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4 types of electric cars

Compare starting MSRPs, fuel-efficiency and ranges of models on the market.

Updated

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

ModelStarting MSRPCombined MPGeRange
2019 Nissan LEAF$29,990112150 miles
2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric$30,315133124 miles
2020 Volkswagen e-Golf$31,895119125 miles
2020 Tesla Model 3$35,000123322 miles
2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV$36,620119259 miles
2020 BMW i3$44,450113153 miles
2019 Tesla Model S$75,000102373 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

ModelStarting MSRPCombined MPGeElectric range
2019 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid$25,35011929 miles
2019 Chevrolet Volt$33,52010653 miles
2020 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid$36,09010128 miles
2019 Hyundai Sonata$31,4009928 miles
2020 Ford Fusion Energi$37,00010321 miles
2020 Volvo XC90 T8$67,0005817 miles
2019 BMW i8$147,5006918 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

ModelStarting MSRPCombined MPG
2020 Honda Insight$22,93052
2020 Toyota Prius Hybrid$24,20056
2020 Ford Fusion Hybrid$28,00042
2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid$28,25034
Lexus UX Hybrid$34,35039

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

ModelStarting MSRPCombined MPGeRange
2020 Hyundai Nexo Blue$58,30061380 miles
2019 Honda Clarity$58,49068360 miles
2019 Toyota Mirai$58,50067312 miles
2020 Hyundai Nexo$61,80057354 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

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
Carvana
No minimum credit score
3.9% - 27.9%
1 to 6 years
18+ years old, annual income of $4,000+, no active bankruptcies
car.Loan.com Car Loans
300
Varies by network lender
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
CarsDirect auto loans
Varies by network lender
Varies by network lender
Must provide proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance.
Save time and effort with this lending service specializing in beginner-friendly or subprime car loan.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
300
Varies
Varies
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Monevo Auto Loans
500
3.99% to 35.99%
3 months to 12 years
Credit score of 500+, legal US resident and ages 18+.
Quickly compare multiple online lenders with competitive rates depending on your credit.
LightStream Auto Loans
Good to excellent credit
Competitive
2 to 7 years
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
LendingTree
Good to excellent credit
Starting at 3.09%
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

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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