Best All-Electric Hatchback
Navigating your way through a new car purchase is never a simple matter. Specs, features, options, prices – it can all be pretty intimidating. This is especially true if the object of your desire happens to be a hatchback powered by an all-electric drivetrain. No internal combustion means the added complications of kilowatts, voltage, MPGe… But don’t worry – I did the heavy lifting so you don’t have to!
Contained in this extensive guide is a plethora of information on the latest models in the all-electric hatchback segment, plus enough background info to get you up to speed on what to expect from the current state of the technology. You’ll find a short-and-sweet rundown of my top three picks, followed by the pros and cons of going electric. There’s also information on how these types of cars operate, the experience behind the wheel, definitions of common terms, a look at incentives, considerations to make before purchasing and my research behind it all. Finally, you’ll find reviews on each of the entries in this segment, as well as a second, more in-depth look at the top three picks.
Sound good? Let’s go!
Continue reading to learn more.
TopSpeed’s Top Pick: Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf has always been a standout entry for this segment. Not only does it bring impressive credentials and top-notch specs, it also has the sales numbers to back it. It can seat up to five passengers, and comes packed with loads of standard features and options, ranging from the economical S trim level to the full-tilt SL trim level. No matter what your all-electric needs might be, the Leaf is sure to provide a solution.
With 84 miles per charge and a combined efficiency of 114-MPGe, the Leaf’s 24-kWh battery and 80-kilowatt electric motor combo set the benchmark for all other competitors to follow. Furthermore, Nissan recently announced that the 2016 Leaf will come with a new battery that offers 107 miles of range per charge, once again leaving the competition scrambling to keep pace.
The Leaf is, and shall continue to be, the leader of this segment. While some rival all-electric hatchbacks can best it in a few categories, they fall short everywhere else, and for that reason I consider it the top pick.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||107 horsepower/187 pound-feet|
|Range||84 miles per charge|
|Charge time||20 hours (120-volt)/8 hours (240-volt, standard charger)/5 hours (240-volt, upgraded charger)/80% @ 30 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||114 combined/126 city/101 highway|
|# of passengers||5|
Chevrolet Spark EV
The Spark EV is another fantastic choice, and it almost took the top spot in this comparison. It’s not only cheaper and more efficient than the Leaf, it’s also more powerful and faster to 60 mph. However, there are a few major drawbacks – the cabin, for example only sits four passengers. But one of the biggest reasons the Spark EV took second is its extremely limited availability, selling in only three markets: California, Oregon and Maryland. However, if you happen to live in any of those states, consider the Spark EV a top choice.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||140 horsepower/ 327 pound-feet|
|Range||82 miles per charge|
|Charge time||20 hours (120-volt)/7 hours (240-volt)/80% @20 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||119 combined/128 city/109 highway|
|# of passengers||4|
The e-Golf does a lot of things right because, at its core, it’s still a Golf. It’s practical, comfortable, refined and safe. On top of that, it boasts a solid all-electric drivetrain, matching the Spark and Leaf in range and efficiency. In many ways, the e-Golf was made for those that want an all-electric car that looks and feels like a conventional vehicle, and if interior seating and cargo space is an issue, this is the right choice. Unfortunately, it can be a bit pricey at higher trim levels, and availability is limited.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||115 horsepower/ 199 pound-feet|
|Range||83 miles per charge|
|Charge time||20 hours (120-volt)/8 hours (240-volt, standard charger)/4 hours (240-volt, upgraded charger)/80% @30 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||116 combined/126 city/105 highway|
|# of passengers||5|
Why Buy All-Electric?
Recently, HybridCars.com reported that global sales for plug-in electric vehicles have surpassed the one million mark. Even more impressive is the explosive growth seen over the course of the past year, with the half-million mark reached as early as July of 2014. The vast majority of sales (62%) are battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and carmakers are responding to this surging demand with more models and further investment.
Tesla, for example, is widely recognized as taking a lead in this space, and although the company’s model lineup exceeds the price cap set in this article, it bares mentioning that Tesla is looking to solidify its position in the EV market even further with something called the “Gigafactory.” Currently under construction in Nevada, this behemoth $5-billion facility will supply Tesla with enough batteries to raise annual sales to 500,000 vehicles a year, including the more affordable up-and-coming Model III.
Clearly, BEVs are on the rise, both at home and abroad. But why? What makes these cars so appealing?
The reason differs from consumer to consumer, market to market. The most obvious justification for purchasing a BEV is lower local emissions and reduced reliance on petroleum. A study released in 2012 by a team from UCLA found that BEVs have the smallest environmental impact compared to hybrids and conventional gasoline vehicles, while also enjoying substantially higher energy efficiency and less pollution compared to conventional vehicles (check out the study here).
The same UCLA study also found that a BEV can, in the long run (13 years), actually save the consumer money. While more expensive at initial purchase, a BEV has lower running costs than a conventional vehicle, adding just a few bucks to the monthly utility bill as opposed to a lot more on the gas card (not to mention cheaper maintenance). And as battery technology improves and gas prices increase, this long-term cost differential will become even more pronounced.
Finally, some folks just like having the latest and greatest. Whether it’s the most up-to-date smartphone or that cutting-edge tech toy, the early adopter lifestyle is all encompassing, and when it comes to automobiles, the BEV is where it’s at.
In truth, it doesn’t really matter why – you’re here because you want an all-electric hatchback and you want to know which one is best. But the world of BEVs can be extremely confusing. This is new ground for most consumers, and odds are, you need a guide.
How It Works
Before we launch into specific cars and specs, here’s a little background info.
The vast majority of consumer-oriented BEVs use a lithium-ion battery pack (think giant array of laptop batteries) to power a synchronous AC electric motor. There’s no tailpipe like on a convectional internal combustion-only car or hybrid – all the power comes in the form of electricity, making it a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV).
Instead of filing up with gasoline, BEVs have to charge up with electricity. This electricity can come from a variety of sources, and are commonly broken down into three levels (listed from slowest to fastest) – 120-volts, 240-volts and 480-volt DC “quick” charging. The 120-volt option is as simple as plugging into a common domestic wall socket. Unfortunately, it also takes to longest to give a full charge, requiring around 20 hours to top off.
Far better is the 240-volt source, usually provided by a factory optional or aftermarket “at-home” charging station. These cost around $500 and require installation by a professional electrician. At-home charger manufacturers include AeroVironment, Bosch, ClipperCreek, EVoCharge, General Electric and Leviton, to name just a few, and you can usually purchase complete kits from the automaker. Alternatively, places like Amazon.com and Home Depot also have a selection available. These provide substantially faster recharge times compared to a 120-volt source – around four to eight hours to reach full. They also offer customization options, such as the ability to draw power from the grid only during off-peak hours, lowering your monthly bill.
