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4 types of electric cars
Compare starting MSRPs, fuel-efficiency and ranges of models on the market.
It can be difficult to digest the intricacies of electric vehicles as the market grows. If you’re looking to invest in a fuel-efficient car but aren’t sure where to start, understanding how each type of electric vehicle works can help you figure out which option is best for your budget and lifestyle.
1. Battery electric vehicles
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are powered by electric motors and don’t rely on gas at all. Because the engines and battery packs are quite large and expensive, the costs of BEVs are typically high, though prices have been falling in recent years.
You’ll most certainly save money on fuel: On average, the cost of electricity is much less than the price of gas. However, this comes with a trade-off — very few electric cars have the range to travel long distances without frequent recharging. As of 2018, the median range for BEVs is 125 miles, according to the US Department of Energy. But if you’re willing to pay for a luxury vehicle, you could get a range well above 200 miles.
While BEVs used to be best for city drivers or those with short commutes, the market has expanded to encompass drivers with slightly longer commutes — although those who have to drive long distances daily may still want to stick with a hybrid.
Battery electric vehicles on the market
|Model||Starting MSRP||Combined MPGe||Range|
|2019 Nissan LEAF||$29,990||112||150 miles|
|2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric||$30,315||133||124 miles|
|2020 Volkswagen e-Golf||$31,895||119||125 miles|
|2020 Tesla Model 3||$35,000||123||322 miles|
|2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV||$36,620||119||259 miles|
|2020 BMW i3||$44,450||113||153 miles|
|2019 Tesla Model S||$75,000||102||373 miles|
2. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
Like their name implies, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) need to be plugged in and charged to take advantage of their electric engines. They have larger batteries and more powerful electric motors than traditional hybrids, which makes them ideal for traveling long distances without switching to the gas engine.
And unlike BEVs, you don’t have to worry about range. Once the electric engine runs out of charge, your car will switch to its gas engine. However, you’ll get less electric range per charge than with a fully-electric car: 11 to 72 miles is the typical range.
PHEVs are best for drivers who want to make a more environmentally friendly choice while still being able to pack in the mileage.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the market
|Model||Starting MSRP||Combined MPGe||Electric range|
|2019 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid||$25,350||119||29 miles|
|2019 Chevrolet Volt||$33,520||106||53 miles|
|2020 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid||$36,090||101||28 miles|
|2019 Hyundai Sonata||$31,400||99||28 miles|
|2020 Ford Fusion Energi||$37,000||103||21 miles|
|2020 Volvo XC90 T8||$67,000||58||17 miles|
|2019 BMW i8||$147,500||69||18 miles|
3. Hybrid electric vehicles
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are the most common and include popular models like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic. Unlike PHEVs — which need to be plugged in — a hybrid electric vehicle can’t. Instead, its electric engine is designed to boost the fuel efficiency of its gas engine. The batteries are powered by excess energy produced during internal combustion and when braking.
HEVs have good fuel efficiency on all fronts, but are best for city driving where the onboard computer system can intuitively switch between engines during start-and-stop traffic. So while not the best choice for those seeking to erase a big chunk of their carbon footprint, an HEV can reduce your fuel consumption and be a good fit for eco-conscious drivers who don’t want to rely on charging their car nightly.
Hybrid electric vehicles on the market
|Model||Starting MSRP||Combined MPG|
|2020 Honda Insight||$22,930||52|
|2020 Toyota Prius Hybrid||$24,200||56|
|2020 Ford Fusion Hybrid||$28,000||42|
|2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid||$28,250||34|
|Lexus UX Hybrid||$34,350||39|
4. Fuel-cell electric vehicles
By far the least common electric car, fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) get their power from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen — with water vapor as the only byproduct. They don’t need to be plugged in, and you’ll get a superior range of 300 or more miles on a full tank, according to CNBC.
But FCEVs haven’t taken off nationally because of one main problem: There aren’t many places to fill up a car that runs on hydrogen. As of November 2019, California is the only state that has hydrogen fuel stations available.
However, Toyota and Honda have teamed up to start expanding access to more Americans. With a short refueling time comparable to gas cars and no greenhouse gas emissions, many automakers suspect hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles may be the car of the future. For now, these vehicles are only available in the Golden State.
Take a deeper dive into how hydrogen fuel-cell cars work
Fuel-cell electric vehicles on the market
|Model||Starting MSRP||Combined MPGe||Range|
|2020 Hyundai Nexo Blue||$58,300||61||380 miles|
|2019 Honda Clarity||$58,490||68||360 miles|
|2019 Toyota Mirai||$58,500||67||312 miles|
|2020 Hyundai Nexo||$61,800||57||354 miles|
How long does it take to charge a BEV or PHEV?
It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over eight hours to charge your electric vehicle (EV) — it all depends on the level of your car charger.
- Level 1 — the slowest option, it often takes over eight hours to fully charge an EV. But it has its advantages: Level 1 chargers work with almost every EV on the market and can be done using a standard 120-volt outlet.
- Level 2 — these specialized chargers provide power at 240 volts. They take about four hours to charge an EV and are typically available at workplaces and public charging stations.
- Level 3 — the quickest option, it often takes as little as 30 minutes to complete a charge. However, they’re more rare — fast charging may only be available at a dedicated EV charging station.
Browse financing options for an electric car
You have four types of vehicles to choose from when looking to invest in a ride that utilizes electricity to increase fuel efficiency and limit greenhouse gas emissions. The right one for you will depend on where you live, your lifestyle and budget. Read our guide to buying a green car to learn more about how to fund your environmentally friendly ride.
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