has one of the most stylish interiors we've seen in a modern car, replete with some of the coolest-looking upholstered seats around — and thankfully they're very comfortable to sit in as well. Space is abundant and will easily accommodate five adults. Topping things off is plenty of range: we squeezed 377 miles out of an iX xDrive50 in its Edmunds EV Range Test.
Best for long commutes
Our pick: Tesla Model 3 Long Range
With one of the longest ranges available today, and a relatively affordable price tag, the Model 3 Long Range is an easy choice for the long-distance EV driver. Adding to its value is the impressive and ever-growing Supercharger network, making charging fast and convenient. While the EPA estimates the 2023 Model 3 Long Range can travel 358 miles on a single charge, in our real-world testing no Tesla model has actually achieved its exact quoted range, though a few have come very close. That aside, nearly all Teslas are capable of driving for hours without needing to be recharged.
Second opinion: Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+
If money is no object and you'll only settle for an Edmunds-tested real-world driving range in excess of 400 miles, the EQS is your EV. As comfortable and luxurious as you'd expect, the EQS 450+ helps you shrug off hours behind the wheel. Making the EQS an even more pleasing road-trip companion is the almost head-spinning amount of driver assist and comfort technology packed into this Benz. The EQS may not be our EV range record-holder — that honor goes to the Lucid Air — but we currently can't recommend the Air based on the issues we've experienced with our own long-term vehicle thus far. The EQS is compatible with the latest in DC fast charging, but the newest chargers are harder to find than those in Tesla's Supercharger network.
Best EV for cities
Our pick: Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Chevy Bolt EV has a lot of great things going for it. Not only is it one of the most affordable EVs money can buy, it's also highly practical. For context, the five-seat Bolt EV is more than 20 inches shorter than a Honda Civic sedan, yet it offers 16.6 cubic feet of cargo space (besting the Civic's 14.8 cubic-foot trunk) thanks to its hatchback design. This makes it an excellent city runabout for weaving through crowded streets or maneuvering into tiny parking spots. Its zippy electric motor makes quick work of errands, while it has enough battery range — over 270 miles in Edmunds' real-world testing — to explore beyond the city limits. It's no wonder that we named the Bolt EV the Edmunds Top Rated Electric Car for 2023.
Second opinion: Volvo XC40 Recharge
If you need a bit more space, a bit more range, and wouldn't mind having a whopping 402 horsepower at your disposal, then check out the Volvo XC40 Recharge. The XC40 Recharge may be small on the outside, but that's great for navigating city streets, and smart packaging makes it surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside. It costs a fair amount more than the Chevy, but along with blazing acceleration, the Recharge comes very well equipped. Even in its base trim, you get features such as heated leather seats and a full suite of advanced driver aids, including a 360-degree camera system. On the range front, the 2023 XC40 is estimated to go 223 miles on a single charge. Edmunds tested a 2021 XC40 Recharge, which had an estimated range of 208 miles, but we managed to travel 240 miles on our real-world test route. We'd expect a similar result from the 2023 car. The XC40 has an 11-kW onboard charger that can take it from empty to full in about eight hours using a 240-volt source. If you have access to a 150-kW DC-fast charger, the XC40 is said to be able to recoup 80% of its battery capacity in about 40 minutes.
Best for performance
Our pick: Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo
In our mind, the only way Porsche could have made the Taycan better was to offer it as a wagon. The Cross Turismo is exactly that, but with a little more ground clearance than the Sport Turismo and standard Taycan versions. The wagon body style offers increased rear passenger room as well as an appreciable bump in cargo capacity. Amazingly, all of this extra space and practicality do nothing to diminish the performance envelope of the Taycan, making it an easy choice for our top pick. Of course, all that performance does come at the expense of battery range, and the Taycan Cross Turismo can't match the range of the Tesla Model S. But in our real-world EV testing, we found the Taycan Cross Turismo capable of driving 250 miles on a single charge. In our eyes, this could be the perfect one-car-garage solution.
Second opinion: Tesla Model S
The large battery pack in the Model S helps it achieve class-leading range, but it does a lot for the car's performance too. The big Tesla isn't quite as sharp or responsive as the Taycan, and it lacks the Porsche's polish, but when it comes to raw acceleration, few cars on the road — electric or otherwise — can touch it. The Model S is more spacious than the Taycan and offers much more cargo capacity too. We're also happy Tesla has put a standard round steering wheel back on the menu — before, all you could get was an ergonomically disastrous steering yoke.
Best EV for an active lifestyle
Our pick: Rivian R1T
If you asked REI to design an electric pickup, the R1T would certainly be the end result. Catering to EV enthusiasts who want to get off the beaten path but not use any gas while doing so, the R1T boasts genuinely impressive off-road capability and a plethora of customization options (including a pull-out cooking station) to cater to the more adventurous among us. As further incentive, the Rivian offers excellent on-road performance and range. The R1T we tested went 317 miles on a single charge.
Second opinion: Ford F-150 Lightning
With perhaps the coolest name for an EV to date, the Lightning brings the battery electric vehicle to the realm of the full-size pickup. It may not have as many gadgety party tricks as the Rivian, but its lower cost of entry gives it wider appeal. Capable of powering construction tools during work hours and the tailgate party on the weekend, the F-150 has lost none of its work ethic with electrification. It'll even tow up to 10,000 pounds when properly equipped.
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