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Electric vehicles (EVs) can help your household save $1,000 in fuel per year, on average. They're cheaper to maintain than fossil fuel-powered vehicles, as they don't need oil changes and have single-speed transmissions and regenerative brakes.
They're also some of the safest cars to drive, with EVs like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 receiving five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If you're concerned about air pollution from cars, EVs are the way to go. While vehicles running on gasoline emit about 11,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent annually, all-electric vehicles emit about 4,000 pounds annually while producing zero direct emissions. Because of all of these benefits to the environment, especially when compared to alternatives, EVs are a popular buy.
Here are some of the most affordable electric cars on the market, including the Nissan Leaf. I've even included a hybrid car as the final option, just in case you're hesitant about making the plunge into the fully electric territory. The prices listed here exclude destination freight charges, tax, title, license, dealer fees, optional equipment, and other miscellaneous fees.
myChevrolet app helps you calculate when you need to charge up
Built-in 10.2-inch tablet with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Chevy Safety Assist
Less horsepower than the Leaf
2023 Chevrolet Bolt EV features and specs: 120 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent) | Up to 259 miles on a single charge | Max speed: 90.1mph | Max power: 200 horsepower | Accelerates 0-60 in 6.5 seconds | Price: $26,595
The Chevy Bolt took the best affordable EV title on our overall list and it tops this one too. It's a highly efficient EV with some powerful safety features. The standard model includes Chevy Safety Assist, with front pedestrian braking, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, distance indicator for a vehicle you're following, and auto high beams, which adjust to traffic conditions.
Don't worry about charging: Customers who purchase or lease a 2022 or 2023 Bolt EV or EUV will get a free home charging station. Chevy covers the installation of a Level 2 (240-volt) charging outlet at your home, which means faster and more convenient charging. There are also more than 40,000 public charging stations.
The Bolt's sticker price is also low for a dependable car.
Though this EV is our top pick overall, General Motors is planning to discontinue this Chevy Bolt model along with the Bolt EUV by the end of 2023. After that, pre-owned Bolt electric cars could be another affordable option.
Comes with an eight-year/100,000 miles limited lithium-ion battery warranty
Slightly less miles on a single charge than the Bolt
2023 Nissan Leaf features and specs: 121 MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent) | Up to 212 miles on a single charge (with 60kWh battery) | Max speed: 106mph (on the SV Plus) | Max power: 214 horsepower | Accelerates 0-60 in 7.4 seconds | Price: $27,800
The Nissan Leaf comes in two models: the S and the SV Plus. The standard Leaf S has a 40kWh battery, meaning a range of 149 miles per full charge, and goes from 0 to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. The SV Plus has a more powerful 60kWh battery and a higher range per full charge -- up to 212 miles. You're covered for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, under a warranty that will take care of any defects in the materials or workmanship of your car battery.
Another feature included with both the S and SV Plus is an 8-inch display that can be integrated with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can also remotely start a charge, check on how much your Leaf has charged, and turn on the heat or A/C.
The e-Pedal function allows you to start, accelerate, decelerate, and stop by using the accelerator pedal. For safety, there's automatic emergency braking that detects pedestrians, warnings for lane departures, blind spot warnings based on radar, rear cross-traffic alert warnings, high beam assist, rear automatic braking, and more.
The SV Plus comes with Nissan's semi-autonomous driving mode with ProPILOT Assist.
Acceleration, speed, and horsepower are impressive
Higher price point
2023 BMW 330e features and specs: Max speed: 130mph | Max power: 288 horsepower | Accelerates 0-60 in 5.6 seconds | Price: $43,300
The BMW 330e sedan maximizes performance and efficiency with a total power output of 288 horsepower. It also prioritizes safety with an active protection system that detects accidents and automatically prepares for them by closing the windows and moonroof, pre-tensioning safety belts, and activating post-crash braking. You can use the BMW Assist eCall feature for any emergency requests.
This vehicle comes with luxury touches, including power-folding, heated side mirrors, and a better-than-the-standard 10-speaker sound system. The windshield wipers are rain-sensing, and the two-way glass moonroof activates with just a touch. The vehicle and key memories are better than your average car's -- they store your most recently used temperature, lighting, mirror, and other preferences for a seamless ride.
The 330e sedan starts at $43,300. You're covered under BMW Ultimate Care, which includes an 8-year/80,000-mile high-voltage battery warranty.
2022 Ford F-150 Lightningfeatures and specs: Up to 230 miles on a single charge | Max speed: 120mph | Max power: 452 horsepower | Accelerates 0-60 in 4 seconds | Price: $39,974
This six-seater F-150 has a towing capacity of 7,700 pounds, a 15.5-inch touchscreen, a B&O sound system, plenty of safety features, and a phone-as-a-key capability.
The FordPass app is central to this experience. You always know how much charge is left on your battery through the app. You can use the app to earn points towards maintenance, and you can even start/stop, lock/unlock, schedule a start, and locate your vehicle from the app.
BlueOval charge network includes more than 75,000 chargers across North America -- so if you're on the road, you can find a charger on the way.
Ford BlueCruise hands-free driving works with a camera that faces the driver: You can take your hands off of the wheel for more than 130,000 miles of highways in North America.
When it comes to safety, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, auto high-beam headlamps, and intelligent adaptive cruise control are just a few included features.
