When researching electric vehicles, today’s eco-friendly minded shopper will find a cornucopia of choices on the market, ranging compact, golf cart-sized cars to mid-sized SUVs.
In fact, there are currently dozens of automakers featuring electric – or electrified – models in their lineups, with styles and options to fit just about any taste. Over the past decade hybrid vehicles have been paving the way by combining gasoline engines with electric motors to extend a car’s fuel mileage without sacrificing distance traveled between fill-ups.
Today, nearly every automaker features a hybrid model in its lineup, with many achieving an impressive 40-50 miles per gallon of gas. Plug-in hybrids, such as the Cadillac ELR, Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Porsche Panamera and others, extend that range even further by running on electric-only charge for a short distance – such as driving around town – before the gasoline engine kicks in for longer distances.
But true electric vehicles take the technology a step farther. E-cars rely solely on electricity for power, with no gasoline needed at all. They are charged through electrical outlets – at home or at commercial charging stations – and store the power in batteries built into the vehicle. The battery technology is rapidly developing to be able to provide a longer lasting charge without adding hundreds of pounds of weight to the vehicle.
When it comes to range – the distance that the car travels on a single battery charge – most of today’s electric vehicles are achieving approximately 80-100 miles per change, making them great for around town driving and short commutes. But longer trips – like weekend getaways to Palm Springs or Mammoth Mountain – are virtually out of the question for most e-cars because a mid-trip recharge would be required.
Tesla Model S
There is, however, one e-car automaker that stands out from the crowd when it comes to battery range. Tesla, headed by billionaire visionary and entrepreneur Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and current CEO of SpaceX, is way ahead of the competition.
The Tesla Model S, a luxuriously appointed sedan, is creating a clear case of “range envy” among other e-car makers. With its own, proprietary battery design and rapidly expanding fast charging network, Tesla has achieved a range of 265 miles per charge and a super re-charging time from empty to full in about 20 minutes. This means you can travel from San Diego to Santa Barbara and still have enough battery life left to go shopping and out to dinner before the need to re-charge.
In addition, Tesla’s next car, the P85D, will have two motors and all-wheel drive, giving it rocket-like quickness off the starting line, equal to the McLaren F1 and a slightly farther driving range of 275 miles per charge over the current rear-wheel-drive Model S. For those who prefer safety over high performance, the new Tesla Model S will have an “auto-pilot” feature that allows the car to automatically avoid danger and come close to driving itself. (Starting MSRP: $71,070 to $120,170).
The maker of the “ultimate driving machine” has been flirting with electric power for quite some time, and finally is delivering the all-new BMW i3 hatchback that boasts 170 horsepower and a range of up to 110 miles on an electric charge.
The i3 is a brand new model to the BMW family sporting a unique design that is sure to turn heads in any parking lot. The sensually curved hatchback is so striking that it collected two of the most prestigious international awards soon after its market launch: the World Car Design of the Year Award as well as the World Green Car Award for 2014.
And while the i3 can be recharged in just about 3.5 hours, BMW recently added a range extender motor option for 2015, a two-gallon on-board gasoline motorcycle engine that kicks in to assist in recharging the batter when it hits a certain (low) level. This option extends the range of the i3 to about 150 miles before a full re-charge is needed. (Starting MSRP: $41,350; rage extender: $3,950). Check out our test drive video here.
Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric
For those desiring to include a second e-vehicle to their garage, the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive fills the need for an efficient around town commuter, perfect for dropping the kids off at school, trips to the golf course or shopping with friends, all without sipping a single drop of gasoline. The B-Class, which rolls into limited U.S. markets in 2015, is a practical, yet luxurious five-door crossover that can accommodate people and packages as well as any small SUV, yet can travel up to 85 miles on a single charge.
Inside, the B-Class is all Mercedes with premium features befitting a Benz, including hand-finished leather and wood, driving assists that watch your blind spot, prevent collisions and even allow you to park your car hands-free. (Starting MSRP: $41,450)
Other fully-electric cars currently on the market include the Kia Soul EV, Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart Electric, Toyota RAV4 EV, Honda Fit EV, and the Volkswagen E-Golf. All of these models achieve between 80-100 miles per battery charge, making them best for short-to-medium commutes and daily driving duties. If your needs carry you further afield, then you might want to consider a plug-in hybrid.
So pack up your bags and hit the road, and be sure to smile as you watch your last gas station fade into the past. Go electric!