Finally, there’s the 480-volt DC quick-charge option. You’ll find a network of DC quick chargers scattered in parking lots and dedicated charge stations throughout the nation. These offer fast juice for BEV owners, sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free. Complicating matters, quick charging comes in a variety of different forms, with limited compatibility depending on your BEV of choice. The most common in the U.S. is called CHAdeMO, followed by the SAE Combo Connector and Tesla’s Supercharger network. Comparing these big three quick-charge variants is a topic worthy of its own article, but for now, just know that charge station availability is highly variable and that an 80 percent charge can be achieved in as little as 30 minutes (reaching full capacity off a quick charger is not recommended as the practice can quickly wear out the battery pack).
What’s It Like To Drive A BEV?
Driving an all-electric vehicle is a completely different experience compared to a traditional, internal combustion-driven car. The first thing you’ll notice is just how quiet it is. No tailpipe means no muffled explosions, and the only noise you’ll hear will come from the wind and tires (plus a discreet whirr as the drivetrain gets up to speed). No internal combustion engine also means the ride is extremely smooth and refined, with minimal vibration. Complementing this, you’ll find BEVs offered with a single-gear transmission, which means no lurching between shifts. In these respects, a BEV is ideal for comfortable commuting.
Additionally, electric motors provide 100 percent of their available torque at 0 rpm, unlike gasoline engines, which take revs to build up the twist. That means you’ll feel a strong surge of forward momentum the instant you put your foot into the throttle, which is great for passing maneuvers.
Despite this prodigious low-end, the BEV is traditionally quite slow when driven flat-out compared to gas-powered vehicles (excluding the Tesla Model S, obviously). Low horsepower and high curb weight conspire against the BEV’s sporting intentions, with plodding 0-to-60 times and ho-hum top speeds posted across the board. However, that wallop of low-end should be more than enough in everyday traffic situations, and unless you’re hitting the drag strip on the weekends, odds are you’ll enjoy the BEV’s “pep.”
Finally, BEVs are often offered with some form of regenerative braking that converts kinetic energy created while slowing the vehicle into electricity to charge the batteries, increasing overall efficiency. This makes the brakes of a BEV feel significantly different, with some reporting a vague response compared to a conventional vehicle. Additionally, this also causes the BEV to slow substantially as soon as you lift your foot off the throttle.
A Few Terms Defined
The world of BEVs is rife with unique terms and acronyms. Here are a few for quick reference:
BEV – battery electric vehicle. Basically an electric vehicle that uses only a battery and electric motor for motive power, compared to the internal combustion engine of a conventional vehicle and the internal combustion engine + battery pack of a hybrid.
ICE – internal combustion engine. The powerplant of a conventional vehicle.
kWh – kilowatt hour. Unit of energy used to describe the capacity of a BEV’s battery pack. One kWh is equivalent to one kilowatt spent for one hour of time. The higher the capacity, the more energy a battery can potentially hold and expend, offering a good reference point when comparing BEVs. It’s a bit like an EV’s “fuel tank,” but according to Edmunds.com, it’s not quite the same – a battery can never be fully charged to 100 percent capacity. Rather, Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at Edmunds.com, puts it this way: “It’s kind of like cargo capacity or any other interior dimension. Use the number to approximate which car has ‘more,’ and by how much.”
MPGe – miles per gallon equivalent. Here’s the problem with comparing BEVs to ICE-powered cars: BEVs don’t use gasoline. As such, the EPA created the MPGe standard in 2010 to give consumers a better handle on the average efficiency of a BEV.
Here’s how it works: MPGe is a unit of measure for distance traveled per unit of energy used. Basically, the term assumes 33.7 kWh of energy obtained from one gallon of gasoline. Therefore, 1 MPGe is equivalent to 1 mile traveled for 33.7 kWh spent.
All told, there are plenty of valid arguments out there against MPGe as an effective means of rating a BEV’s efficiency, especially when you get plug-in hybrids in on the mix, but for the time being, it’s the most common standard you’ll find.
Range anxiety – fear felt by BEV drivers that the battery will run out of juice before arriving at the intended destination, leaving them stranded
To encourage more widespread adoption of BEVs, there are a slew of incentives available, including those at the federal, state and regional levels.
Let’s start with the big one: the Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle tax credit. The IRS offers up to $7,500 to buyers who purchase their BEV new, with the total credit determined by the car’s battery capacity (each of the BEVs covered in this article receive the full $7,500). If you lease your BEV, the credit usually goes to the leasing company, lowering your payment. The vehicle must be used primarily in the U.S., and can’t be for resale. Finally, you must claim the entire credit the same tax year that the vehicle is put on the road. You can check out the specifics from the IRS here.
That’s a huge amount of money, and applied to the MSRP, a BEV looks much more affordable. But bare in mind – you don’t get the money up front. As a tax credit, you must claim it on your return, and if you owe less than $7,500, you won’t get the full credit. If that $7,500 is a deal-breaker, it’s advised you talk with a tax professional before diving into a purchase.
State incentives vary hugely. Some states offer only minor exemptions, whereas other states offer additional tax credits, purchase rebates, reduced fees, insurance discounts, car pool lane access and all kinds of other goodies. The most EV-friendly states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and Washington, while many additional incentives are on the way elsewhere. For a more complete breakdown of state-level incentives, check out the Alternative Fuels Data Center here.
There are also plenty of regional incentives for BEV purchase. Things like free parking, reduced utility rates, at-home charger rebates and even free access to public charging stations could be offered in your area. You can find a white paper from The International Council On Clean Transportation covering electric vehicle promotion in the 25 largest U.S. cities by clicking here.
Things To Consider Before Becoming A BEV Owner
So you think you want to buy an electric car? That’s great, but there are a few things to consider before you plunk down all that money. To start things off, here’s a brief profile of a hypothetical BEV owner. Let’s call him Fred.
Fred commutes to work in his BEV five days a week, driving from his home to his office and back again, about 40 miles round trip. Occasionally, Fred makes a stop at a nearby location for the odd errand (groceries, dry cleaning, etc.). Fred wants to arrive at work on time, but he also doesn’t want to get up incredibly early, so the carpool lane is a must. Fred isn’t terribly interested in picking up colleagues, but thankfully, his BEV qualifies for carpool lane access. In addition to his BEV, Fred also owns a conventional internal combustion vehicle for longer trips to see his parents and to make it to the annual family reunion, visiting the gas station maybe once every few months specifically for those purposes. But when it comes to the daily grind, it’s all electricity. When he arrives back home in the evenings, Fred plugs in his BEV and forgets about it until the morning. To help power his commute, Fred installed a 240-volt at-home charger in his 2-car garage, plus a few solar panels on his roof to help reduce his monthly utility bill. Fred acquired both the charger and the panels at lower cost thanks to accompanying rebates.
For Fred, a BEV is the perfect daily transportation solution. He doesn’t experience range anxiety because his routine and daily habits are well mapped out and predictable, and if there’s a chance he’ll need more range than his BEV can provide, he takes his other car.
One of the most common complaints coming from new BEV owners is the lack of range. Many like the idea of reduced local emissions and quiet, comfortable operation, but don’t realize just how limiting 80 miles per charge can be. The transition to electric motoring can be difficult for any driver used to filling up an extra 300 miles of fuel in a handful of minutes at any given gas station. Even with well-placed DC quick-charger stations, you’re still looking at 30 minutes for just 65 more miles in a BEV.
