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 it 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 those 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 Honda Clarity PHEV or Toyota RAV4 Prime), 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 37 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.
2020 Tesla Model Y
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average round-trip commute from home to work is just under 54 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. Most 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 Kona Electric can charge from 10% to 80% in 47 minutes using a DC fast-charging station, according to Hyundai, while charging from 10% to full takes over nine hours using a Level 2 station.
Compare EV vehicles
|2021 Audi e-tron Sportback||$65,900||8.2||222 miles||$7,500|
|2021 BMW i3||$44,450||7.8||153 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV||$36,500||7.9||259 miles||$0|
|2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E||$42,895||8.3||230 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Hyundai Kona Electric||$37,390||8.1||258 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Hyundai Ioniq Electric||$33,245||7.8||170 miles||$7,500|
|2020 Jaguar I-PACE||$69,850||7.9||234 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Kia Niro EV||$39,090||8.3||239 miles||$7,500|
|2020 MINI Cooper SE||$29,900||7.8||110 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Nissan Leaf||$31,670||7.9||215 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Polestar 2||$59,900||8.1||233 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Porsche Taycan 4S||$79,900||8.2||200 miles||$7,500|
|2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus||$39,990||8.4||263 miles||$0|
|2021 Tesla Model 3 Performance||$56,990||8.1||315 miles||$0|
|2021 Tesla Model S Long Range||$79,900||8.1||405 miles||$0|
|2021 Tesla Model Y Long Range||$51,990||8.2||326 miles||$0|
|2021 Tesla Model Y Performance||$60,990||8.1||303 miles||$0|
|2021 Tesla Model X Long Range||$89,990||8.1||360 miles||$0|
|2021 Volkswagen ID.4||$39,995||8.2||260 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 — the 2021 Hyundai Kona SEL, for instance, costs $15,000 less than the Kona Electric SEL.
But federal, state and sometimes even local governments put up tax credits and other incentives to help persuade shoppers to go electric. If you qualify for these credits and incentives, the cost of buying an EV or PHEV drops dramatically. Note that federal and state incentives are reduced once an automaker sells a certain number of electric vehicles, after which they eventually phased out. The Department of Energy website keeps an updated list of vehicles that qualify for federal tax credits, while Plug In America maintains an interactive map detailing state and local incentives.
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 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, for example, requires a leisurely 8.8 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph — most feel quite sprightly from behind the wheel. Case in point: The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus 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.
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, some manufacturers dial in a fairly aggressive regenerative braking action when you lift off the accelerator pedal. Others deliver a more natural "coasting" feel at the expense of ultimate range. But many PHEVs and EVs these days allow the driver to customize the level of regeneration for a more tailored driving experience.
See Current IONIQ Electric Offers Available
Finding the right 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 models for specific shopping scenarios. Got kids? Love road trips? Known for having a lead foot? 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.
2021 Tesla Model Y
Best for families
Our pick: Tesla Model Y
The Tesla Model Y fills the gap between the Model 3 sedan and larger seven-passenger Model X SUV. It's easy to mistake the Model Y for the Model 3 since they're very similar in appearance, though the Model Y is slightly larger and can be optioned with a third row of seats. It's worth noting that those rearmost seats are only suitable for small children as the glass hatch severely limits headroom. The Model Y also delivers an impressive amount of range, with the Long Range model estimated to travel 326 miles on a charge, though Tesla's cars have failed to match their EPA estimates in Edmunds' testing. Need further incentive? Just like its stablemates, the Model Y is wickedly quick and is eligible for charging on the exclusive Tesla Supercharger network.
Second opinion: Volkswagen ID.4
If you're looking for something a little more affordable, the new VW ID.4 could fit the bill. While it doesn't offer the Tesla's third row of seating, the interior still packs plenty of space for people and cargo. We've found the ID.4 to be a comfortable car to live with, and we're impressed by its in-car tech and driver aids. In Edmunds' testing, moreover, the ID.4 exceeded its EPA-estimated range by a healthy 15%. Notably, while the ID.4 is available with DC fast charging, it must share public charging stations with other EVs, and our experiences with those stations have been hit-or-miss.
2021 Tesla Model S
Best for long commutes
Our pick: Tesla Model S
If range and access to chargers add up to your No. 1 priority, the Tesla Model S is the way to go. Like the Model X, the Model S is one of the most expensive EVs on the market, but all that money buys you all the range. Also, the interior is stylish and comfortable — the latter a boon on long drives — and as a bonus, the acceleration is seriously swift. Like other Teslas, the Model S has failed to match its EPA range estimates in our testing, but the range we have seen is still impressive. Access to the Supercharger network makes public charging while you're on the road much easier.
Second opinion: Ford Mustang Mach-E
The Ford Mustang Mach-E came out of the gate strong, impressing us enough to take home an Edmunds Top Rated award. It doesn't offer the same range as the Model S, but it's also a lot less expensive. We've found that the Mach-E outperforms its EPA range ratings in our real-world testing, and overall performance and handling are equally impressive. The interior is significantly more upscale than what you'll find in typical Ford models, while cargo capacity is more than adequate for most needs.
2018 Tesla Model 3
Best for cities
Our pick: Tesla Model 3
Tesla's smaller sedan offers many of the same features and tech as the Model S at a far lower price point. It's available in several trims that offer varying amounts of range — in fact, the midlevel Long Range model delivers more miles per charge than just about any EV on the road. The interior is comfortable and spacious, and we've found the Model 3 to be one of the most entertaining EVs to drive. Most major cities have a number of Tesla Supercharger stations, making charging easier if you don't have access at home.
Second opinion: Kia Niro EV
The Niro EV is a hatchback that offers a lot for relatively little. Its small footprint makes it easy to park, but cargo and passenger space are still reasonably good for a car this size. It comes with a decent list of standard driver aids and safety features. What's more, its range well exceeded the EPA's estimate in our testing. So even if you don't have access to charging at home, you'll need to make fewer trips to a public station.
2020 Porsche Taycan
Best for performance
Our pick: Porsche Taycan
The Taycan is Porsche's first all-electric vehicle, and what a smash. The Taycan is quick and engaging to drive, with sharp and athletic handling that doesn't compromise comfort or refinement. Its EPA-estimated range is disappointing, especially when compared to rivals like the Tesla Model S — but in Edmunds' real-world testing, the Taycan exceeded its EPA figure by nearly 60%, eclipsing almost every other electric vehicle we've tested. All this performance comes at a cost, however: The Taycan is one of the most expensive EVs around. Naturally, checking the boxes for desirable options will send the already sobering price skyward. It's a Porsche, after all.
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.
EVs have made great strides lately, so now is an excellent time to test-drive the latest models and get involved. As a next step, head over to Edmunds' EV Rankings for our testing team's latest verdicts on today's best electric vehicles.