Electric Cars are More than Twice as Efficient
For many of us considering an electric vehicle, efficiency is one of the prime considerations. Whether we’re looking to save money by switching from gasoline to much-cheaper electricity, or to reduce your carbon footprint, electric vehicles offer a compelling efficiency argument. With far fewer moving parts than a gasoline engine (an electric motor literally has a couple of moving parts) and without the usual gearboxes, transfer cases, and other associated mechanicals, EVs convert much more of their output into forward motion. On average, at 80-plus percent mechanical efficiency, they are all more than twice as efficient as even the most efficient gasoline car.
Still, there are differences. Electric vehicles vary widely in terms of their size, weight, aerodynamics, battery technology, motor configurations, and control systems. And just because an electric vehicle has a lot of range doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more efficient. True efficiency means optimizing many attributes in perfect balance, delivering the experience customers expect while using as little energy as possible. So, when looking for the most efficient electric vehicles on sale today, we looked not at range, or charging speed, but overall efficiency: how much energy each vehicle uses for every mile it drives.
Today's Most Efficient Electric Cars
As our benchmark, we used the EPA’s MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) measure. How is a vehicle’s MPGe determined? The EPA uses a formula to calculate the precise amount of electric energy that’s equal to the energy in one gallon of gasoline. Once that amount of energy is determined, the vehicle’s consumption of energy per distance can be used to calculate its MPGe. Much like the agency’s gasoline consumption ratings, the EPA uses computer modeling to create a driving cycle for city and highway use.
According to the EPA, here are the five most efficient electric cars you can buy, ranked in ascending order.
Hyundai Kona Electric — 120 MPGe (tie)
Proof that efficiency doesn’t necessarily come with a sleek sedan silhouette and a Tesla badge on the front, the electric Hyundai Kona SUV is both roomy and versatile, powered by a 201-hp electric motor.
Its 64-kWh battery pack isn’t huge, but thanks to clever design and low weight, it delivers up to 258 miles per charge. The Kona Electric is front-wheel drive only, but we don’t think buyers will miss the ability to go bashing rocks off-road on the weekends. Instead, they’ll appreciate the thoughtfully-designed interior, the standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, and the impressive 10-year warranty. Pricing starts at under $40,000, before any incentives.
Tesla Model S — 120 MPGe (tie)
It's no surprise that there are multiple Teslas on this list, as the Austin, Texas company has largely led the electric car revolution throughout the 21st century. Not only do they make and sell electric cars, Tesla ONLY makes and sells electric cars.
For a car as large, capable, and luxurious as it is, the Model S’ efficiency is impressive. Range is up to 412 miles from its 99.3-kWh battery in the Long Range edition, which is significantly more than cars like the Audi E-Tron GT and Porsche Taycan, which have similarly-sized batteries.
Performance is impressive, and Tesla’s in-car technology has become pretty rock-solid after 10 years of improvements. For 2022, the interior has been significantly upgraded with better finishes and quality, but you may find it difficult to adjust to the new “yoke” steering system. Pricing starts at just under $100,000 before incentives, with the 1,000-plus-hp Plaid model topping $130,000.
Tesla Model Y — 122 MPGe
The “SUV” version of the successful Model 3, Tesla’s Model Y is more of a tall hatchback, a Model 3 whose roof has been stretched up to create more interior space. Still, it’s clearly been carefully refined for aerodynamics and overall efficiency, with the Long Range version making excellent use of its 80.5-kWh battery pack to deliver up to 330 miles per charge.
While it doesn’t have the gull-wing doors of the Model X, getting in and out of the spacious cabin is easy, and there’s plenty of cargo space. The interior design is very minimalist, with one central touchscreen housing almost all controls. Pricing starts at just over $60,000 for the Long Range before incentives, with the Performance model costing about $5,000 more.
Lucid Air — 131 MPGe
The Lucid Air, a large four-door luxury sedan, is the first product from the new brand. It was designed as an EV from the start, with a low-slung body and a swooping “canopy” over the passenger cabin, and huge front and rear trunks.
Inside the giant five-seat cabin, all three trim levels have Lucid’s 34-inch glass cockpit instrument panel and a large touchscreen interface on the console. Alexa voice control is standard, as is the ability to receive updates over the air.
The top-level Grand Touring edition combines over 800 horsepower and all-wheel drive with a 112-kWh battery to deliver 516 miles of range. And when you do finally run out of juice, the Air’s 900-volt electrical architecture enables charging of up to 300 kW, making it one of the fastest-charging vehicles available today.
Tesla Model 3 — 132 MPGe
America’s top-selling electric car, the Tesla Model 3 is also the most energy-efficient in this list. For 2022, a new kind of battery pack using lithium-ion-phosphate instead of nickel-cobalt-aluminum means further increased efficiency.
The base trim rear-wheel drive variant has an MSRP of $46,990 and delivers 272 miles of range. The Long Range version stretches its 80.5-kWh battery pack to an impressive 358 miles per charge.
It’s roomy and comfortable inside, though all controls are consolidated on a single touch panel, and the Model 3 is a lot of fun to drive, with sharp steering and impressive handling. With these attributes, and with Tesla’s Supercharger network and its impressive efficiency, it’s no wonder the Model 3 has proven to be such a sales success. It’s also the most efficient EV you can buy right now.
Finding the Right EV for You
There is more to choosing an electric vehicle than its pure efficiency. The GreenCars Buyer's Guide helps you view all of the choices on the market today to make an informed decision that fits your needs and lifestyle.