NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When a Tesla falls to the bottom of your electric vehicle list, it tells you just how far EVs have come in a very short time.
If U.S. fuel efficiency standards in this country are going to hit hit 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, as the Environmental Protection Agency wants, electric vehicles are going to find themselves doing a whole lot of the heavy lifting. The average fuel economy (window-sticker value) of new vehicles sold in the in August was 25.3 mpg, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
While it's great that Tesla's Model X and its falcon-wing doors are going to be able to drive for 250 miles before charging, it's also not going to be here until late 2016 at the earliest. And while it's great that the Model 3 will be about $30,000 when it arrives, Tesla hasn't even mentioned a release date for it in a while. That leaves the current crop of vehicles about halfway to the benchmark that the EPA and Department of Transportation set back in 2012. However, Tesla isn't the only one falling short in the race to higher fuel efficiency. The Chevrolet Bolt that General Motors announced at the Detroit Auto Show more than a year ago claims it will offer 200 miles of electric range for $30,000 after incentives, but is still more concept than reality.
Maybe instead of looking for the splashiest new electric vehicle, we should take a closer look at the incremental gains being made by the crop that's already out there. Yes, range is lacking, but their efficiency and amenities are starting to stack up. With help from the EPA's FuelEconomy.gov site, we compiled a list of the most fuel-efficient electric vehicles on the road. They aren't all Tesla-caliber quite yet, but they're drifting into its class when viewed through the right lens:
10. 2015 Tesla Model S
Starting price: $77,500 with incentives
Miles per gallon equivalent: 106 city, 95 highway, 100 combined
Electric charge range: 270 miles
Take a good look, because this is one of the few times you're going to see the Tesla at the bottom of a list like this.
We aren't arguing that 270 miles isn't the best electric range out there (it is). We aren't arguing that the Tesla's slew of electronic features that now include charger-oriented navigation or self-driving “autopilot” feature have an equal out there. They don't.
We aren't even going to pretend that the Model S's 376-horsepower motor, 5.2-second 0-60 and 155 mph top speed can be matched by any other electric vehicle (they can't). However, it's the MPGe that we and the EPA are concerned with. It's less efficient than nine other vehicles on this list, though a supercharger and eight-year, unlimited mile warranty do a lot to make up for it.
9. 2014 Ford Focus Electric
MSRP: $21,670 with incentives.
Miles per gallon: 110 city, 99 highway, 105 combined
Electric charge range: 76 miles
This is one of the best approaches in the game: take the popular midsize Focus, strip out the combustion engine and giving it all the cool electronic and mobile-based features EV owners have come to expect. Oh, and let the brakes recharge the motor a bit.
Throw in automatic dual-zone climate control, pushbutton start, the SYNC 3 voice-controlled communications and entertainment system and a 160-horsepower engine, and you've just transformed your staid midsize commuter special into a paragon of efficiency. When you have good bones to work with, tweaking the rest isn't such a labor.
8. 2016 Kia Soul EV
Starting price: $24,450 with incentives
Miles per gallon: 120 city, 92 highway, 105 combined
Electric charge range: 93 miles
This boxy wagon has come a long way from dancing hamsters and LMFAO. The touchscreen UVO infotainment system and its charge status updates, charging station navigation, climate control and sound system with beat-sensing mood lighting are all secondary concerns -- as is the boasted top speed of 149 miles per hour.
It doesn't have the broad color palette, mix-and-match accent plates and sunroof upgrades still of the standard model, but it's still has the Soul's versatile 60/40 rear seating and 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space (49.5 with the rear seats down) that make it an ideal electric surf shack, bike shuttle or city shopping companion. The ten-year, 100,000-mile Kia warranted doesn't hurt, either.
7. 2015 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Convertible/Coupe
Miles per gallon equivalent: 122 city, 93 highway, 107 combined
Electric charge range: 68 miles
Do you dive in or do you wait a year until it gets better?
For years, the combustion-engine version of this two-seaters wasn't incredibly efficient. However, the EV came as a power convertible top or as a coupe with a panoramic roof and wasstocked with power heated exterior mirrors, rain and light sensors, a radio app and automatic temperature control. Granted, it can still take up to four and a half hours to charge it from zero, but it doesn't exactly burn through a ton of power.
All this said, we caution that the 2016 version widens the wheelbase, gives drivers a smartphone dock for better access to the car's myriad apps that substitute for dashboard items and adds items you likely thought were standard: Bluetooth hands-free calling, cruise control, power steering, power windows and crosswind assist for its tiny frame. None of that will bulk up this vehicle's 47 horsepower, however, but it may make it a bit more livable.
6. 2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
MSRP: $15,495 after incentives
City/highway/combined mileage: 126/99/112 mpg
Electric charge range: 62 miles, 98 in the city
Mitsubishi put this car on the shelf for a year and then stopped production of other vehicles at its U.S. factory, but the little egg-shaped wonder has returned.