Compounding this, battery packs will start to lose range over time. While most BEVs come with solid warranties on the battery packs (8-year/100,000-miles), it’s considered normal (and not covered under warranty) for a pack to lose up to 30 percent of its total range, limiting BEV usability even further (for example, 70 percent of an 80-mile range looks like 55 miles).
So far, horror stories about BEVs requiring expensive replacement battery packs have been nearly non-existent, with manufacturers ponying up the cost when the packs do go bad, but still, expect to lose up to 30 percent of your range over time (how quickly that range depletes depends on a variety of factors, including environment, usage frequency and recharge routines). Overall, a battery is expected to last roughly 10 years before requiring replacement. The technology is developing at an ever-quickening pace, so it’s hard to say exactly how much this will cost in a decade’s time, but currently, expect to pay around $300 per kWh.
At the end of the day, a modern BEV really is ideal for local trips, and for a growing number of people, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. You can check out a more in-depth discussion on the pros and cons of electric vehicles by clicking here.
One last note on the peculiarities of BEV ownership – when it comes to standard features and equipment, you may find a few things missing. For example, if low-grip traction is an issue, AWD won’t be an option in the segment discussed here. Maximum efficiency is the name of the game, and as such, FWD (and sometimes RWD) is the only drivetrain layout you’ll see.
Cargo space can also be pretty limited. Larger dimensions usually mean higher weight and greater aerodynamic drag, so small and light is preferred. Of course, there are exceptions, and some BEVs come with a surprising amount of space despite their small footprint (the Volkswagen e-Golf comes to mind).
Also, thanks to extensive weight and space saving measures, the vast majority of BEVs (including those reviewed here) aren’t equipped with a spare tire. Instead, there’s an air compressor and tire sealant combo in back for emergencies. These alternatives can lead to expensive repair costs if put into service, fouling tire pressure monitor sensors and generally wrecking havoc on the rubber. Check your blowout options before you hit the road.
Criteria And Research
Consideration for the title of best in this segment was actually rather broad. First, each contender needed to run solely on electric power, which meant no hybrids. The car also had to be considered a hatchback, with either three or five doors (including the rear hatch as a door). Current U.S. availability was also a must, with model years encompassing both 2015 and 2016. Finally, the price had to fall somewhere in the $30,000-range, with just a few exceptions.
Even with such wide-ranging criteria, only 10 vehicles were considered: the BMW i3, the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, the Ford Focus EV, the Kia Soul Electric, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Nissan Leaf, the Smart Electric Drive and the Volkswagen e-Golf.
Before diving into research for individual vehicles, I considered what was most important to BEV buyers, reading up on forums, owner reviews, interviews and similar sources. Given the fact that one of the biggest (if not the biggest) limitations of the modern BEV is range, miles-per-charge was one of the biggest factors in determining a winner. These cars were made for short distances, but a few extra miles in the capacity was enough to give one car a nod over the other.
Recharge time was another important factor, especially with regards to the option of DC quick charging. This ties back to the inherent drawbacks of a BEV, and the closer a contender could get to matching the convenience of a conventional vehicle, the better off it was.
Price and cost to run were also very important. This is a segment that can get rather pricey rather quick, and if the motivation for BEV purchase is money saved in the long-term, it’s best to get a jump on it with a lower entry price and operational costs.
Additionally, all the cars reviewed in this article will see employment as commuters, and as such, interior comfort and appointment were highly valued. Practicality (cargo volume) was considered slightly less important than these other two factors, but was factored in during judging as well.
Finally, availability and manufacturer support were very important factors. It’s safe to say that while BEVs are still considered an emerging product, these aren’t just machines to show off your early-adopter credentials. An all-electric hatchback is still a thing to be used, and in most cases, on a daily basis. Some manufacturers appear to be dipping their toes in the green lifestyle pool, offering BEVs only where demand is greatest. To some manufacturers, BEVS are seen more as novelties rather than honest alternatives to more conventional consumer vehicles. That’s not what I’m looking for in this comparison. Every car, not just BEVs, should come with whole-hearted manufacturer support and the confidence it can stand up against rival products, no matter what’s driving the wheels. Plus, how can a BEV be considered the best if it’s only available in California?
Next came the research. In addition to combing through TopSpeed.com, I looked at rankings and reviews from several other top-name consumer websites, including Car&Driver, Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book and Motor Trend, among others. I combed through posts from EV-specialists like GreenCarReports.com, InsideEVs.com and PluginCars.com. I also raked through manufacturer websites to see how they thought their product stacked up against rivals.
Without a doubt, this is a segment where competition will only increase, but right now, we’re seeing the opening salvos from carmakers as they battle for your BEV bucks. From the outset, a few models looked to standout from the rest, but in the end, I could give the title of Top Pick to only one.
Looking back, you’ll find the Nissan Leaf was an originator of the all-electric renaissance currently taking place. Along with the Chevrolet Volt, the Leaf was one of the first cars to bear the EPA’s MPGe mileage metric. These days, the Leaf continues to remain at the forefront as the best-selling highway-capable all-electric car ever made. Originally offered in 2010, Nissan has sold over 185,000 Leafs worldwide, with 2014 seeing 30,000 Leafs sold in the U.S. alone.
Nissan frames the Leaf as the Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car, and by that assessment, I’d say they pretty much landed a bull’s-eye. In the five years it’s been in production, it’s won a variety of awards, including the 2011 World Car of the Year, 2011 European Car of the Year, 2011-2012 Car of the Year Japan and 2013 Best Family Electric Vehicle.
The Leaf has yet to receive a second generation, but Nissan has still been busy keeping it fresh with new interior appointment and the latest drivetrain technology for the 2016 model year.
Before we get into all that, let’s start with the exterior. From nose to tail, the Nissan Leaf was designed to be a hyper-efficient all-electric slayer of miles, unlike other BEVs that assume the role using bodies plucked from models with more conventional drivetrains. With that in mind, the Leaf looks like what you would expect a BEV to look like – it’s short, stubby, bubbly and curvy. The nose is low and slender, drawing air up and over as smoothly as possible using aerodynamically efficient headlights and fenders. The roof is long and flat, and the trailing edge rear spoiler falls quickly into the rear hatch. Take a peek under the Leaf and you’ll find a flat aerodynamic underbody cover leading to a rear diffuser. It’s all in the name of eking out as much distance as possible from each and every electron, and the result is a 0.28 drag coefficient that slices through the wind with ease.
Whether or not you think it actually looks good is completely beside the point. As far as exterior design was concerned, it’s as if Nissan followed after Louis Sullivan, the famous architect best known for coining the phrase “form follows function.” If you’d prefer a BEV that blends in with a crowd, skip this review and check out the third place entry from Volkswagen.