2022 Volvo S60features and specs (for the Recharge): 74MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent) | Max speed: 112mph | Max power: 455 horsepower | Accelerates 0-60 in 4.3 seconds | Price: $41,300
This list is all about electric cars, but the Volvo S60 at a price point of $41,300 had to make an appearance. It's a hybrid, so you'll reduce tailpipe emissions (fully electric cars eliminate them altogether) and reduce fuel consumption. The car comes with an air purifier and a Bowers & Wilkins audio system, and it has Google Maps, Google Assistant, and Google Play built-in.
The S60 Recharge is more expensive at $51,250, but it's fully electric. It has 455 horsepower and similar perks to the S60.
The Chevy Bolt offers considerable value for its price point, so it takes the lead for the best cheap EV. The Nissan Leaf is another popular option, and its sales cap hasn't been met yet, so it's still eligible for the full credit. With the credit, it would be a lower price than the Bolt.
Ford F-150 LIghtning
Which is the right affordable electric car for you?
The options below show that you don't have to sacrifice quality for affordability. If you want a rugged electric truck that can seat six people, the Ford F-150 is a dream come true. If you're more about having an air purifier and Bowers & Wilkins audio system as part of the interior, go with the Volvo S60. As of the time of writing, all of these options, except for the Chevy Bolt, qualify for the Clean Vehicle Credit under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Choose this affordable electric car…
If you want…
The best affordable EV overall. You get a free home charging station if you purchase or lease a 2022 or 2023 Bolt EV or EUV.
The cheapest option with some great features. The Nissan Leaf has slightly more horsepower than the Bolt. You can choose between the S and SV Plus models.
A luxurious sedan. While this isn't the cheapest option, it is a cheaper EV.
Ford F-150 Lightning
A 6-seater truck that's fit for adventures. The 2022 Pro model starts at around $39,000 while newer and different configurations start at much higher price points.
A powerful hybrid sedan with 455 combined horsepower -- plus Google built-in and high-end audio. This car is not an EV, but it is an alternative for those who are hesitant about going fully electric.
How did we choose these affordable EVs?
Affordable is a relative term, and EVs do tend to be more expensive than gasoline-powered cars. While I know that the options on this list aren't affordable for everyone (including me) I approached this task looking for affordability in relative terms. As researchers from Vrije Universiteit Brussel pointed out, "energy efficient vehicles have a lower fuel price, but are sometimes characterized by a higher purchase price." These same researchers found that the current price point for EVs leads to a large difference in the total cost of ownership between an EV and a gasoline-powered vehicle. EVs have low fuel operating costs, but that does not outweigh their initially high purchase point. In the conclusions section of the paper, the researchers recommend incentives to allow people to purchase EVs.
A March 2023 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health also shaped my understanding of affordability. The study surveyed residents in an affordable housing complex and a middle-income neighborhood in Brookline, MA to see if they were likely to buy an EV in two years if they had a charging station at their home. The results showed that 70% of affordable housing residents and 65% of middle-income respondents would lease or buy a secondhand EV if the government paid for full home-charger installations. There are many factors that go into EV ownership, and the price of the vehicle is just one consideration.
That said, I chose these EVs in terms of their relative affordability to the greater EV market. If you take a look at another list I wrote, the best electric cars, you'll see that there are many quality EVs out there -- just at a higher price point. I searched for the lowest prices and the best safety and accessory features when creating this list.
Are EVs bad for the environment?
There's a misconception that because EV batteries take a considerable amount of energy to manufacture, EVs are ultimately more detrimental to the environment than standard cars.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency addressed this myth head-on, writing that even though some studies assert that making an EV can create more carbon pollution than making a gasoline-powered car, "the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an electric vehicle over its lifetime are typically lower than those from an average gasoline-powered vehicle, even when accounting for manufacturing." A promising site of research and development is finding efficient ways to recycle EV batteries. That could further reduce the emissions tied to making an EV because it would mitigate the need to source new materials.
The table below shows the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for a gasoline-powered car compared to an EV with a 300-mile range. The EV results in greenhouse gas emissions in battery manufacturing, other manufacturing processes, and fuel, while gasoline-powered cars have those emissions, plus tailpipe emissions that occur when in use.
What are three disadvantages of an electric car?
I've talked about the good side of EVs and how they can save you money and help you lower your carbon footprint. There are disadvantages though:
EV charging stations can be harder to find on the go. Chevy will install a Level 2 charging station in your home if you purchase the 2022 or 2023 Bolt EV or EUV, and other companies also provide charging stations, apps, and planning services so you can chart out where to find a charge on your next road trip.
Charging times. You're not pumping gas into this car and zooming away from the gas station immediately. While the cars on this list charge pretty quickly, they aren't instantly ready to go. Some need an overnight charge. If you're someone who can never remember to charge your phone or dislike waiting in general, an EV might be difficult to get accustomed to at first. On the bright side, you don't always need to charge the car to 100% and the battery lasts for over 200 miles.
Higher upfront costs. While EVs can be more expensive up front, the cost of maintaining them is lower than a car that runs on fossil fuels.
What is the cost of a new battery for an electric car?
You can usually get a replacement battery at no extra cost if you're within the warranty period for your vehicle. If you're out of the warranty period, a new battery can cost up to $20,000.
Are there alternative EVs worth considering?
Of course! The first qualification for consideration on this list is final assembly in North America -- so while these vehicles might not be the cheapest of the cheap vehicles out there, they're under $50k and offer a broad range of features.