However, this is as close to an electric econobox as you can get. That price comes with a 66-horsepower engine isn't so brawny and its 62-mile range is in plug-in hybrid territory. Features like navigation that are throw-ins on other electric cars are options for the Mitsubishi. However, with 85 cubic feet of passenger room and 13 cubic feet of trunk space, it's as big as the smallest Prius and similarly useful. If you're not traveling great distances, this generic little commuter special may be all the electric car you'll need.
5. 2015 Nissan LEAF
MSRP: $21,510 with incentives
Miles per gallon: 126 city, 101 highway, 114 combined
Electric charge range: 84 miles
This car has spent a half decade on the road, and its continued lack of a supercharger makes that fact painfully apparent. However, for folks without a long commute and who live along electric corridors with lots of car chargers, it's ideal.
A bevy of audio, navigation and app support features – including maps of nearby charging station -- are now fairly standard among the competition. The LEAF is just as silent, though, and is still one of the best EV options available for the money. It needs to play catchup in many regards, but that efficiency and range made the LEAF well ahead of its time.
4. 2015 Fiat 500e
MSRP: $24,050 after incentives
Miles per gallon: 122 city, 108 highway, 116 combined
Electric charge range: 87 miles
Fiat likes to point out this car's 111 horsepower, because, until recently, it was a whole lot to ask of an electric vehicle of this size.
Drivers want the fun-sized sportiness of the cinquecento. Bu this one comes with an electronic push-button shifter, TomTom navigation with voice-activated commands, a FIAT mobile app with with telematics and assistance, BLUE&ME hands-free communication, seven airbags, rear parking assist, heated seats and mirrors, stability control and Sirius XM satellite radio. Pedestrian alert, hill assist and a four-year warranty on all electric parts are all thrown in for good measure.
It doesn't come at a subcompact price, but you get all of the perks without any of the fuel fill-ups.
3. 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf
MSRP: $21,495 after incentives
Miles per gallon equivalent: 126 city, 105 highway, 115.5 combined
Electric charge range: 83 miles
Volkswagen's having a tough time thanks to its diesel testing (or lack thereof), but that doesn't make this e-upgrade of the venerable Golf any less desirable.
Standard features including an electrically heated windshield, full LED headlights with LED Daytime Running Lights, rearview camera, Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod cable, navigation system with 5.8" touchscreen with proximity sensors and voice control, Volkswagen Car-Net connected car features with e-Golf functions, keyless access with push-button start and heated front seats just blend in seemlessly. The 115-horsepower engine can be sluggish for those used to a little more high-octane German engineering, but a four-hour “slow” charge and a 30-minute direct-current quick charge compensate for that lack of pep.
2. 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV
MSRP: $18,495 after incentives
Miles per gallon equivalent: 128 city, 109 highway, 119 combined
Electric charge range: 82 miles
It's as zippy as the Fiat at 140 horsepower but doesn't break $20,000 after incentives. Not bad for GM's tiny electric wonder.
The Spark looks like a spartan subcompact from the outside, and its EV version doesn't get a full charge for seven hours using even its most powerful charger. However, it has 23.4 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats down, a 7-inch diagonal high-resolution color touch-screen, Bluetooth wireless, Apple Siri Eyes Free texting and a standard three years of OnStar remote link access that lets owners check battery level, efficiency statistics and more on their smartphones. Oh, and it has mobile 4G Wi-Fi.
Spark EV users also get to use their smartphone as a key and remote starter and, once inside, can drive secure in the knowledge that they're surrounded by no fewer than ten airbags. Chevy's getting comfortable with the EV, but it'll be interesting to see where the Spark falls on the pecking order once the Bolt arrives.
1. 2015 BMW i3
Miles per gallon equivalent: 137 city, 111 highway, 124 combined
Electric charge range: 81 miles
It's incredibly efficient even without an available, on-board gas generator that doubles the vehicle's 81-mile range -- which we have to note is still well below the Tesla's 270 miles. Made with lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, the i3 is far lighter than most other EVs and requires a smaller battery consuming less energy. Thus, its 124 miles per gallon equivalent is actually far more efficient than the Model S's 100 mpge, even if the latter has greater range. The crew at Edmunds managed to get 96 miles worth of range out of the standard battery and 150 with the extender.
The i3 also packs 170 horsepower of performance and tons of interior space in an electric ride rivaled in speed by only the Tesla Model S. There is room for four full-size adults to fit comfortably, while the fold-flat makes the i3 surprisingly practical. With lots of luxury amenities that BMW customers have come to expect, the i3 beats the Model S in one big area: price. That $42,000 still isn't cheap, but it has some upside.