That all said, the standard 16-inch steel wheels can get upgraded to 17-inch aluminum rollers for those interested in adding a bit of style-oriented superfluity. But past that, it’s all purpose – other features include efficient LED low-beam headlights (optional on the SV and standard on the SL) and a solar panel in the rear spoiler to help power the accessories (only available as a standard feature on the SV).
|Exterior features (standard)||16-inch steel wheels, rear spoiler, chrome door handles, heated side-view mirrors, one-touch rear hatch release|
|Exterior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights, automatic on/off headlight function, fog lights, solar panel rear spoiler|
Inside, the Leaf offers a good amount of space. There is seating for five and 92.4 cubic-feet of interior passenger volume – both quite solid for the segment. There’s also 30 cubic-feet of cargo space after folding down the rear seats, which is rather small compared to competitors. Standard features include everything you’d need from a modern hatchback, like Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, a USB connection port and 4-speaker audio with a 3-month SiriusXM satellite radio trial subscription. New for the 2016 model year is the addition of a 5-inch color screen (only 4.3 inches for the 2015 model year) and hands-free text messaging (only available on the SV and SL for the 2015 model year). Upgraded features, like a 7-inch color screen, premium Bose sound system and leather upholstery are offered at higher trim levels (more on that in a minute).
|Interior features (standard)||Intelligent Key with push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, auxiliary 12-volt DC power outlet, heated front and rear seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear seat heating and cooling ducts, AM/FM/CD 4-speaker audio system, 4.3-inch QVGA color screen, MP3/WMA CD playback, SiriusXM satellite radio with 3-month trial subscription, auxiliary audio input jack, USB connection port|
|Interior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Hybrid heater system, navigation system, 7-inch QVGA color screen, Bose audio system|
With that out of the way, let’s get into the most important aspect of a BEV – the drivetrain. For the 2015 model year, the Leaf boasts a range of 84 miles per charge using a 24-kWh battery pack powering an 80-kilowatt electric motor. Those stats lean towards the upper end of the BEV spectrum, as does the 114 combined MPGe (126 city, 101 highway).
Charging times vary depending on the trim level. At the most basic S trim level, the Leaf takes 20 hours to charge to full using a standard 120-volt trickle source. Plug into a 240-volt source, and you’re looking at 8 hours for a full charge.
That 8-hour 240-volt charge time is significantly longer than the Leaf’s competitors, but there’s a good reason – the onboard charger is rated at 3.6-kilowatts for the base trim level S. You can step up to a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger by either purchasing the Charge Package ($1,770) for the S trim level, or opting into the higher SV/SL trim levels. Equipped with the upgraded 6.6-kilowatt charger, the Leaf will top off its battery in 5 hours using a 240-volt source. A DC quick-charge port is also optional for the S and SV trim levels and standard for the SV, and will yield an 80 percent charge in as little as 30 minutes.
I like this. Yes, it would be nice to have a standard 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger. However, for some people, an 8-hour charge time off a 240-volt source is more than adequate for their needs, especially considering the majority of BEV owners plug in at night and walk away from their car until morning. If cutting a few hours off that average is a necessity, Nissan offers the option, but if saving a few bucks is more important, that option is there as well.
Output is rated at 107 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque. Running to the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear transmission, that’s enough muscle to push the 3,243-pound Leaf to a 10.2-second 0-to-60 time – average for the segment. Top speed maxes out at 94 mph, which is slightly above average next to the Leaf’s competitors.
Now for the big news. One of the things that pushed the Leaf into the lead was the recent announcement that 2016 models at the SV and SL trim level will come equipped with an improved 30-kWh battery pack. The new unit sports eight cells per module (192 cells total) compared to the old battery’s four cells per module (also 192 cells total). It’s also 46 pounds heavier, but the extra weight doesn’t come with extra size, instead offering higher power density (plus better durability).
The most important facet of the new battery pack is that it blesses the Leaf with a best-in-class range of 107 miles. That’s absolutely massive, representing a 27 percent increase compared to the old 24-kWh unit. Unfortunately, the range increase also brings a price increase, adding $2,100 to the MSRP of the SV trim level and $1,670 to the SL. You can still get the base trim level S for the old price, but it won’t offer the upgraded 30-kWh battery or its associated range increase.
Still, even for the higher price, 107 miles per charge is a big step forward for the Leaf, and barring some unforeseen 130+ mile-range trump card from a competitor, the 2016 model year will undoubtedly be the best BEV on the market when it goes on sale.
|Drivetrain features (standard)||80-kilowatt electric motor, 24-kWh battery pack, battery heater, hill start assist, regenerative braking system|
|Drivetrain features (optional/upgraded trim level)||30-kWh battery pack, 6.6-kW onboard charger, quick-charge port|
The Nissan Leaf is a safe car, but not the safest in this segment. In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2015 Leaf received the highest possible “Good” rating for moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints and seats, but the lowest “Poor” rating in the small overlap front test (undoubtedly due to that aerodynamic nose). Check out the results here.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2015 Nissan Leaf a rating of 4 out 5 stars for frontal crash, side crash, and rollover tests, resulting in a 4 out of 5 star rating overall. Check out the results here.
While not fantastic in tests, the Nissan Leaf does have the usual lineup of safety features, including 4-wheel ABS, airbags up front and on the sides, an energy-absorbing steering column, side-door guard beams and front seatbelt pretensioners. There are also a few electronic aides, like standard traction and stability control, plus Nissan’s RearView Monitor that employs a rear backup camera.
While the upcoming 2016 model has yet to be tested, it’s expected to offer the same results and features as the previous models.
If having the safest vehicle on the road is an issue, then you might want to look past the Leaf. It’s certainly not fair to call it unsafe, but there are one or two issues that keep it from leading in safety for this segment. But if the majority of the car’s life is spent picking through stop-and-go city traffic, this shouldn’t be a major issue.
|Safety features (standard)||4-wheel ABS, RearView Monitor, Nissan Advanced Airbag System, ALR/ELR seatbelt system|
|Safety features (optional/upgraded trim level)||AroundView Monitor|
The 2015 Nissan Leaf starts at an MSRP of $29,010 (before credits and incentives) for the base trim level S model. Next is the SV trim level, which starts at $32,100 (before credits and incentives), and includes all the equipment from the S, but adds the Nissan Navigation system, Carwings app compatibility (which lets you remotely check on battery charge status, turn charging on and off, set the climate control, and similar functionality), 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a faster 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger and partially recycled cloth upholstery. At the top is the SL trim level, which has an MSRP of $35,120 and adds 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a DC quick-charge port, automatic LED headlights, fog lights and leather upholstery.
New for 2016 is an upgraded 30-kWh battery pack that extends range to 107 miles per charge. The new battery is offered exclusively on SV and SL trim levels, and increases the MSRP for the SV model to $34,200, while the SL model MSRP is increased to $36,790 (check out the “Drivetrain” section for more information).
The Nissan Leaf is available in all 50 states. For the warranty, Nissan offers basic coverage for 3 years/36,000 miles, powertrain and electric vehicle components for 5 years/60,000 miles, and battery pack coverage for 8 years/100,000 miles.
