Electric vehicles in 2023

I’m a pretty unabashed fan of battery electric vehicles.

Well, I am slightly abashed in the fact that I feel like it’d be much better if mass transit were more accessible in more places, and even the most efficient BEV still has some pretty severe ecological issues associated with them (lithium refinement, impact of manufacturing the vehicle itself, parking space, road space, externalities of power production, etc.), but as a form of harm reduction in the society that we are stuck in within the vast majority of the continental US, they’re still way better than internal combustion engine cars, for those whose lifestyles require a car and can accommodate the (vanishing) limitations of a BEV. Even in areas where most electricity is generated by fossil fuels, the environmental impact of charging a BEV (with emissions generated in a centralized location) is much lower than the impact of carrying a little inefficient fossil fuel combustion source everywhere you go.

So, BEVs are an improvement. The thing is, the state of BEVs is pretty abysmal in general, at least in North America. In other parts of the world there’s some pretty compelling vehicles available (such as the MG4) but the US auto market is currently emphasizing large “crossover SUVs” and pickup trucks, and combined with the fascination of maximizing the car’s range, most BEVs coming out here are forced into a situation of having a gigantic battery, raising the overall vehicle price, and therefore meaning that every electric vehicle ends up being some ultra high-end luxury car.

Update (1/16/2023): Added some stuff about the Hyundai/Kia duality that I’d missed previously. Also a change of opinion on the EV6.

Background

A year ago I traded in my Mazda3 for a 2018 Nissan LEAF SL, which has been a better fit for my needs. It has sufficient cargo capacity for most of the things I do with a car, the range (realistically around 100 miles per charge) is more than enough for 99% of my driving (short trips in town and then occasionally recharging at home overnight), and for the remaining 1%, the DC fast charging infrastructure in the Seattle area is Good Enough™.

But there’s a few things to dislike about the LEAF, as well! Not enough for me to consider replacing the car just yet, but enough for me to keep my eye on what’s coming soon. In particular, here’s the downsides I’ve realized over the past year:

  • The A-pillars are placed just right to make it difficult to see pedestrians who are getting ready to cross the street in a lot of situations
  • The DC fast charging is limited to 50kW, so it takes around an hour to charge to 80%
  • The DC fast charging is CHAdeMO, which is an older standard that’s getting more and more rare (and I’ve run into situations where CCS folks at fast-charging stations end up blocking the one CHAdeMO port because of crappy station design and a lack of general understanding about the charge standards)
  • The shape of the cargo space is pretty awkward due to a big hump in back for the audio system’s amplifier
  • And only 100 miles of effective range is pretty limiting (although usually not an issue for me)

There’s also a handful of “creature comforts” that are missing in the LEAF; for example, the Mazda3 had automatic windshield wipers (which is really nice to have with the sporadic rain that Seattle is so famous for), and I got really used to having doors which automatically lock when I walk away from the car. These are pretty minor features, but still worth mentioning.

Affordable, functional vehicles

These are the BEVs that I am the most interested in, not necessarily for myself but for what they represent in terms of the next wave of affordability and ecological harm reduction.

Note that I’m just going based on high-level specs and not doing into deep details about things like charging speeds and the like, since I’m mostly focused on the everyday car experience and not road trips.

Nissan LEAF

The old stalwart EV that made EVs accessible to the general public. The first generation was ugly and had terrible range, and that’s given them a really bad reputation, but overall they’re pretty good vehicles! They have decent cargo capacity (23.6cu.ft. with the seats up, 30 with them down), they’re plenty fast, and in the current trim levels they have a choice of 149 or 212 miles of range — not phenomenal, but way more than enough for a daily driver, and for limited roadtrips. The higher trims also have pretty decent level 2 self-driving; I haven’t tried ProPILOT 2, but the original ProPILOT on my 2018 LEAF is pretty darn good most of the time (and doesn’t fill me with false confidence about its capabilities) and supposedly ProPILOT 2 does a better job of handling more situations.

The price is right, too, starting at $20,450 (after tax credit) for the lowest specification level, and maxing out at $29,750 (also after tax credit). Even without the tax credit, the highest most-tricked-out LEAF is $38,385, still making it less expensive than the starting price on most BEVs out there.

But I can’t overstate how unfortunate it is that Nissan is refusing to update them with CCS (there are some interesting hobbyist projects to convert a LEAF to CCS, at least, which might eventually lead to some commercial products — there’s already a CCS conversion shop in the Netherlands, for that matter), and it seems like Nissan is in the process of phasing the LEAF out entirely.

Unfortunately, their replacement car, the Ariya, isn’t nearly as compelling to me, but more on that later.

