The Car Connection's Greenest Cars of 2021

January 15, 2021

If you want to make the lightest impact on the planet—and on the air you and your neighbors breathe—it’s time to bypass hybrids and diesels and even lose the economy-car stereotypes of the past. 

Think charging ports, not gas stations. Electric motors are already fundamentally cleaner and more efficient than gasoline vehicles, and when you factor in how rapidly the American grid is cleaning up with more sustainable energy in the mix, electric cars will keep getting cleaner with each year of ownership.

The look of the greenest cars has changed notably in the past several years, and so has the performance of the green set. The Tesla Model 3, which takes the top spot on the list, for instance, has a Performance version that offers a top speed of 162 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 3.1 seconds, while still returning 315 miles from a charge. 

The EPA rates efficiency of electric cars with a unit called MPG equivalent, denoted MPGe, based around the energy content of 33.705 kwh in a gallon of gas. While the term is misleading and it’s not a way to compare EVs to gasoline models, it serves as an eye-opening starting point for seeing how much more efficient every electric vehicle is. 

For this list, we started by looking for models that have achieved a score of 10 out of 10 in our Green category—meaning they have a tailpipe-emissions-free mode that lasts at least 200 miles of rated range. 

From that, here are the five models that earn a top score of 10 and have the best rated efficiency within that group. 

Tesla Model 3
Efficiency: Up to 141 MPGe
Range: Up to 353 miles
Starting price: $38,190

The Model 3 is the one that opened America (and Europe, and China) up to Tesla as more than a niche automaker. As a sporty electric sedan, the Model 3 shows that all-electric cars can outperform traditional gasoline models.

Some love the simplicity of the layout inside, with a single 15.4-inch touchscreen and a nearly flat menu system controlling almost everything—even the adjustment of the air vents. On the other hand, others can’t get past how the Model 3 really doesn’t feel so premium inside, despite a price that’s on the same level as German sport sedans. 

The Long Range AWD version of the Model 3 now achieves 353 miles of range and an excellent EPA-rated 134 MPGe, while the rear-wheel-drive Standard Range Plus version goes 263 miles and earns 141 MPGe.

Tesla Model Y
Efficiency: Up to 125 MPGe
Range: Up to 326 miles
Starting price: $43,190

The Model Y shares much with the Model 3, which is a good thing, while adding a few inches of cabin height to arrive at the crossover shape that many American families want. An available tow hitch and a very tight-looking third row are on the options list—as is Tesla’s ever-evolving (and ever-improving) Full Self Driving package. 

With Tesla’s efficiency know-how, the Model Y achieves the best efficiency of any crossover utility model—far better than the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and its 100 MPGe,

Available only in dual-motor all-wheel-drive versions so far, it also achieves an impressive 326 miles of range in Long Range form. Factor in the convenience of Tesla’s available Supercharger fast-charging network for weekend road trips, and this is the most family-friendly of our top green vehicles. 

Hyundai Kona Electric
Efficiency: 120 MPGe
Range: 258 miles
Starting price: $38,565

The front-wheel-drive Hyundai Kona Electric is an ideal city car in many respects. It has just a little more ride height than other compact cars; it can fit passengers and cargo better than you might expect for the size; and with great sightlines and peppy, quiet performance, it’s a joy to drive in a congested urban commute. The Kona Electric’s control layout is simple to use but advanced in capability, with flawless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a familiar interface. 

Unlike Tesla models (or those from GM), the Kona Electric is eligible for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit—which brings the bottom-line price down to about $31,000 before any other incentives that might apply. Just steer away from top Ultimate models as they’re less of a bargain. 

Hyundai only sells its EVs in states that adhere to California’s ZEV mandate: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Chevrolet Bolt EV
Efficiency: Up to 118 MPGe
Range: Up to 259 miles
Starting price: $37,495

When it arrived for 2017, the front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Bolt EV was the first long-range EV that wasn’t from Tesla. Four years later, after the arrival of many other EVs, the Bolt still stands as having one of the longest non-Tesla ranges on the market as well as strong efficiency numbers. 

Last year brought some improvements to the Bolt EV, including a boost to 259 miles of range through a battery upgrade. The Bolt EV parks in a subcompact space, yet its tall roof and well-designed interior feel a size larger inside—wel, in all respects except for the skimpy seat cushioning. Otherwise, the Bolt EV rides and handles with a sophistication beyond what you’d expect for a green machine. 

Kia Niro EV
Efficiency: 112 MPGe
Range: 239 miles
Starting price: $37,495

The Kia Niro EV really covers all the basis for practicality. There’s a spacious cabin, a versatile layout, and a strong feature set that can be optioned to include things that make an electric car usable (and still efficient) in cold weather: a heat pump, a battery heater, and a heated steering wheel. The Niro EV has front-wheel drive; no AWD version is available. 

Overall, the Kona Electric feels straightforward and space-efficient, with excellent infotainment systems and no features missing that you might expect to see in a mainstream-brand model. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well, and adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and even rear-seat heat ducts are included.

Niro EV buyers are eligible for the full $7,500 EV tax credit. Kia only sells the Niro EV in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Texas, and Washington.

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