The Five Most Affordable Pure Electric Cars

By · July 03, 2019

2019 Nissan LEAF S (not the LEAF Plus)

According to a recent AAA survey, 40 million Americans say they are considering an electric vehicle for their next car. Perhaps you are one of those so-called EV-intenders. If so, then the key to going electric—and finally kissing gas stations goodbye—is finding an all-electric model with the right combination of driving range, comfort, and affordability.

Here’s the good news: Even if you’re a budget-minding car buyer, you don’t have to put off buying an electric car. With some willingness to re-think your assumptions, there’s a highly affordable EV for sale—between about $20,00 and $30,000—that can meet your needs and satisfy your tastes.

The recent trend among EV-producing carmakers has been to use bigger batteries offering more range. It’s exciting to see models like the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona, and the Nissan LEAF Plus granting a driving range of more than 200 miles. Unfortunately, the privilege of owning a 200-plus-mile range commonly costs about $40,000 or more.

So where does that leave buyers who want to go electric but at a mainstream price? In good shape, actually. We believe that there are at least five viable options in 2019.

Best EV Below $30,000

We would argue that the number one best option is the 40 kilowatt-hour, 150-mile Nissan LEAF, which sells for $30,000 before incentives. After federal and local credits, the net price could drop to around $20,000. That’s an attractive price for a capable and spacious four-door hatchback.

To maintain this price, you’ll need to select the S trim, which lacks some of the bells and whistles offered by competitors. And you’ll have to resist the 62 kilowatt-hour Nissan LEAF Plus variant that increases the range to 226 miles. The upper trim and big-battery versions can increase the price by $7,000 or more. But if your primary goal is acquiring an affordable EV, the 150-mile version will provide more range than you’ll need on a daily commute.

The LEAF S is a compelling and capable all-electric hatch offering tremendous value. Give it a test drive to see for yourself.

The Perfect Middle Ground

If you want more style than the LEAF provides—and can give up about 25 miles of range—then turn your attention to two other fantastic all-electric options with a net price in the low-$20,000s. The Hyundai Ioniq EV and Volkswagen E-Golf are two sporty electric hatches, with 124 and 125 miles of range respectively.

2019 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

While 125 miles is obviously below the latest generation of EV’s 200-mile capability, it’s more than enough to kill range anxiety. Think of the electric Hyundai and VW models as right-sized and well-priced.

There’s a strong argument that buying a 200-mile EV means spending thousands of extra dollars for battery capacity than you’ll seldom use. Why shell out the money only to lug around the excess weight?

But there’s an even stronger aesthetic argument. From our perspective, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Volkswagen E-Golf are two of the most attractive EVs available—certainly in the sub-$30,000 price range.

The Ioniq EV offers standard 100-kW public Quick Charging that can refill its battery to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. The Ionic EV is also deceptively spacious, offering five more cubic feet of storage than a Prius liftback. Hyundai sells the Ioniq electric car for $29,500, which after a federal tax incentive, drops the price to $22,000. It’s available throughout the United States.

2019 Volkswagen E-Golf

There are rumors that the 125-mile, all-electric VW E-Golf will be discontinued next year when Volkswagen starts rolling out new battery-powered models. But until then, we believe that the VW EV is among the best handling and most attractive cars in its class. The E-Golf costs a couple of grand more than the Ioniq but is still enticing at $31,300 before incentives.

The electric Golf particularly shines in zero-to-30-mph sprints, making for lively daily commutes and a cheap thrill when turning tight corners at speed. The combination of 199 pound-feet of torque, taut handling, and a tight suspension is a winning formula.

Think Small

Finally, there are two even more affordable all-electric cars—although with some compromises and limited availability. The tiny, two-seat Smart Electric Drive only goes 58 miles on a single charge. But before you quickly dismiss the possibility of the electric Smart, consider that it sells new for $23,800 before incentives. The 2019 version will be the last year of the diminutive EV before Daimler, Smart’s owner, pulls the plug on US sales of the Smart.

2019 Smart Electric Drive

By the time you deduct the federal tax credit of $7,500 and local incentives, you could get behind the wheel of a brand-new pure EV (albeit in a small form) for below $15,000. While 58 miles of range can be restrictive, it all depends on the length of your commute. If you’re driving fewer than 40 miles in a typical day—as most Americans do—then the Smart could be your ticket to emissions-free driving. Besides, the Smart Electric Drive is fun and cute.

2019 Fiat 500e

The remaining option is the adorable Fiat 500e. Compared to the Smart, the Fiat electric’s bump up to 84 miles of range expands the type of trips you can take—while adding the practicality of a small back seat. That said, the extra range and comfort make the 500e relatively pricey at a $33,000 starting price. Nonetheless, the combination of government and dealership incentives can bring the price of a new 500e into the low $20,000s—a damn good deal for a zippy, stylish, all-electric commuter.

The challenge with both the Fiat 500e and the Smart Electric Drive is limited availability in a few cities, mostly on the west coast. However, the Nissan LEAF S, Hyundai Ioniq Electric, and Volkswagen E-Golf are available nationwide. What are you waiting for?

New to EVs? Start here

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