For those who've decided to abandon the petrol-powered engine, choosing from among a growing list of electric cars is difficult. Is the total range more important than any whizzy features on the dash?
Should the aerodynamic design on the outside trump any total-cost-of-ownership savings? To guide you into decision mode, here are some salient points about each of the best electric cars around.
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1. Opel Ampera/Chevy Volt
The Opel Ampera (or Chevy Volt in the US) has a sporty design and the benefit of actuallybeing in full production in the US. Under the hood is where you will find the true innovation: the Ampera uses two distinct engines. The electric motor does not directly power the vehicle, but instead provides power for the gas engine. You can drive about 50km on electric only and then another 482km on fuel. This makes the Ampera an "extended range" vehicle capable of handling a short commute on electric power only. One important technical note: the Ampera uses a liquid-cooled battery that helps extend the total lifespan of the battery, and heats the battery in cold weather to improve capacity. By contrast, the Nissan Leaf uses an air-cooled battery that is more susceptible to fluctuations in outside temps. A true "green" car, the Volt also uses recycled parts including soy foam in the seats and reused plastics.
2. Nissan Leaf
Another in-production vehicle, the Leaf is an electric-only vehicle that runs for about 161km on one charge, although that depends on the climate. The Leaf can be powered up in about 8 hours using a home charging dock or in about 30 minutes using a fast charger. Unlike the Ampera, the Leaf does not use any petrol and therefore does not have a tailpipe or any emissions. For styling, the Leaf has an arrowed look with a distinct front grille that looks like two eyes and a mouth.
3. Ford Focus Electric
Like the Nissan Leaf, the Focus Electric has about a 161km range and does not have a gas engine. The main differences compared to the Leaf, though, is that the Focus uses liquid-cooling like the Volt instead of air-cooling for the battery, so that means the battery will last longer in its overall lifetime. The Focus also uses a 6.6 kw charger and, using a home charging station, will charge in about three hours. A few other unique perks: Ford uses a visual dashboard system that shows animated butterflies to indicate how you are driving. A new MyFord Mobile app that show the car location, charge level, and range. The Focus EV should debut sometime this year in the US and in Europe.
The Coda EV has a few distinguishing characteristics – which is good, because the car itself looks like a standard no-frills sedan. Range is about 145km under typical conditions, which is about 15km less than the Focus or Leaf. Like the Focus, the Coda uses a 6.6 kilowatt charger so it can power-up in about three hours. The battery is also bigger than other EVs, rated at 34 kilowatt-hour. Out later this year.
5. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell
This sports car all-electric could eat every other EV for lunch. The 420-kilowatt, 571-horsepower engine can accelerate to 100 km/h in just 3.7 seconds. There are two electric motors per axle. The battery is also a behemoth: it has 324 lithium-ion polymer cells and a 400-volt capacity. M-B has not released details about the release date or range of the AMG EV; the design is the same as the V8 version.
6. Honda Fit Electric
This recently announced all-electric is small and sporty – it will come out in 2012. The vehicle has a few interesting perks. Instead of using a smartphone app like the Focus Electric and Leaf, the Fit will come with an advanced keyfob that shows the range of the Fit and whether it is charging. The Fit also provides three driving modes for normal around-town driving, Eco mode which keeps the vehicles from accelerating too fast, and a sporty mode for fast acceleration and or more zip. Out next year.
7. Aptera 2e
The Aptera 2e is the most unusual vehicle in the bunch. The three-wheel electric car weighs only 816kilos, mostly due to the space-sage construction made from composite materials. The drag co-efficient of .15 is lower that some bicycles. (Argonne National Laboratories in Illinois made computer simulations to find out the best wind resistant design and body materials.) Like the Nissan Leaf, the Aptera 2e will run for about 160 km on one charge and take 8 hours to re-charge. Comes out later this year.
8. Volvo C30 Electric
Very little is known about the C30 Electric other than the design will match the sporty C30. That's the C30 Electric's best attribute, because the vehicle is intended for urban driving and has a range around 145 km for short commutes. Also like the Nissan Leaf, the C30 has a plug-in located in the front grille as opposed to the more common side plug-in. The car, currently in limited trials, goes 0-100 km/h in 10.5 seconds – not as fast as the AMG, but faster than most.
9. Wheego LiFe
A small two-seater similar to the Smart Fortwo, the LiFe foes about 160 km on one charge. Because the LiFe runs on smaller 115-volt lithium batteries, it takes just 5 hours to get a full charge. The Wheego LiFe also gets the distinction of being one of the cheapest electric cars at around 20,000 pounds. The LiFe is planned for release early this year and is the second Silicon Valley EV after the Tesla.
10. Tesla Roadster 2.5
The first all-electric sports car, the Roadster was beefed up last summer with a 288-horsepower engine that has 295 lbs-ft torque. The 0-100 km/h rating matches the AMG at 3.7 seconds. One of the main innovations in this vehicle is not even the fast speeds: it uses a much larger 56 kilowatt-hour battery than other EVs for a total range of almost 400 km (the battery has 6,831 lithium-ion cells).