Best Electric Car For The Average American −

100% Electric Vehicles

Published on September 9th, 2015 | by Zach


Best Electric Car For The Average American

Ah, that mythical creature — the “average person” or “average American.” What is the best electric car for the “average American?” It depends on what you consider average, but I’ll present a few scenarios below.

1 + 1 = 2

First of all, the average number of cars per household is just above 2. Generally speaking, that means that even if the household has one short-range electric vehicle, they have another vehicle that can be used for long-distance trips.

But for regular daily use, is a short-range electric car like the Nissan LEAF (84 miles of range), BMW i3 (81 miles of range), VW e-Golf (83 miles of range), or Kia Soul EV (93 miles of range) really adequate for the average person?

Considering that ~99% of trips are under 50 miles (leaving plenty of room for buffer) and ~90% of days have a total of just ~70 miles of driving (with plenty of time between trips to charge — whether from a charging station or a typical electricity outlet), I’d say it’s a given that >70 miles of range is plenty for the average person’s regular, daily needs.

Distance-Distribution-Car-Trips Car-trip-distance-cumulative Daily-distance-car-distribution daily-distance-car-distribution_cumulative


Show Me The Money

But what about cost? Last I checked, the average price paid for a new car in the US was >$31,000. However, I think most people don’t buy cars new. Either way, though, a new Mitsubishi i-MiEV ($22,995), Smart Electric Drive ($25,000), Chevy Spark EV ($25,995), VW e-Golf ($28,995), Nissan LEAF ($29,010), or Ford Focus Electric ($29,170) fall below the average new car price… even before you subtract the $7,500 federal EV tax credit and any other incentives available in your state or city. Alternatively, a used version of one of these models (prices are really low right now) is an option for used-car buyers.

If this “average American” wanted to stretch a little bit, or simply did the math and realized they could chop the price down by $7,500 with the tax credit alone, the Kia Soul ($33,700) would be in the running. If this person was really smart and calculated in the projected gas savings, I imagine that even the Mercedes B-Class Electric ($41,450 before incentives, $33,950 after the US federal tax credit) and BMW i3 ($42,400 before incentives, $34,900 after the US federal tax credit) very easily come in below the average new car price mentioned above (~$31,000).

So, basically, any electric option on the market is as cheap or cheaper than the average new car bought in the US. If you want to focus on used cars, non-Tesla electric cars have seen higher depreciation than gasmobiles, so you can actually get better deals on used electrics right now.

Best Car Options/Features

So, now that we’ve determined that an average household can, in all likelihood, very easily have an all-electric car as one of their two cars, and also that basically all of the non-Tesla electric cars on the market are as cheap or cheaper than the average new car, of these 100% electric cars, which is the best electric car available today?

Of course, that depends on your preferences to some degree. Aesthetics is a big part of the buying decision, as are issues such as interior space and design. But when it comes to electric cars, there are a couple of things that are quite important — the size of the car’s onboard charger and whether or not the car has the capability to “fast charge” at CHAdeMO or SAE Combo fast-charging stations.

Several of the electric cars noted above lack a fast-charging option, while a couple of others have only a 3.3 kW onboard charger, which allows the car to regain only ~10 miles of charge in one hour of level-2 charging. I would cross all of these “compliance cars” off the list. Electric cars without fast-charging capability include the following:

  • Fiat 500e
  • Ford Focus Electric
  • Mercedes B-Class Electric
  • Smart Electric Drive

Electric cars with fast-charging capability but with only a 3.3 kW onboard charger include:

  • Chevy Spark EV
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV

So, that leaves the:

  • BMW i3
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Nissan LEAF
  • Volkswagen e-Golf
Silver and black BMW i3 at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain.(This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)

BMW i3

2015 Kia Soul EV Price

Kia Soul EV

Nissan Leafs Barcelona

Nissan LEAFs


VW e-Golf

Now, we really getting into personal preferences. The BMW i3 has quicker acceleration than any of the others here (7.1 second to 60 mph versus 11.8 seconds, 10.2 seconds, and 10.4 seconds, respectively), and also has a bit more of a “luxurious” interior. Additionally, it uses more-expensive carbon fiber, a lot of recycled materials, and some green materials like bamboo and eucalyptus that are quite nice but not as cheap as plastic. This all adds a bit of a luxury, performance, and green premium. (Note that the BMW i3 was named “World Green Car of the Year” in 2014, “2015 Green Car of the Year” by another ranking team, and is technically the most efficient car on the entire US car market.) However, it only seats four and it has less interior + storage space than the other three cars on this final list.

On the whole the Soul EV, LEAF, and e-Golf have similar specs but very different styles — check out their webpages (I just linked to them on their names there) to compare he details and aesthetics for yourself. And here’s a BMW i3 link for good measure.

