A natural reaction to the phrase "top 10 plug-in cars" might be, "ARE there 10 plug-in cars"? Yes, when you count full electric and the hybrids that run on electric and gas, there are more than 10. How many of those models are available in your area is a different matter. With that in mind, Total Car Score assembled this list.
Plug-ins cost more than their traditional gas-powered equivalents, so the countdown to number one also takes pricing into account. The model that landed on top has the lowest price of all the cars, plus good availability. "Ultimately, the long-term future of electric-powered personal transportation will hinge on making these cars as affordable and accessible as tradition automobiles," said Karl Brauer, editor in chief of Total Car Score. (Keep in mind numerous plug-in models qualify for tax rebates.)
Another essential to plug-ins catching on is charging infrastructure. In terms of where drivers actually plug in these vehicles, they can all be charged in standard 110-volt household outlets, but those take more time than if using a separately purchased "Level 2" 240-volt charging unit.
"This means a Nissan Leaf that takes 21 hours to charge an empty battery on 110-volts would charge in approximately eight hours with a Level 2, 240-volt charge unit," Brauer explained. "These units cost around $2,000, but there are often tax rebates that will reduce their cost by half or more."
As far as public charging stations, both types of chargers are popping up (even in Brauer's home area, 50 miles outside of L.A.) but they are not as widespread as they need to be for plug-ins to really take hold. For now, here are the models that are best representing the emerging plug-in category of automobiles.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 23 Jan. 2013
Starting price: $36,625 (theoretical – see below)
The Honda Fit EV has an impressive range (82 miles) and charge time (just three hours at 240 volts), plus a highly flexible and space-efficient cabin. There's just one issue, and that's that you can't buy a Fit EV; they're only available for lease, and only if you live in California, and there are only 1,100 of them. Bottom line, according to Brauer, the Fit EV is "an appealing model hampered by an unconvincing commitment to the electric car movement."
Starting price: N/A
The 2014 Cadillac ELR has so far appeared only at the Detroit Auto Show, but it was included on this list for its stunning design. "Expect the ELR to go on sale in the next 12 months and offer performance similar to the Chevrolet Volt (with which it shares much of its drivetrain technology)," said Brauer. That will mean an electric range of about 35 miles, plus an internal combustion range of more than 300 miles. One way it will top the Chevy Volt and line up with premium autos is with its suite of luxury and technology gadgets, he said.
Starting price: $39,780
The 2014 model (pictured here) is already on sale at some dealers in New York and California. It charges in less than three hours on a 240-volt charger, then goes 13 miles on electric. After that it gets 46 miles per gallon.
Starting price: $50,610
The RAV4 EV's 100-mile rated range has proven conservative in road testing, said Brauer. Also going in its favor, he said, is that it has the utility of its crossover vehicle cargo space with the green electric drivetrain. That $50,000 starting price is the biggest hurdle, Brauer said.
Starting price: $39,995
The Focus Electric is the first all-electric car from Ford, with a 105-mile range plus a comparatively short four-hour charge time using 240 watts. An even more futuristic bonus: The car automatically charges at off-peak times to reduce the electric bill.
Starting price: $52,000 (but see below)
This award-winner has maintained an approving buzz among enthusiasts. But according to Brauer, "The real question remains: How realistic is the Model S to the average Joe? Well, as long as Joe can afford a $5,000 down payment to reserve a car that starts at $52,000, the Model S offers a very realistic driving range of between 100 to 300 miles between charges (the 300-mile version costs over $100,000). It can also do zero-to-60 acceleration in less than five seconds, so you can definitely play…if you pay."
Starting price: $32,950
Ford's entry in the gas/electric plug-in hybrid category comes in at number 4 with an electric range of 21 miles and a charging time of 2.5 to 7 hours, depending on voltage.
Starting price: $32,145
The most successful name in hybrids has added a plug-in to the roster. It goes up to 11 miles on electricity and can charge in as little as 1.5 hours and up to three hours, depending on battery condition and voltage.
Starting price: $39,000
"As the first mainstream vehicle to combine internal combustion technology with an electric motor, the Volt has brought real-world electric driving to a wide range of people," Brauer said. The fear of running out of battery power among electric drivers is called "range anxiety." The Volt addresses this with a backup engine. With a 38-mile electric range, the gas-powered backup extends it to more than 350 miles on a full tank.
Starting price: $28,800 (but see below)
When production of the Leaf and its battery pack moved to the U.S. from Japan, Nissan was able to drop the 2013 price. Once federal and state tax rebates are applied, the cost can go down below $20,000. The range can be 70 to 100 miles and the car can charge within an hour, but a full charge will be eight to 20 hours, depending on the voltage of the charger. Brauer details his one-week trial of the Leaf here.