Internal combustion cars dominated the last century, but led to pollution and unpleasant foreign entanglements due to oil imports. Electric cars solve both of these problems through much greater efficiency and the multitude of means by which electricity is generated. The cars reviewed here look to be the first generation of the kind of vehicle that will dominate the new century. All of them are pricey compared with gasoline-fueled equivalents, but they cost considerably less for both electricity and maintenance.
Nissan took a risk by getting its new-generation electric car out earlier than other automakers, but all those miles driven should give the company an edge in research. The Leaf is a comfortable hatchback that drives easily. It feels somewhat heavy, but the majority of the weight sits low, under the cabin floor. At an EPA range of 73 miles, it works best for daily commutes. Using 34 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, it is one of the less efficient electric cars, the price of being first out of the gate.
One of the most recent electric cars, the Fit EV is also one of the best. Built on the Honda Fit platform, the car retains all of the gasoline model's easy maneuverability. It does not feel as heavy as the competition, although it is based on a more compact platform. The Fit EV consumes only 29 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. The range is rated at 82 miles, not stellar but practical for most daily driving.
The electric version of the Focus hatchback highlights Ford's commitment to new technology. The Focus Electric not only uses an advanced electric power train, but gets all Ford's latest cabin technology, and a bit more. The car's technology focus can be overwhelming, although early adopters, the group most likely to buy this EV, should delight in it. The Focus hatchback is a solid platform, but the battery weight feels biased toward the rear. EPA range sits at 76 miles, and the efficiency rates a middling 32 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.
The grocery getter of this electric-vehicle set, the i-Miev, based on a Japanese market car, features a unique design. Although highly maneuverable for cities, it feels a little flimsy on U.S. highways. The i-Miev's cabin tech is not tailored for its electric drive system, and it is the only one of these cars to lack an EV-centric telematics system. Range, rated at 62 miles, is also the lowest, but in efficiency, at 30 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, it's second only to the Honda Fit EV.
2012 Toyota RAV4 EV
The RAV4 EV, being an SUV, is much different from the preceding four cars. Toyota had built an earlier electric vehicle in a RAV4, so the company is maintaining tradition. With the RAV4 EV, Toyota built the battery packs into the car's chassis, keeping the weight low. And this vehicle uses quite a few battery packs, giving it an EPA range of 103 miles. Efficiency numbers have not yet been specified for the RAV4 EV, but they are likely to be inferior to those of most other electric vehicles because of the larger size of this car. However, Toyota does say that charging the RAV4 EV should cost a third of what it takes to fuel up a standard RAV4 every year.
The Model S is the only luxury pure-electric car on the market, at present. In its top trim, which incidentally costs about $100K, it is a real joy to drive. Fast and responsive handling make the Model S a real competitor to the many sport luxury cars available. In addition, Tesla packs an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack in the chassis for the top trim model, more than twice that found in the aforementioned electric cars. This amount of electricity storage gets the Model S 265 miles in EPA-rated range. However, its efficiency, at 38 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, is the worst of the lot. Think of it as a performance-oriented electron guzzler.