Lastly (for this section), something that may be important to note is the fast-charging standard that each of these cars use, and a certain charging perk. The i3 and e-Golf use the SAE Combo fast-charging standard, while the LEAF and Soul EV use the CHAdeMO fast-charging standard. Without a doubt, CHAdeMO stations are more common these days, as they are generally installed at Nissan dealerships. Additionally, in several states, Nissan has a “No Charge to Charge” program that provides LEAF drivers with free charging. I don’t know how important these factors are to the “average” person — most people charge at home while sleeping the large majority of the time — but it’s certainly something for any electric car buyer to consider. (That said, though, the SAE Combo network will theoretically be built out to approximately the same size and usefulness as the CHAdeMO network, and there are free programs and charging stations for some people using SAE Combo chargers as well.)

Best Electric Car For The Average American

So, we are back to the original question. In my personal opinion, I think the case is well enough made that the i3 is the best electric car for the hypothetical average American (people do like luxury and performance). But if you want more space and seating, the Soul EV, LEAF, or e-Golf probably is. If you want a normal-looking car, the e-Golf is surely your best option. If you want better fast charging options, the LEAF is probably the best electric car for you.

I think you get the point… it’s very much a personal decision at this stage. And, for that matter, it’s a personal decision if fast-charging capability is important for you. If not, the Mercedes B-Class Electric could well be the best electric car offering on the table — if you’re charging at home 99% of the time, or on level-2 charging stations because that’s all that is available at your work or at other destinations you commonly frequent, fast-charging capability may not matter at all to you, and the B-Class Electric’s superior 10 kW onboard charger may be super useful.

Wait A Sec… What About Range Security?

As I already argued, the range of these cars is probably more than adequate for at least one of the average household’s two cars. But sometimes humans are very illogical. In fact, we often are. The large majority of people know very little about electric cars, and they are generally probably nervous about switching to the technology. Additionally, they could legitimately run into significant speed bumps as they get used to it — like not realizing that the “range remaining” estimate is not precise, and that they shouldn’t drive their cars down to “0 miles of charge remaining.” Also, there are times when we suddenly have to drive more than we expected — for some reason or another.

For this reason, a plug-in hybrid electric car, extended-range electric car, or range-extended electric car may be the best initial electric car for many people… maybe even the “average American.” If that is the case, then the only car from the list above that can still be considered is the BMW i3 (with the range extender, or REx, option). However, these other cars could be good or very good options:

  • Chevy Volt ($34,170, or $26,670 after the US federal tax credit)
  • Ford C-Max Energi ($31,770, or $28,010 after the US federal tax credit)
  • Ford Fusion Energi ($33,900, or $29,893 after the US federal tax credit)
  • Audi A3 Sportback e-tron ($37,900 — not clear yet how much the US federal tax credit will be for this model, but probably ~$4,000)

Again, the subjective preferences like discussed earlier come into play a great deal here, but it’s important to note that the i3 REx and Volt offer the most electric driving range, by far. Additionally, they are the only ones that don’t have a gasoline engine kick in at certain speeds, at certain rates of acceleration, and in some other unique cases. From my experience driving plug-in hybrids, I don’t think they compare with the BMW i3 REx or Chevy Volt, but I’ll leave that to individuals to decide.

Think you’re the “average American,” or have other thought to add and want to chime in about the “best electric car” in the US? Join the conversation in the comments below!


Tesla Model S vs BMW i3 vs Nissan LEAF — My Dilemma

BMW i3 Review

Nissan LEAF Review

VW e-Golf In-Depth Video Review

BMW i3 In-Depth Video Review

Electric Car Charging Capabilities — Comparison of 27 Models


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, SCTY, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB. After years of covering solar and EVs, he simply had a lot of faith in these companies and felt like they were good companies to invest in as a portion of his retirement strategy. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.

  • jack8trades

    ‘The i3, Soul EV, and e-Golf all use the SAE Combo fast-charging standard’
    Soul uses CHAdeMO per Kia’s website. Leaf as default winner of that DC charge type might need to be re-examined.
    ‘they should drive their cars down to “0 miles of charge remaining.”’
    Shouldn’t this be a negative?

    • Thanks. I corrected the Kia Soul EV mistake in another article but forgot to correct here.

      The 2nd mistake was simply a typo — corrected as well. 😀

  • John F. Bramfeld

    Here we go again;stupid Americans. I would suggest that the average new car you refer to is substantially bigger than the electric vehicles you compare them to. If you are going to do the figures, it makes little sense to calculate number of trips, length of trip, etc. and not take into account interior size. If you are spending $31,000 on a new car, you are either getting a substantially bigger car than the electrics available, or a substantially better performing car, for those stupid Americans who like performance, or at least capacity.

    In another article you referred to the use of an electric car making you feel good about yourself. I want to congratulate you for admitting that, but I point out that if you want to feel double good about yourself, send a check to the government for the road taxes you don’t pay. Win, win.

    • Starting with your second paragraph, I have no idea what you are referring to. I’m quite sure I never wrote such a thing, so I am taking it as a lie.

      And speaking of distortion, paragraph #1 is still only telling part of the story. EVs are much more convenient, much more enjoyable to drive, and have much less maintenance. Any buyer is going to have to balance how much they value the various features of a car.

      And since you are a troll, FYI, have a nice day and spread your FUD somewhere else. 😀

  • CMCNestT .

