If you’re looking for today’s cars with the lightest environmental footprint you should be looking for charge ports, not fuel tanks.
Why? The energy efficiency of electric motors is fundamentally better than that of gasoline engines; and if you consider how rapidly the U.S. electrical grid is greening due to more sustainable sources like solar and wind, the advantages are going to keep building over the years you drive the vehicle.
You won’t find fuel-stingy icons like the Toyota Prius on this list. Some of the greenest cars such as the Tesla Model 3 Performance and its 3.2-second 0-60 mph time are some of the quickest and offer the thrills of a performance car.
The Car Connection has at least 10 vehicles that earn a top score of 10 out of 10 in our Green category. Under our scoring system, electric cars and plug-in hybrids start at a 9, but only vehicles that have a tailpipe-emissions-free mode lasting a rated 200 miles or more get a 10.
Electric cars are still rated for efficiency in MPGe, which is the miles per gallon equivalent—and the equivalent to 33.7 kilowatt-hours. Roughly translated, it’s the amount of electricity needed to match the energy potential in a gallon of gas.
To break out the best of the best, we looked at the five models that earn a 10 but also have the best efficiency:
2020 Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3
Efficiency: 141 MPGe
Range: 250 miles
Starting price: $41,190
From its strong performance and excellent handling to its minimalist interior and surprisingly spacious interior, so much distinguishes the 2020 Tesla Model 3 from nearly every other compact sedan or sport sedan on the market. It won the 2019 Best Car To Buy award at our companion site, Green Car Reports.
Although there are versions of the Model 3 that achieve more driving range (up to 322 miles among versions currently available), this sporty electric sedan is at its greenest in Standard Range Plus form, where it achieves 141 MPGe combined.
Tesla’s well-supported Supercharger network of DC fast chargers, located strategically along road-trip corridors, is another big selling point. s is the possibility that, with regular over-the-air updates, the Model 3 you already have might keep getting more efficient and better-performing.
2020 Hyundai Kona Electric
Hyundai Kona Electric
Efficiency: 120 MPGe
Range: 258 miles
Starting price: $42,920
Hyundai is able to eke more miles out of each kilowatt-hour of battery capacity than any other automaker but Tesla, and that makes its electric-vehicle efforts very green.
For 2020, the Kona Electric gets a battery warmer that includes a Winter Mode to “minimize battery losses due to low winter temperatures,” according to the automaker. And those who opt for the top Ultimate version get a 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
At all trim levels you also get full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which isn’t included in Teslas. The Kona Electric remains eligible for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit that Tesla buyers no longer have access to. Availability remains a sore point for the Kona Electric, though because it’s only offered in California and states that adhere to Golden State’s EV mandate.
2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV charging at Electrify America site, Kelso, Washington
Chevrolet Bolt EV
Efficiency: 118 MPGe
Range: 259 miles
Starting price: $37,495
The Chevy Bolt EV was the first long-range electric vehicle entry in the U.S. outside of Tesla when it arrived for the 2017 model year. Today, the 2020 Bolt EV continues to offer some of the best efficiency and the longest range among models costing less than $40,000.
The 2020 model year brought a battery boost to 66 kwh, up from the previous 60 kwh, which boosted the Bolt EV’s range to 259 miles from 238 miles in 2019 and earlier years. Via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, Bolt EV drivers can tap into Energy Assist functionality on the vehicle’s screen—with dynamic charging-station data and help with route-planning based on the real-time available range of the car.
2020 Kia Niro EV
Kia Niro EV
Efficiency: 112 MPGe
Range: 239 miles
Starting price: $40,210
The 2020 Kia Niro EV doesn’t quite add up to the value of its cousin, the Hyundai Kona Electric, and it doesn’t offer a driving range quite as good but the Niro EV is a little larger with a somewhat more spacious interior and more robust feature set.
The Niro EV earns an EPA-rated 239 miles from its 64-kwh battery pack. But due to some features offered on this model, you’re more likely to get the advertised range year round. Most non-California Niro EVs (and some in that state, even) will come with a $1,000 Cold Weather Package that includes a heat pump and battery heater—both serious efficiency aids for keeping range and efficiency up on cold days. Charging is relatively quick, too; according to Kia it can recover 100 miles of range in 30 minutes on DC fast-charging hardware capable of delivering 100 kw.
2020 Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S
Efficiency: 111 MPGe
Range: 373 miles
Starting price: $81,190
The Tesla Model S is the one that started it all: the electric car that proved nearly a decade ago to an entrenched auto industry that a high-performance, long-range battery-electric sedan was feasible. And it speaks to how the Model S was ahead of its time because it continues much in the same form today, but with a series of incremental improvements along the way that have boosted its range and efficiency.
That, and, well, the Ludicrous Mode performance that you’ve probably heard of.
Officially, the EPA lists the range of the Model S as 373 miles, although recently its range has been boosted again, to 391 miles. Before the update the Model S delivered 111 MPGe, so with another 18 miles out of that charge it’s doing even better on the green scale.