Range Isn’t Everything
Every time a new electric vehicle is introduced, the statistic that most people gravitate towards is range: how far will this car go on a full charge? In someway, that’s understandable, because it can take longer to charge an electric car – even on the fastest level 3 DC fast charger – than to fill up a gasoline car. But in some ways, judging an EV based just on its range doesn’t make sense: we don’t judge gasoline cars solely based on how far they can go on a tank of gas, do we? And EVs have the further advantage of being able to charge at home: you can go to work or play, run some errands, and then simply plug in your vehicle when you get home, always leaving with a full “tank” of electrons in the morning.
Once we stop fixating on range, the number of options available for zero-emissions commuting not only gets wider, but it also gets cheaper, as there are many models in the market starting at under $35,000 before incentives, which offer all the benefits of the latest EV and driver assist technology without making you pay through the nose for range you might realistically never use.
Plus, all of the evidence shows that the way most people use their vehicles daily doesn’t require much range at all. While we may always be thinking about that once-a-year road trip situation, and having to stop for coffee or lunch while our car charges up, most of us only drive 30 miles or so in a day. And many, who live in tightly-packed urban areas, might drive even less. Dense urban spaces are actually where EVs make the most sense, as their ability to run emissions-free when sitting in traffic has an even greater positive effect on greenhouse gases than out in the country.
Five Best Electric Cars for Commuting
So, if you’re looking for an EV commuter car, your choices are greater than you may think: look beyond the range statistic, and you’ll discover plenty of practical, fun to drive choices that can help save the environment, and fit into your lifestyle, without paying an arm and a leg. Here are our favorites that we found using the GreenCars Buyer's Guide. All ranges are based on EPA estimates.
The Nissan Leaf is truly an original, the first mass-produced full-electric vehicle to be available to Americans. Now in its second generation, it still feels futuristic, with tons of torque, eye-opening acceleration, and zero sound. For many drivers, it changed their world, and turned them on to electric driving.
The latest Leaf comes with a roomy, comfortable interior, simple-to-use infotainment, and other features. It is one of the lowest-priced new electric vehicles you can currently buy (and that’s before thousands of dollars in available incentives). Range is a very reasonable 150 miles from its 40-kWh battery, more than enough for daily commuting with some buffer, before you plug in overnight. If you need more range, a Leaf+ is now available as well, with 226 miles of range.
MSRP Before Incentives: $27,800
MINI Cooper Electric Hardtop
Think of the electric MINI as more focused than compromised. Use it for what it’s intended for, namely urban living, shorter trips, and charging at home. It’s a brilliant little car and one of the least-expensive electric vehicles currently on the market. In the real world, the 114-mile EPA rated range is fine for running around town, and the 181-hp, 199-lb-ft of torque makes it terrific fun to drive.
The MINI’s 32-kWh battery doesn’t compromise luggage space, meaning that other than a few acid-green badges, the icon on the charge port, and a slight increase in ride height, there’s very little to visually distinguish the electric MINI from any other. Which, given how much fun and how practical these cars are, is a very good thing.
MSRP Before Incentives: $29,900
Hyundai Ioniq Electric
Don’t confuse the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback with the newer Ioniq 5, which is much larger, much more expensive, and more of an all-round family crossover. The “original” Ioniq, available as a hybrid as well as an EV, is a smaller hatchback that is suited to shorter trips. In the company of other urban commuters, its 170-mile range gives it greater flexibility and versatility to use on long trips (that’s remarkable efficiency, given the small 38-kWh battery).
Other things we like about this sleek, roomy hatchback include its attractive, well-designed interior, which features all the latest technology, including a touchscreen interface with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as a suite of driver assist features. It also has a surprisingly roomy back seat, and a huge trunk. While the Ioniq 5 may be grabbing all the headlines, the Ioniq remains a standout value proposition.
MSRP Before Incentives: $33,245
On paper, the MX-30 seems expensive, and its range looks rather poor for a vehicle that was introduced for the 2022 model year. Mazda’s contention is that all evidence points to the average driver’s daily mileage being well within the 100-mile range offered by the MX-30. After all, MX-30 owners generally charge at home every night and reducing the size of the battery to just 35 kWh pays huge benefits in terms of interior space, efficiency, and driving fun.
Thanks to its low curb weight, the MX-30 is terrific fun to drive in the best Mazda tradition: fun to fling around corners, with a lightness and a responsiveness that make it different from other electric cars. This is the sports car of electric crossovers: it has rear half-doors that provide access to a surprisingly roomy rear seat.
We really like its clever, spacious interior, which combines an elevated seating position with sports car-like seats and some fascinating details, including recycled cork trim. The infotainment system is excellent and easy to use while driving. If you spend a lot of time zipping around town, and can charge at home, the MX-30 would be a fun choice. Plus, being eligible for up to $10,000 in credits and incentives, its real-world price is less than $25,000.
MSRP Before Incentives: $33,470
Chevrolet Bolt EUV
The Chevy Bolt may be one of the most capable and well-rounded utility EVs on the market. With its 65-kWh battery the Bolt has range that rivals many much more expensive EVs. But, thanks to its compact exterior dimensions, relatively low weight, and built-from-scratch EV architecture, its range is a result of efficiency as well as battery size.
The Bolt is also desirable because of its body shape: making full use of the battery as a “skateboard,” it perches its remarkably spacious cabin on top of a tiny footprint, making this a compact, maneuverable package that actually has big-car space and range. Increased ground clearance gives the Bolt some SUV attitude, its interior is intelligently laid out, and all of its high-tech features are easy to use. For an all-round urban EV that can sometimes venture into the country, the Bolt is truly hard to beat and a great example of the ingenuity legacy brands like Chevrolet are capable of.
MSRP (federal tax credit not available) $27,200