    The average American household does not have a short range vehicle and a long range vehicle. The average American household has a ~10 year old car and a ~5 year old car. When the cost to maintain the older car becomes too much they replace it. Now the “new ” car becomes the “old” car. Replacing both vehicles on a regular schedule because they are not substitutes for each other becomes much more expensive. More than the savings in gas by switching half the fleet to a low range BEV. That is why low range BEVs will always be a micro niche vehicle despite repeated articles by environmentalist and BEV advocates that they are a logical substitute for one ICEv in a multi car household.

    • Ah, nonsense. Know what we do with it here? Oh, wait, where’s the comment I’m replying to? 😉

  • TedKidd

    Comparing the i3rex to the volt is a bit like comparing the imiev to a Tesla.

    One goes 450 miles on a full charge and tank (and nearly 400 thereafter) and could reasonably be driven from CA to NY, the other MIGHT make 150 on a full charge and a tank (20-40 thereafter, seriously power handicapped) and no reasonable person would want to drive it from Boston to Philly.

    • It really depends on your needs. If all you need is 10-20 miles on gas to get to your next fast charger, the REx is great. If 70 miles of electric range is much more helpful to you than 40-50 miles, the BMW i3 REx trumps the Volt. The two cars are quite different, but they are obviously comparable in that they extend range with the use of gasoline. Which one is better for a buyer depends on individual circumstances.

      I used to think the REx was stupid until I looked at my needs/desires and which EV works best for me. It actually seems to be the i3 REx.

      • TedKidd

        Well, this particular problem isn’t if it works for me, it’s if it works for you. I’m playing devils advocate so you find and plug important holes BEFORE owning the car.

        I think you’ve vetted this issue well enough that, if the premium (say, over a 110 mile Leaf) isn’t absurd, a 2-3 year rex lease will be good fit for you.

        I think the Rex is great if you regularly travel 50-100 miles and have limited charging options. In winter time (Northern States) when battery range drops from 80 to 50 miles, the backup becomes make/break.

        TAPER – Very important to clearly understand fast charging rate. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get a fill up in 30 minutes. You’ll get to 80% from whatever state you were at. Getting ADDITIONAL 50 miles in 30 minutes is BEST case – assumes your battery is flat. Of course that is easier to achieve with rex. But getting to 100% – if that’s what you need – is more like 60-90 minutes.

        Jack Rickard’s most recent EVTV video has graphs that represent how quickly taper occurs to Leaf. It’s like falling off a cliff.

        Jack’s video ALSO shows battery decline over time. Looks like Leaf loses about 25% after 60,000 miles. With these very short distance cars that kind of loss quickly changes usability.

        After looking at this weeks EVTV video, I’m more convinced than ever that a used Leaf represents an incredible value for those for whom the car is good fit. I also think that someone who wants to further the EV market, the best thing they can do is buy a used Leaf and provide tangible evidence of this truth. This is the only place the rex doesn’t seem best fit for your stated objectives.

        Tesla loss is slower, but even so, folks with 40’s have commented about it affecting them in places they were used to it not affecting them.

        • My next step in the plan is to test drive each of these, ideally for an extended period where I can put them to their limits a bit.

          Would be very interesting to do some research and pieces on taper for different models.

  • SparkEV

    While it’s a decent list, SparkEV is best EV for the money at the moment and discounting it due to 3.3kW is wrong. In fact, cost savings (whatever that may be) for 3.3kW while having far more practical DCFC is a plus, not a minus.4 hours at 6.6kW or 6 hours at 3.3kW (19kWh battery) is moot when L2 is almost exclusively used for 8 hours at work or 12 hours at home; anything else for L2 is impractical.

    SparkEV and Tesla P90D are only two EV that can compete against comparably priced gas cars in 0-60 mph performance. Even then, SparkEV wins out over P90D. See

    • Good argument for the Spark EV. Of course, this is quite a subjective ranking.

    • Marion Meads

      If you’re in California, you can lease the Spark EV for $139/month with 0 money down. Then you get the $2,500 cash rebate from California air resources board, and spread over 39 months, your effective lease becomes $74.90/month!!!

      • SparkEV

        For those making less than 3X poverty rate, CA rebate is $4000, making it $38/mo lease. Is there any car in the world that’s as cheap to lease as SparkEV?

  • freethinker

    I have just above 2 cars.

  • freethinker

    For me, gas savings are pretty close to non-existant in Georgia b/w low gas prices and the $200/yr EV tax.

    Driving about 6K miles/yr in my Nissan Leaf costs me about $230(power)+$200(tax) versus an equivalent ICE (i.e. Mazda 3) would cost about $500/yr in gas.

  • Robert Pollock

    The i3 is too expensive, the range is a little less than the Spark EV, and it doesn’t have a battery cooling system, that I know of. I asked and the salespeople didn’t know either. Leasing, you don’t worry about damaging the battery by using it to it’s fullest parameters, but if you’re buying a car, the difference between maximum range and what you drive should be greater. Don’t let the car discharge completely, or charge it up fully. In fact, I think MercBenz (or Tesla) has a battery saving option which basically prevents the battery from ever being fully charged. So it can’t ever be over charged. It seems that almost everything works better when it’s about half full.

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