In a post made in 2014, InsideEVs.com reported on a Leaf receiving a battery swap under warranty due to exceptional capacity loss. If you’re worried about battery replacement, check it out here.
|Charge Package (S trim level)||6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, quick-charge-port||$1,770|
|LED Headlights and Quick Charge Port Package (SV trim level)||LED low-beam headlights, automatic on/off headlight feature, quick-charge port, fog lights||$1,630|
|Premium Package (SV and SL trim level)||AroundView Monitor, Bose premium sound system||$1,570|
|S trim level||Intelligent Key, push-button starter, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front and rear seats, RearView monitor||$29,010|
|SV trim level||Adds: navigation system, Carwings app compatibility, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, partially recycled cloth seat trim||$32,100|
|SL trim level||Adds: 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, quick-charge port, automatic on/off LED headlights, fog lights, leather upholstery||$35,120|
Final Thoughts On The Nissan Leaf
The Nissan Leaf clinched the top position in this comparison for several reasons. At its most basic trim level, it offers solid range and good features for a nice price. It’s efficient with electricity and it does everything you would expect from a BEV.
I really like how Nissan offers the Leaf with a bevy of options depending on individual needs. While many of the Leaf’s competitors offer standard 6.6-kilowatt onboard chargers, the base S trim level Leaf saves a few bucks with a slower 3.6-kilowatt charger, which should be adequate if you want to simply plug in at night and walk away until morning. Of course, there are faster charging options if you want to pay more, but not every BEV buyer will need them.
The same is true for the upgraded battery pack in the 2016 model. For some buyers, the 24-kWh batteries 84-mile range will be just fine, while more range-anxious individuals can spend a bit more for the SV or SL to get 107 miles. Again, having these options is key, and Nissan clearly knows one size definitely does not fit all, even in this niche segment.
One of the problems of being a BEV early-adopter is that with any new product, there are bound to be some hiccups. That’s not a huge issue when your new smart watch fails to load an app, but when it comes to transportation, an undependable product can result in a lot of headache.
The Leaf addresses this with widespread availability (and consequently, dealer support), a model history stretching back to 2010 and the record as the highest-selling highway-capable electric car ever made. Not only is the warranty behind it solid, you can rest assured Nissan will be equipped to handle your needs should your new car need some attention. This is one automaker that’s fully committed to offering a fully electric product to consumers, and it shows.
Jumping into a BEV for the first time can be both exciting and scary. It’s a huge change from more conventional vehicles, but Nissan offers the best option for the segment with the Leaf. If 84 miles of range and an 8-hour charge time sound right for you, go for a 2015 Leaf S. If you need more range and a faster charge time, wait until the 2016 Leaf SV goes on sale. In either case, install a 240-volt charger station at home, plug in, and enjoy all-electric motoring.
|Overall length (inches)||175|
|Overall width (inches)||69.7|
|Overall height (inches)||61|
|Track width (inches)||60.6 front/60.4 rear|
|Drag coefficient (cd)||0.28|
|Head room (inches)||41.23 front/37.3 rear|
|Leg room (inches)||42.1 front/33.3 rear|
|Hip room (inches)||51.7 front/50 rear|
|Shoulder room (inches)||54.3 front/52.5 rear|
|Interior passenger volume (cu. ft.)||92.4|
|Cargo volume with rear seat up (cu. ft.)||23.6|
|Cargo volume with rear seat down (cu. ft.)||30|
|Curb weight (pounds)||3,243 – 3,328|
What Other Reviewers Thought About The Leaf
Car&Driver likes the Leaf’s spacious cabin, refined ride comfort and interior features, especially for the top-range SL model. The pub even says the Leaf “represents the future of transportation,” but thinks it’s ill suited beyond duties as a second car for quick trips.
Edmunds.com says the Leaf “cruises with a quiet serenity at all times,” also citing the roomy cabin space, but it’s left unimpressed by the car’s sluggish performance.
Kelley Blue Book thinks the Leaf’s exterior is “close to becoming iconic for electric cars,” echoing others in praise of the way it silently moves about. However, KBB warns against buying a Leaf without access to a 240-volt charger, which is definitely advice worth heeding.
Motor Trend also likes the Leaf’s unobtrusive noise levels, as well as the navigation system and the way it drives like a conventional gasoline vehicle. However, the pub didn’t like the Leaf’s handling and small cargo area.
Chevrolet Spark EV
The Chevy Spark EV very nearly took the number one spot in this comparison, and it remains a top choice for the segment. On the outside, the Spark comes with decidedly EV-esque styling, including rounded curves, a highly aerodynamic nose and drawn back headlights. The Spark is also quite small, even compared to the compact Leaf, making it perfect for zipping around town. It’s only 146.5 inches long compared to the Leaf’s 175 inches, and the wheelbase is measured at 93.5 inches next to the Leaf’s 106.3 inches. Excluding the mirrors, the Spark is a mere 64 inches wide, 5.7 inches less than the Leaf’s 69.7 inches. The track is 55.5 inches wide in front and 54.8 inches in the rear, while the Leaf is 60.6 inches in the front and 60.4 inches in the rear. That’s all substantially smaller, and should make snagging that last parking spot next to the curb much easier.
|Exterior features (standard)||Automatic on/off headlights, LED center-mounted brake light, 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, active aero shudder grille, rear spoiler, chrome lift gate and belt line trim|
|Exterior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
Of course, the reduced exterior dimensions bring reduced interior space as well – the Spark EV offers just 86 square-feet of passenger volume, far less than the Leaf’s spacious 92.4 square-feet. The Spark EV is also down one on seating capacity, offering only four spots compared to the Leaf’s five. Things get even worse when it comes to practicality, with the Spark falling under the Leaf’s less-than-impressive 30 square-feet of cargo volume with a mere 23.4 square-feet (both figures are with the rear seats folded down). Luckily, there are five doors (including the rear hatch) to aide ingress and egress.
Amenities, however, are plentiful, and include Chevy’s MyLink Radio infotainment system (which includes a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and voice command), a 6-speaker audio system, OnStar RemoteLink (which includes remote lock, remote start and navigation), a 3-month SiriusXM radio trial subscription, heated seats for the front passengers and a USB port.
|Interior features (standard)||Chevrolet MyLink Radio, 6-speaker audio system, OnStar, SiriusXM satellite radio with 3-month trial subscription, USB port, automatic climate control, heated front seats, 7-inch LCD color screen, push-button starter, keyless entry, remote starter system, auxiliary power outlet|
|Interior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Leatherette trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel|
The drivetrain on the Spark EV is quite impressive. Total range per charge is 82 miles, more or less the same as the Leaf. Providing the juice is an 18.4-kWh battery pack mated to a 105-kilowatt electric motor that drives the front wheels. With a curb weight of only 2,989 pounds, the Spark EV could make do with slightly less output than its heavier rivals. However, the Spark EV doesn’t want to make do – it wants to trounce the competition. As such, output is rated at 140 horsepower and an eye-widening 327 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to propel the Spark to 60 mph in under 8 seconds, handily beating the Leaf (not to mention almost every other entry in this segment). In fact, Motor Trend says the Spark EV is “easily one of the most engaging electric cars in its class.” I have to agree.