Chevy Bolt EV/EUV

Chevy Bolt has been an unsung underdog of BEVs in North America. They are solid, reliable workhorse cars, and there’s a lot to like about them. Decent acceleration (similar to the LEAF), amazing range (259 miles), and a price to match, starting at $25,600 before the tax credit (as low as $18,100 after), making it even cheaper than the LEAF. Fully specced-out it runs $31,260 before tax credit, as well, so the most expensive Bolt is around the same price as the average LEAF.

It also comes with free installation of a 240V charging port in your garage/carport, which normally costs around $1,000, and gives you faster L2 plugging at home.

Its cargo capacity is pretty great, too. With the rear seats up, it only gets 16 cubic feet of storage (less than the LEAF), but with them down, it gets a whopping 57, somehow.

The key downsides: it only supports 50kW fast charging (although at least it’s CCS!), and this is subjective but to me it looks like an ugly chonker.

The Bolt EUV adds a few thousand dollars to the price, decreases the range a little, but increases the cargo space by some amount (although I’m having difficulty finding actual numbers). Also it looks a lot less silly and more like an actual car from the real world. It seems like a fine choice. It’s basically just a differently-styled version of the Bolt EV and is also actually what I’d consider “affordable,” and that makes it a very compelling choice.

That 50kW fast-charging limitation sure is unfortunate, though. I hope Chevrolet improves upon that in the future.

Chevrolet Equinox EV

This is similar to the Bolt EUV, with more cargo capacity and a full SUV form factor. 300 miles of range and presumably faster charging than the Bolt (although Chevrolet is being coy about the details there) makes it a great all-around vehicle for most anyone. Its estimated starting price will be around $30,000, making it one of the more affordable EVs as well. Seems like it’ll be a good one to look into when more information is available, although it isn’t coming until late 2023 (for the 2024 model year).

Apparently it’s planned to support up to 150kW charging, which is certainly fast enough for a road trip.

Less-interesting vehicles

These are vehicles which might appeal to other people, but which aren’t something I’d be likely to buy given the choice. But they’re still worth keeping note of, especially as a future used vehicle. (Really, you should only buy used anyway.)

Nissan Ariya

I am still a pretty big fan of the LEAF, even with its flaws. I was therefore very interested in the Ariya as well, but there’s a lot that I dislike about it. It’s big, it focuses way too much on upmarket “luxury” features that actually make the driving experience worse (like the use of capacitive/haptic buttons instead of actual buttons you can press), and for some reason they removed one-pedal driving. Why would they do that?

The price is pretty okay. Around $43K for 216 miles of range, $47K for 304 miles and the addition of ProPILOT, maxes out at around $60K which is pretty decent for a luxury-class vehicle.

It seems like a fine car and a good value for its price range. But it doesn’t excite me as an everyday car for everyday people.

I was hoping for a successor to the LEAF, but with more cargo space and faster CCS charging. Instead, Nissan’s focused on an upmarket vehicle. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just not for me. And that’s okay.

Hyundai Ioniq 5

The Hyundai Ioniq 5 is yet another car in the midrange SUV-crossover market. This would probably be great as a family car. 220 miles of range at $41,450 and 303 miles at $45,500, up to 350kW DC fast charging (is that even available anywhere?), and it looks like A Car. I like the cargo characteristics (27.2 cu.ft with seats up, 59.3 with them down), and it also has a (fairly small) frunk, giving you a bit more storage space for jumper cables or a first-aid kit or the like.

This feels in every way like an electric version of the Toyota Matrix (although maybe a little bit taller), which is probably my favorite of any car that I’ve owned. I just wish it were a bit more affordable. Being over $40K for the no-frills version still makes it out of reach for a lot of people. It’ll be a lot more compelling as a used purchase in a few years after resale prices (hopefully) come down.

For what it’s worth, Alec Watson used to constantly sing the Chevy Bolt’s praises, but he has more recently switched to the Ioniq 5, and he seems to like it a lot.

Hyundai Kona Electric

This compact crossover mostly ticks all the right notes for me, in general. It looks like A Car. It has decent (but not breathtaking) performance, with more than enough acceleration for real-world use (even if it’s a bit slower than the LEAF or Bolt). It has around 250 miles of range, it supports 100kW charging (which is decent enough), and it has plenty of cargo space (a bit more than the Chevy Bolt).

The price is also reasonable, starting at $33,500, although it isn’t eligible for the new tax credit.

It’s basically an Ioniq 5 but closer to an SUV and more conventional-looking.

It might be worth looking at in a few years when there’s more on the used market.

Kia EV6

Supposedly the EV6 is pretty much the same car as the Ioniq 5, with some slight spec changes and a sportier look. I like it, visually. It also has some pretty nice specs, although from a practical standpoint it doesn’t seem like it’s all that necessary for a consumer vehicle to be that fast-accelerating.

Update (1/16/23): I just saw one in person for the first time and holy cow is it ugly in the real world. What looks good on a computer screen doesn’t necessarily translate to meatspace.

