When the average transaction price for a new car hit a record $31,252 in August 2013, it became clear that electric vehicles were no longer out of the U.S. auto consumer’s wheelhouse. Considering the available tax credits, it’s easy to match or go below that upfront cost when buying a new EV.
The savings only begin after buying the car and filing for tax credits. According to Fueleconomy.gov, the most efficient compact electric car (the electric Focus) can save its owner $8,750 in fuel costs over five years when compared to the average 2014 new car, which only gets 23 mpg. There are many efficient diesel car and hybrids (not to mention conventional gas automobiles) that get better than that average economy, but none will crack the 100 mpg equivalent mark that is common for electric vehicles.
In fact, the cost of purchase and operation make many EVs smart investments. Here are the seven most affordable electric vehicles now on the U.S. market. Only cars available for sale (not just lease) and those available outside of the West Coast were considered. Vehicles with an all-electric range over 35 miles were counted as EVs. Price quotes are the base MSRP from the manufacturer sites after the federal tax credit but before any state or local incentives.
7. Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive ($33,950)
While consumers eagerly await the arrival of the Tesla Model III, German luxury automakers will provide a test case of how EVs in the price point sell. Rated at 85 miles of electric range, the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive won’t outperform a Tesla, but it does beat the range of most competition on the road. Its 177 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque provide it with decent performance specs (0-60 in 7.9 seconds), but the post-rebate price actually put a Mercedes in the top seven affordable EVs.
6. BMW i3 ($33,850)
BMW was the first among German automakers to bring an electric car to market, and the BMW i3?s price puts it right around the 3-Series models after the federal tax incentive is calculated. The i3 is no slouch in electric range at 81 miles while its 124 combined MPGe (137 MPGe city) make it a viable choice for the urban green car consumer. Department of Energy estimates figure the i3 would save owners $9,250 in fueling costs over the course of five years when matched against the average car’s performance. It costs $0.81 to drive every 25 miles.
5. Ford Focus Electric ($27,670)
Ford’s electric version of the world’s top selling car delivers the best fuel economy in the compact class at 105 MPGe combined (110 MPGe city) and can cover 76 miles on a full charge. As far as pricing is concerned, the Ford Focus Electric costs much more than the base gasoline model ($16,810), but the fuel savings add up over time. According to the DOE, Focus Electric drivers can save $8,750 over the average vehicle after five years of driving. At $0.96 to drive 25 miles, it’s hard to consider the Focus EV anything but affordable, despite its upfront cost.
4. Chevy Volt ($26,670)
It may be classified as a plug-in hybrid or an EV with a range-extending gas engine, but in any event the Chevy Volt’s combined 98 MPGe and 38 miles of electric range deliver an excellent alternative to today’s gas guzzlers. Price drops have made the Volt affordable as well. Considering Volt owners could save $7,000 in fuel costs (compared to the average new 2014 car) over five years, GM’s mass-market EV is quite affordable. On electric power, it costs $1.05 to drive 25 miles.
3. Nissan Leaf ($21,510)
The Nissan Leaf is a mainstay in the electric vehicle industry for a variety of reasons. It gets a spectacular 114 MPGe (126 city MPGe), covers 84 miles in electric range, and is classified as a midsize vehicle by the EPA. Considering its after-rebate price starts at $21,510, it’s easy to see why this EV is a perennial best seller for Nissan. A Leaf costs just $0.90 to drive 25 miles, allowing drivers to save about $9,000 over five years when matched against the average 2014 car.
2. Mitsubishi i-MiEV ($15,495)
Edmunds.com reviewers took some shots at the previous Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but Kelley Blue Book once included the little electric four-seater in its list of “10 Best Green Cars of 2012,” so there are some endorsements from the critics. The 2014 i-MiEV continues the same tradition of ultra-efficiency (122 MPGe), adequate electric range (62 miles), and rock-bottom pricing ($22,995 before any tax credits). The DOE estimates drivers could save $9,000 over five years when driving the i-MiEV (compared to the average vehicle). It costs les than a buck ($0.90) to drive 25 miles in this car.
1. Smart Electric Drive ($12,490)
It won’t make any sexiest car lists, but the quirky Smart Electric Drive is available in both coupe or cabriolet (convertible) models at basement prices. Electric range is respectable at 68 miles on a full charge while the 122 MPGe (107 MPGe combined) puts the Smart electric vehicles in elite company.
Operating cost are even more impressive. According to Fueleconomy.gov, it costs Smart electric drivers $0.96 to log 25 miles, which amounts to about $600 over the course of the entire year. Compare that to gas prices and the numbers jump off the screen. Smart Electric Drive buyers can save $9,750 over five years of ownership when compared to the average 2014 vehicle and its 23 mpg.