So it’s quick – that much is clear. But the Spark EV is also quite efficient, offering 119-MPGe combined (128 city, 109 highway), once again besting the Leaf (114-MPGe combined, 126 city, 101 highway).
However, when it comes to recharge times, the Spark EV lags a bit, taking seven hours to top off from a 240-volt source. Thankfully, DC quick charging is an available option, offering 80 percent in 20 minutes, while the standard 120-volt trickle charge takes about 20 hours to fill up.
|Drivetrain features (standard)||105-kilowatt electric motor, 18.4-kWh battery pack, programmable charge control, hill start assist|
|Drivetrain features (optional/upgraded trim level)||DC quick charge|
The Spark EV is actually substantially safer than the larger Leaf. The IIHS awarded the 2015 Spark with “Good” ratings across the board, with the exception of a second-best rating of “Acceptable” in the small overlap front crash test (a category where the Leaf received the worst possible rating of “Poor”). You can check out the results here (the Spark EV was not tested, but should post the same scores).
The 2015 Spark also eked ahead of the Leaf in tests by the NHTSA, gaining five out of five stars for side impact tests compared to the Leaf’s four stars. For frontal crash and rollover tests, the Spark mirrored the Leaf with four stars, while both vehicles also received a four-star overall rating. You can check out the results here (the Spark EV was not tested, but should post the same scores).
Notable standard safety features include 10 air bags and OnStar emergency services.
|Safety features (standard)||4-wheel ABS, stability control, traction control, 10 airbags, OnStar Automatic Crash Response and Emergency Services|
|Safety features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
Here comes one of the most attractive features of the Spark EV – the price. Starting at an incredibly low MSRP of $25,170, the Spark is undoubtedly one of the best values you can get in this segment. Throw in a few incentives, and you’re looking at one sweet deal.
For the warranty, Chevy offers maintenance coverage for 2 years/24,000 miles, corrosion coverage for 3 years/36,000 miles, bumper-to-bumper coverage for 3 years/36,000 miles, powertrain/drivetrain coverage for 5 years/100,000 miles, roadside assistance for 5 years/100,000 miles, rust-through coverage for 6 years/100,000 miles, and battery-pack coverage for 8 years/100,000 miles.
|1LT trim level||MyLink Radio, USB port, 6-speaker audio system||$25,170|
|2LT trim level||Adds: leatherette seat trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel||$25,560|
So, you’re probably asking yourself – “If the Spark EV is so good, why isn’t it the top pick?”
It all comes down to availability.
Chevy is offering the Spark EV in only three states: California, Oregon and Maryland. It makes sense, given the percentage of BEV sales coming from these three markets, but for buyers elsewhere, the Spark simply isn’t an option.
Additionally, Nissan has a three-year lead on Chevy when it comes to ironing out any bugs that could arise in this increasingly popular segment. So far, there are no indications the Spark EV is anything but bulletproof reliable, but experience still counts, especially when it comes to dealership support.
That all said, the Chevy Spark EV is a positively superb BEV, bringing not only topnotch amenities and lightening-quick performance, but truly fantastic value for the money. For those reasons, it should come as no surprise that the Spark EV is surging in sales lately, outpacing even the 50-state-available Leaf. So far, no additional availability has been announced, but don’t be surprised if that changes in the near future.
In the meantime, if you live in California, Oregon or Maryland, the Spark EV is undoubtedly the better buy. But if you happen to live anywhere else, the Leaf is also quite good.
What Other Reviewers Thought About The Spark EV
Car&Driver actually prefers the Spark EV to its ICE-driven sibling, saying “the gutsy electric motor and 1-speed direct-drive transmission make an enthusiastic pair; handling is pleasantly balanced and responsive with sharper steering.”
Edmunds.com also liked the Spark EV’s torque and cornering prowess, not to mention the number of standard features. However, Edmunds.com was less than impressed by the long recharge time and tiny backseat.
Motor Trend found the Spark EV to be a good fit for urban living, with lots of torque from the electric motor and a “surprisingly good ride.” However, Motor Trend also thought the brakes were “sloppy.”
For over four decades, the Golf has been a go-to standard for the hatchback body style. Over the course of those 40+ years, VW has prided itself on offering a multiplicity of Golf variants to suit any and all motoring needs, from spacious family haulers, to apex-smashing track machines. As such, the Golf has seen a variety of different drivetrains under its skin, and the latest is 100 percent electric.
First unveiled at the 2013 Frankfurt Motorshow, the e-Golf is a relative newcomer to the segment. Based on the seventh-generation Golf, the e-Golf looks more or less like its gasoline- and diesel-powered siblings, with a few subtle exceptions: there are new LED running lights, new 16-inch alloy wheels, a new grille with a blue accent, a new integrated rear spoiler and a few unique badges. Interestingly, the e-Golf also boasts a slightly lower drag coefficient than the Leaf at 0.27.
Parked on the street, you’d be hard-pressed to pick it out of a crowd. And for some people, that’s a good thing.
|Exterior features (standard)||Unique front grille with blue accent, rear roof spoiler, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, heated windshield wiper nozzles, electrically heated windshield, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels|
|Exterior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Ambient door trim lighting, LED headlights|
Inside, the story is much the same. The dash is pretty much a carryover, with the same familiar button placement and controls. There’s still seating for five, and thanks to clever packaging of the battery pack, the e-Golf offers 93.5 cubic-feet of passenger volume – exactly the same as can be found in the gas-driven Golf (and slightly more than the 92.4 cubic-feet found in the Leaf).
The conventional Golf’s sizable cargo volume is also maintained on the all-electric variant, offering fantastic practicality for those who have a lot of stuff to throw in the back. Fold down the rear seats, and you’ll get 52.7 cubic-feet of space, which blows away the meager 30 cubic-feet found in the Leaf. Complementing this, you’ll find a standard adjustable cargo floor.
Other features are in line with what you’d expect in this segment, and include keyless access, a push-button starter, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview backup camera, 6.5-inch color touchscreen, SiriusXM radio with a 3-month free trial subscription, 8-speaker sound system and a leather-wrapped shift knob and brake handle.
|Interior features (standard)||Dual-zone automatic climate control, rear passenger ventilation, two auxiliary 12-volt power outlets, heated front seats, eight-way partial power-adjustable front seats, glove box with cooling feature, adjustable cargo floor, Volkswagen Car-Net App-Connect infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, USB port, 6.5-inch color touchscreen with proximity sensor, AM/FM/CD/HD radio, SD memory card reader, voice control, SiriusXM radio with 3-month trial subscription, 8-speaker audio system, chrome trim, leather-wrapped shift knob and brake handle|
|Interior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Parking assist, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, self-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated door sills, leatherette upholstery, 8-inch touchscreen with proximity sensor, navigation system, DVD/video playback, leatherette door trim|
Take a cross-section of the e-Golf, and you’ll find a drivetrain that meets all your BEV expectations without fail. A 24.2-kWh battery pack is used to motivate an 85-kilowatt electric motor that routes power through the front wheels, offering a solid 83 miles per charge – pretty much the same as the 2015 Leaf and Spark. Efficiency is also rated at a relatively equal 116-MPGe combined, with 126 city and 105 highway. Output is measured at 115 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque – not a lot, but enough to yield a sub-11-second 0-to-60 time. While not mind-blowing, it’s certainly adequate for this segment.
