Fuel efficiency is so last century.
This year, we learned that energy efficiency is the new fuel efficiency, and not all electric cars are equal—even if they’re all zero emissions vehicles.
Credit for that falls squarely on the Jaguar I-Pace’s broad shoulders because, although it’s an all-electric crossover, its big battery doesn’t return as much range as we’d expect.
Tesla has gone far to show other automakers that, even though they’re the upstart automaker, they have a well-worn grip on wringing out the most from each kilowatt-hour of energy.
Here’s the list of our Top 10 Greenest Cars from 2019, mostly in order of battery efficiency. This year’s list is dominated by electric vehicles, with the Chevy Volt as an exception and we’ve added one non-hybrid to the list for the hard-and-fast dino-juice diehards. Old habits, we suppose.
2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric (European spec)
The Ioniq owns two superlatives on our green scale: It’s the most energy-efficient electric car on sale, and it’s the most fuel-efficient car on sale that is sold without a plug.
Let’s talk about the former first. The Ioniq Electric earned a 136 MPGe rating from the EPA, which is a convoluted measurement of how far an electric vehicle can travel on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. That’s mental gymnastics that we’ll skip, too. The short of the long: the Ioniq Electric extracts every inch from available electrons. That’s not to say that it has the longest range, far from it. The Ioniq Electric offers just 124 miles of range from its 28-kwh battery. Other EVs with bigger batteries travel farther. The Ioniq Electric is only available in a small number of states, too.
The Ioniq hybrid rates 57 mpg city, 59 highway, 58 combined, which is tops among vehicles sold without a plug.
(The Kia Niro Electric is related to the Ioniq Electric and nearly returns the same efficiency, but weighs more. Not a bad option there either.)
2019 Tesla Model 3 Performance
The smallest Tesla made a big splash when it was announced. The four-door sedan added variants for 2019 to make it more affordable for more buyers, but every model gets great energy management that propels it further up our charts.
Tesla offers Standard, Standard Plus, Long Range, and Performance variants of the Model 3, which all manage more than 200 miles on a charge. What’s more, the Long Range and Performance models are rated for more than 300 miles on a charge.
That’s tremendous battery management from the electric carmaker, and nearly every other automaker has struggled to duplicate that type of know-how with their electric cars.
2019 Hyundai Kona Electric
It’s no surprise that Hyundai’s electric Kona crossover isn’t far behind the Ioniq Electric for energy efficiency, but there’s a key difference.
The Ioniq Electric’s small battery gives it just 124 miles of range, but the Kona Electric’s bigger 64-kwh battery goes longer: 258 miles.
The Kona Electric is just as frugal when expending precious electrons and the EPA rates it at 120 MPGe, just below the Ioniq Electric’s mark of 136 MPGe.
We expect Hyundai to plunk the Kona’s bigger battery in more electric models soon, but we have one favor to ask before they do: Make the Kona Electric available in more states, please? Hyundai said it would offer the car in every state, but our initial inquiries about availability at Hyundai dealers in flyover country were shot down. Bummer.
2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Chevy’s electric hatchback painted a target on its back when it was introduced several years ago as the all-electric Chevy with more than 200 miles of rated range. Its EPA rating of 238 miles was worldbeating stuff when it arrived, and it still rates highly on our scale. Other models—but not many—eclipsed that mark, but we know Chevy’s cooking up more. A Bolt-based crossover is on the way that could meet or beat the Bolt EV’s rating. The Bolt EV’s near-term outlook isn’t rosy, but we’ll always remember when Chevy made a big promise—and delivered—the Bolt EV.
2019 Tesla Model S
The biggest Tesla sedan still impresses, even in its relatively advanced age. The Model S is available in Standard, Long Range, and Performance variants, which all manage more than 250 miles of range. The Long Range raises eyebrows with its 370 miles of rated range, which is longer than any other electric car on sale.
Mainstream automakers haven’t yet cracked 300 miles of rated range, but Tesla is knocking on the door for 400. Impressive stuff.
2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
The first mainstream electric car was among the last to get longer legs. This year, Nissan finally released its long-range version of the Nissan Leaf that upped the rated range from 150 miles to 226 miles in Leaf Plus models. We’ve come a long way from the much shorter, first-generation Leafs that only offered ranges around 50 miles, but Nissan’s gains in power management have been impressive. We expect only good things in the Leaf’s future, too.
2018 Tesla Model X
Even the biggest Tesla nearly sneaks into our top five with its outstanding battery management. The EPA rates the Standard Range Model X at 250 miles, but the Long Range version returns more than 325 miles from a full tank of electricity. That’s impressive in its own right, but even more impressive because Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar haven’t yet matched it with their big crossovers.
2019 Jaguar I-Pace
Making electric cars isn’t easy, just ask Jaguar. Its I-Pace was critically acclaimed for its looks and luxury, but its range hasn’t yet delivered. Rated for 234 miles by the EPA, we’ve struggled to manage even 200 in the I-Pace. Considering its 90-kwh battery (Tesla extracts more than 300 miles from a 100-kwh battery in the Model X) we’re left scratching our heads as to where all that power goes? Nonetheless, the I-Pace was the first among mainstream contenders to make a run at Tesla for supremacy. Just make sure that run is downhill both ways.
2019 Audi e-tron first drive - Abu Dhabi UAE, December 2018
Same song, second verse for the Audi e-tron. Audi’s first production electric crossover extracts just 204 miles of EPA-rated range from a 95-kwh battery. We expect that real-world drives will return roughly 200 miles, based on our limited tests, but where’s all that power going? Is it durability, as has been hinted to us? Time will tell.
2019 Chevrolet Volt
RIP Volt. The Chevy compact four-door had a usable electric range (53 miles) and a gas tank that most commuters barely tapped. It was mildly good looking, efficient, and ahead of its time in its engineering. Chevy killed the small car because buyers prefer anything with a tall ride height, but the Volt was special in its own way. (Even if its name was nearly indistinguishable from “Bolt.”)
2019 Mitsubishi Mirage
Bonus round: Mitsubishi Mirage
At 39 mpg combined, the Mitsubishi Mirage is the most efficient non-hybrid vehicle on the road today. And that’s about all it has going for it.