As we round up an eventful year for alternative-fuel vehicles, there is still no clear direction for the industry. Cars running on pure electric powertrains, fuel cell EVs, and plug-in hybrids have each shown promise in a world that has more than its share of auto emissions. To date, no green car has delivered the precise formula to reach the mainstream consumer.
Maybe 2016 will be different as new options hit the market and others roll out in wider availability. For now, we take a look back and acknowledge the top electrified products that debuted in either production or concept form in 2015. EVs from auto shows, dealer lots, and other forums on any continent qualified for this list.
Here are the 10 best electric vehicle debuts of 2015.
1. Hyundai Sonata PHEV
Hyundai did excellent work with the Sonata redesign, and the plug-in hybrid version brought another electrified option to the midsize class. (The Ford Fusion Energi is the only other.) Priced at $34,600, this model gets up to 27 miles on electric power and features efficiency specs of 99 miles per gallon equivalent. Both numbers were better than Hyundai originally expected, and the range made the Sonata PHEV second only to the Chevy Volt when looking at the U.S. market.
2. Chevy Bolt EV
Maybe the most important electric debut of 2015 belonged to GM with the Chevy Bolt EV. Landing back in January at the Detroit Auto Show, this model blindsided an industry that expected Tesla or Nissan to hit the 200-mile benchmark at an affordable price point first. Later in the year, GM officials explained how the deep partnership with LG Chem allowed the automaker to push forward with the Bolt. The production model debuts at CES 2016, so we’ll soon have a look at the future of mainstream EVs.
3. BMW X5 xDrive40e
While plug-in hybrid utility vehicles have been promised by all three German luxury brands, only BMW has delivered with the X5 xDrive40e. Setting the complex name aside, the electrified X5 gets an EPA-estimated 14 miles in EV mode and 56 miles per gallon equivalent. That puts a luxury SUV on the road with Prius-like efficiency. For that, BMW deserves high praise, and the strong sales in the first two months of availability suggest the U.S. market is ripe for this type of vehicle.
4. Tesla Model X
Speaking of electric SUVs, the Tesla Model X is the first of its kind since the Toyota RAV4 EV disappeared after a limited run. Other than the shape and fact that they both run on electric power, that’s where the similarities end. Model X is capable of hitting 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 3.2 seconds (ludicrous mode) and tops out at 257 miles of range. Though the first models cost buyers a princely sum, the base 70D Model X starts around $80,000 before incentives. Many thought this debut would never happen in 2015, but Tesla delivered.
5. Audi e-tron quattro
Stung by the Dieselgate scandal, The Volkswagen Group has been stressing electrification throughout its portfolio, and we saw the best example in the Audi e-tron quattro that debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. This all-electric SUV can travel over 300 miles on a single charge and packs about 600 pound-feet of torque. Its performance specs would rival the Model X, which seems to be the point; Audi says the e-tron quattro will go into production for 2018.
6. Toyota Mirai
The limitations of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — considerable emissions, few fueling stations — are clear. However, the Toyota Mirai represents a bold move to switch cars off gasoline, and we believe that deserves a great deal of credit. (Fuel cell cars run on electric motors.) The potential to power these cars from renewable sources is too great to ignore. Here’s to hoping the process speeds up now that the Mirai is on the road and Honda’s fuel cell vehicle has designs on America, too.
7. Volvo XC90 T8
SUV consumers can’t ask for much more than the Volvo XC90 T8, a supercharged, turbocharged, twin-engine beast that cranks 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. What’s the green hook here? As a plug-in hybrid, it gets about 20 electric miles on a full charge, allowing the average driver to cover about half their trips without gasoline. For these specs, the base model starting price of $68,100 seems reasonable. Sales have been slow as the model enters the U.S. market, but the XC90 T8 is one of the most intriguing debuts of the year.
8. Chevy Volt
The redesigned Chevy Volt represented an improvement over the original in so many ways. Electric range (from 38 to 53 miles), total range (from 380 to 420 miles), and economy (in gas or hybrid mode) all improved in the gen-two Volt. On top of everything, it looks a lot better than the original and costs less. It won Green Car of the Year in what we hope was a landslide. When they do the math, many Volt drivers will find themselves driving in electric mode over 90% of the time. That’s one heck of a 2015 debut, and soon the new Volt will be available in all 50 states.
9. Porsche Mission E
It’s hard to imagine a prettier car than Porsche’s electric Mission E, and for that reason alone you could include it as one of the best EV debuts of the year. Any car that can trade a gas-guzzling performance vehicle for a battery EV is a welcome addition. Its green specs (300 miles of electric range) are similar to the range-topping Audi concepts while its power quotient (600 horses) and fast-charging time (80% in 15 minutes) are pure Porsche. Now that Mission E is confirmed for production by 2020, the waiting game can begin.
10. Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Audi and Porsche may be promising Tesla competitors down the road, but the A3 Sportback e-tron is a practical model already arriving in U.S. dealerships. The plug-in hybrid version of the entry-level Audi offers 16 miles of electric range and a combined economy of 83 miles per gallon. Priced at $37,900 before federal and state incentives kick in, it’s reasonable enough to expect some sales volume, too. If Audi’s future is indeed electric, the automaker has a head-start on the competition.
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