Recharge times are pretty much what you’d expect. Standard equipment for the base SE trim level includes a 3.6-kilowatt onboard charger, yielding a full battery in 8 hours from a 240-volt source (or 20 hours from a 120-volt source). For those looking for more miles in less time, there’s an available 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger that cuts the 240-volt charge time down to 4 hours. The 7.2-kilowatt charger also comes with DC quick-charge capability that yields 80 percent capacity in less than 30 minutes.
|Drivetrain features (standard)||85-kilowatt electric motor, 24.2-kWh battery back, Servotronic speed sensitive power steering|
|Drivetrain features (optional/upgraded trim level)||7.2-kilowattonboard charger with DC quick-charge port|
Just like the conventional Golf, the e-Golf is a very safe car. The IIHS gave it the highest “Good” rating in every category (check out the results here), while the NHTSA gave the two-door Golf a five-star rating overall, with four stars in frontal crash and rollover tests and five stars in side crash tests (the four-door Golf is currently untested, but should post similar scores. Check it out here).
The e-Golf comes equipped with the usual slew of safety acronyms, like anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC) and hydraulic brake assist (HBS), plus plenty of air bags and an automatic post-collision braking system.
|Safety features (standard)||4-wheel ABS, stability control, traction control, front and rear side curtain airbags, automatic post-collision braking, Intelligent Crash Response System|
|Safety features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
The e-Golf is available in two different trim levels, starting at $28,995 for the SE and going up to $35,595 for the SEL. For the extra outlay, you get an 8-inch touchscreen with integrated navigation, full LED headlights, a faster 7.2-kilowatt charger, leatherette upholstery and a few other goodies.
For the warranty, Volkswagen offers maintenance for 1 year/10,000 miles, roadside assistance for 3 years/36,000 miles, basic coverage for 3 years/36,000 miles, powertrain coverage for 5 years/60,000 miles and battery coverage for 8 years/100,000 miles.
|SE trim level||Keyless entry with push-button start, rearview camera system, 6.5-inch touchscreen||$28,995|
|SEL trim level||Adds: full LED headlights, 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation system||$35,595|
Despite being a relative newcomer to the BEV party, VW did a good job stuffing an all-electric drivetrain into its iconic hatchback. One of the best things about the e-Golf is that it’s quite similar to its gas-powered equivalent – it looks like a conventional vehicle, it’s spacious, highly efficiency, well-equipped, refined and every bit the solid people’s car that made the original Golf a classic.
Unfortunately, one of the things keeping the e-Golf from ranking higher in this comparison is limited availability. Volkswagen is offering it in 11 different markets – California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington D.C. That makes it easier to obtain than the more limited Chevy Spark EV, but less common than the comparably ubiquitous Nissan Leaf.
Still, the e-Golf remains a very solid choice. In many ways, it’s the traditionalist’s BEV, offering the same all-electric benefits, but in a much more familiar package. Furthermore, if your daily electric routine includes kids, the e-Golf is the one to get. Not only is it comfortable and safe, it also offers tons of room for whatever has to go along for the ride.
What Other Reviewers Thought About The Volkswagen e-Golf
Autoweek liked the e-Golf, especially the cabin, which, as a direct carryover from the conventional Golf, offers “comfy seats, tons of room, [and] good materials,” even going so far as to call it “the best small-car interior on the market.”
Edmunds.com also praised the e-Golf’s interior, saying it had “outstanding cabin materials and construction.” Edmunds.com also liked the refined, quiet ride, but found the electric motor’s performance lacking and the MSRP set too high.
TheCarConnection.com liked the e-Golf’s conventional design, calling it the “stealth electric car,” also citing the familiar controls as a plus. However, the pub points out that the e-Golf can’t match the 2016 Leaf’s 107-mile range.
Rounding Out The Top 5
note: 2013 model pictured
The Ford Focus EV was another very strong contender. In many ways, it’s quite similar to the e-Golf – it’s well equipped, seats five and offers conservative exterior styling and driving dynamics. After all, this BEV is still a Focus, and equipped with an ICE, it’s one of the best hatchbacks on the market today.
Ford did a good job in maintaining the original qualities that make the conventional car so stellar. Unfortunately, things start to go wrong when you dig into the electric drivetrain. With a 23-kWh battery and 107-kilowatt electric motor, output is rated at 143 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, which means the 3,640-pound Focus EV isn’t particularly quick, posting a modest 10-second 0-to-60 time. It’s not particularly efficient either, offering only 105-MPGe combined (110 city, 99 highway).
But one of the biggest drawbacks of the Focus is its limited range. At only 76 miles per charge, the Focus is significantly below the segment average. And while 10 miles may not sound like a lot, consider this – that’s almost 12 percent less than the 85 or so miles you’d get from the top three cars in this comparison. In a segment where range is king, that’s a pretty big deal.
Luckily, the Focus is offered nationwide, and it comes with an MSRP below $30,000. If you’re looking for a decent alternative to the e-Golf, the Focus EV is worth checking out.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||143 horsepower/194 pound-feet|
|Range||76 miles per charge|
|Charge time||20 hours (120-volt)/3.6 hours (240-volt)/no DC quick-charge port|
|MPGe||105 combined/110 city/99 highway|
|# of passengers||5|
note: 2013 model pictured
|Exterior features (standard)||Chrome-accent grille, heated side-view mirrors with integrated blind spot mirror, HID headlights with automatic on/off function and LED signature, LED taillights, rear spoiler, chrome beltline trim, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels|
|Exterior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Exterior Protection package (mud flaps, rear bumper cover)|
|Interior features (standard)||Cloth seat upholster with sustainable fabric, heated front seats, 9-speaker Sony audio system, cargo management system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Intelligent Access with push-button starter, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, MyFord Mobile App, remote start with cabin preconditioning, SiriusXM satellite radio with 6-month trial subscription, voice control, 8-inch LCD color touchscreen, two 4.2-inch color LCD display screens in instrument cluster, two USB ports, SD card reader, auxiliary audio input jack, navigation system, rearview camera|
|Interior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Leather-trimmed seats with 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat|
|Drivetrain features (standard)||6.6-kilowatt onboard charger, torque vectoring control, regenerative braking system, hill start assist|
|Drivetrain features (optional/upgraded trim level)||240-volt at-home charging station|
|Safety features (standard)||4-wheel ABS, dual-stage front airbags, two-row side curtain airbags, front seat side airbags, stability control, traction control, MyKey custom driving modes, reverse sensing system, SOS Post-Crash Alert System|
|Safety features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
Last on the list of top five all-electric hatchbacks is the Kia Soul Electric. Some readers will undoubtedly point out that the Soul is actually more of a tall wagon or compact crossover than a hatchback, but considering the limited number of models currently on the BEV market, I think this entry still deserves a shot at contention.
Kia had no problem maintaining the Soul’s voluminous interior space when fitting it with an electric drivetrain. Passenger volume is down only slightly to 97.1 cubic-feet compared to the conventional Soul’s 101 cubic-feet (without sunroof), while cargo volume with the luggage under tray is the same at 49.5 cubic-feet. There’s also seating for five, while standard equipment includes lots of top-notch features, such as a 6-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM capability, Bluetooth connectivity, a 3.5-inch color display, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, and soft-touch materials on the dash and upper door panels.
The drivetrain is also quite nice. Kia offers a 27-kWh battery and 81.4-kilowatt electric motor, and while efficiency isn’t all that great (105-MPGe combined, 120 city, 92 highway), you can get an impressive 93 miles per charge.
Unfortunately, price and availability are not the Kia’s strong suit. The base model Soul Electric is the EV-e trim level, which starts at $31,950 and is available only in California. From there, you have the more expensive EV trim level ($33,950) and top-range EV+ ($35,950), both of which are limited to California, Georgia, Oregon, Texas and Washington.
Still, if you want something a little funkier with fantastic range and a spacious, nicely appointed interior, check out the Kia Soul Electric.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||109 horsepower/210 pound-feet|
|Range||93 miles per charge|
|Charge time||24 hours (120-volt)/4.5 hours (240-volt)/80% at 30 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||105 combined/120 city/92 highway|
|# of passengers||5|
|Exterior features (standard)||Heated side-view mirrors, automatic on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels|
|Exterior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||LED turn signals integrated with side-view mirrors, sunroof, fog lights|
|Interior features (standard)||AM/FM/CD/MP3 infotainment, SiriusXM satellite radio, 6-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, USB input, 3.5-inch color gauge display, automatic climate control, remote climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, luggage under-floor tray, eco-friendly cloth trim, heated front seats, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel, soft-touch surfaces, satin chrome door handles|
|Interior features (optional/upgraded trim level)||Speaker lights, UVO EV Services, rear camera, voice command, navigation system, 8-inch color display, parking assist, low-draw climate control, LED interior lighting, leather trim, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, leatherette trim|
|Drivetrain features (standard)||Adjustable steering modes, adjustable regenerative braking system, hill start assist|
|Drivetrain features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
|Safety features (standard)||4-wheel ABS, dual front seat-mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, stability control|
|Safety features (optional/upgraded trim level)||None|
Now for the rest of the pack.
First up is the Fiat 500e. Bringing a good deal of flair to the segment, this Italian entry is arguably one of the better-looking BEVs out there. It’s short and round, but in a decidedly attractive way next to the more alien-looking Leaf. It offers 87 miles per charge and 115-MPGe combined efficiency – both very nice specs. However, Fiat won’t offer a DC quick-charging option, and while the interior is nice, it only seats four passengers. It’s also rather expensive, tagged with an MSRP of $31,800. To make matters worse, this all-electric 500 has very limited availability, only seeing sales in California and Oregon.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||111 horsepower/147 pound-feet|
|Range||87 miles per charge|
|Charge time||24 hours (120-volt)/4 hours (240-volt)/no DC quick charge|
|MPGe||115 combined/122 city/108 highway|
|# of passengers||4|
Next is the BMW i3. The Bavarians have won a good deal of praise for their i cars, and for good reason – this bubbly little commuter offers high-tech features and a good deal of luxury in a small, easy-to-drive package. Specs include a decent 81 miles per charge and a stellar 124-MPGe combined efficiency. It’s also pretty quick, hitting 60 mph from a standstill in just seven seconds dead. Unfortunately, the i3 is pricey – really pricey. In fact, with an MSRP of $42,400, it’s one of the most expensive entries in the segment. But if you have a little extra cash, and you simply need to be coddled, this is probably the one to get.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||170 horsepower/184 pound-feet|
|Range||81 miles per charge|
|Charge time||24 hours (120-volt)/3.5 hours (240-volt)/80% @30 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||124 combined/137 city/111 highway|
|# of passengers||4|
Not to be outdone, Mercedes is offering an all-electric version of the B-Class called the B-Class Electric Drive. Like the Bimmer, the Merc is offered with lots of premium appointment and refinement, plus it comes with one additional seat for five total passengers. It also comes with an electric motor/battery pack combo that gets a slightly better 87 miles per charge, plus it’s just as fast as the i3. Regrettably, efficiency suffers, with the B-Class Electric Drive returning a meager 84-MPGe combined, and there’s no DC quick-charge option. As expected, it’s also expensive, starting at $41,450, and availability is limited to 11 key markets.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||177 horsepower/251 pound-feet|
|Range||87 miles per charge|
|Charge time||32 hours (120-volt), 3.5 hours (240-volt), no DC quick charge|
|MPGe||84 combined/85 city/82 highway|
|# of passengers||5|
note: 2013 model pictured.
Of course, Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler AG, offers a cheaper all-electric alternative in the form of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. At just $25,000, this microcar might attract the more price-conscious BEV buyer, but if that sounds like you, be wary – even at this price point, you don’t get much. The interior can accommodate only two passengers (obviously), and the drivetrain offers just 107-MPGe combined and 68 miles of range, with no option for DC quick charging.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||74 horsepower/96 pound-feet|
|Range||68 miles per charge|
|Charge time||13 hours (120-volt)/6 hours (240-volt)/no DC quick charge|
|MPGe||107 combined/122 city/93 highway|
|# of passengers||2|
Finally, we have our last contender – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. At only $22,995, it’s the cheapest entry in the comparison, and it offers enough space in the cabin to seat up to four passengers. Unfortunately, it suffers the same range problem as the Smart, with only 62 miles per charge. Thankfully, there is the option for DC quick charging, and efficiency is slightly better at 112-MPGe combined. And if you apply a few incentives to the bottom-barrel price, you’re looking at one very cheap all-electric city-mobile. Just keep an eye on that charge level.
|Output (horsepower/torque)||66 horsepower/145 pound-feet|
|Range||62 miles per charge|
|Charge time||22 hours (120-volt)/6 hours (240-volt)/80% @30 minutes (DC quick charge)|
|MPGe||112 combined/126 city/99 highway|
|# of passengers||4|
So there you have it, TopSpeed’s top pick for the all-electric hatchback segment. Finding the right choice in this segment can be a tricky proposition, but using this guide, I’m sure you’ll end up with a BEV that not only meets your expectations, but exceeds them. And the more you know, the better off you’ll be.
The all-electric segment is one of the most exciting in the entire automotive industry. As demand grows, technology is accelerating, and we will undoubtedly see a huge amount of innovation and breakthroughs in the coming decade.
While the current crop of vehicles is indeed rather impressive, the next round is sure to astound and amaze on an even greater scale. Expect lower prices, longer range, higher efficiency, and best of all, greater speeds. And as additional makes get in on the action and new models are put on the market, the consumer wins.
Be sure to come back as I continue to update this article in the future. And if you have a comment or correction, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments. I would love to hear from you, whether you’re an owner, buyer or just a casual observer!