The main reason I’m not terribly interested in this one is because of the price. Namely, it starts at $48,700, and doesn’t qualify for the tax credit. It’s a nice choice for someone who wants to spend a lot on a car. It’s not an accessible vehicle for the general public.

So like the Ioniq 5 and Niro EV, this would be worth keeping an eye on as a used purchase in a few yaers.

Kia Niro EV

The Niro is to the Kona as the EV6 is to the Ioniq 5. More expensive, more angular design, somewhat better specs, higher price.

Like the Kona, it isn’t eligible for the new tax credit, as it’s not assembled in the US. So, it’s yet another entry in the crowded midrange crossover SUV market.

It’s more capable than the Bolt EUV though, so that puts it on the list of “used cars to look out for.” I’d still prefer the Kona, though.

Ford F150 Lightning

If I were in the market for a gigantic pickup truck I’d be into this one, but holy crap I am not in the market for a gigantic pickup truck. I’d much rather see them electrify a “compact” truck like the Maverick (which is still huge compared to how pickup trucks used to be). Hopefully they expand their line as time goes on; Ford have shown that they really get it with EVs in general (the Mustang Mach-E also being a fine vehicle) and I hope that their two flagship EVs are just them testing the waters while the market materializes.

Chevrolet Blazer EV

Capability-wise it seems like it will be similar to the Equinox while costing 50% more. Still, at $45K it’s a much better value than most of the similarly-priced EVs on the market now. Personally I’d be much more interested in the Equinox just due to the market segment, but I can definitely see some car enthusiasts being much more interested in the Blazer (what with its slightly higher range and its much faster acceleration).

So, like all of the semi-interesting SUV-ish cars in the $40K-ish price range, this is one to look for used in a few years.

Disappointments

Here’s a bunch of vehicles that I was very interested in at one point but which I have fallen out of love with.

Fiat 500e

This vehicle in its mass-market form isn’t coming until 2024. I’ve had the opportunity to ride in Spud’s imported “California Compliance” 500e from a few years ago, which was a fairly cramped ultra-tiny thing with poor range (84 miles!) and electrical issues. At 5'7" I’m not a particularly big person and even then I felt like I barely fit inside.

There aren’t a lot of public details yet. Presumably it’ll still be ultra-tiny (because it’s a Fiat 500) but it’ll also hopefully support CCS charging and have a decent range. Car and Driver estimates that the new 500e will cost around $40,000 (stretching the definition of “affordable”) and have a range around 160 miles.

To me, that makes it not worth it compared to other options in its price and size class, and certainly not worth it compared to the LEAF or Bolt, even with their charging limitations. The only reason to think about this one is if you live in a place where you absolutely cannot fit a larger vehicle but also absolutely need a car.

Mini Cooper SE

114 miles of range, 50kW charging, tiny and cramped, starts at around $35K. At least it’s probably a better choice than the Fiat 500e.

Hyundai Ioniq 6

The Hyundai Ioniq 6 is an interesting vehicle. From a distance it looks like a sedan. I mean, it has four doors and a trunk.

But gosh, it sure is shaped like a crossover SUV.

Basically, it seems like a crossover SUV that had its liftgate turned into a trunk flap, making it a sort of worst-of-both-worlds situation.

Even then, I was still interested in this car (thinking of it as my hypothetical next vehicle, even!) until Doug DeMuro’s overview.

It’s estimated to cost $45,000, and to have a range of 350 miles. Compare this to the Ioniq 5 which costs $42,000 and has a range of 303 miles. I suspect that in production, the 6 will truly just be a 5 with different styling, slightly more battery, and way less cargo space.

You’re getting an oversized midmarket sedan for crossover SUV prices.

And it’s still too expensive for most people.

Mazda MX-30

Mazda has disappointed me with their adoption of EVs.

I absolutely loved driving my Mazda3 and I felt like Mazda really had their act together when it came to the design of a vehicle, making it fun to drive and practical at the same time, while also having a great infotainment system setup (podcast bug notwithstanding). They deservedly have a lot of fans when it comes to their ICE vehicles.

But the MX-30 is clearly just a California compliance vehicle which they don’t actually care about at all. Ars Technica wrote a scathing review of the 2022 MX-30, and it hasn’t changed at all since then. 100 miles of range, extremely limited cargo space, and a compact crossover SUV body. It’s less a car designed to be electric and more just a badly-refit CX-30.

It’s also only available in California, in very limited quantities (560 in all — literally just enough to comply with California emissions laws).

Significantly more expensive than the LEAF, but substantially worse in every way.

Hopefully this is just a short-term experiment and Mazda will return to form for 2024.

Toyota bZ4X

Toyota was all-in on hydrogen fuel cells, and they’re playing catch-up now.

The bZ4X doesn’t wow me. It’s yet another oversized “crossover SUV” with paltry specs and an awful design and a middle-of-the-road price. It feels like a prototype for their future EV efforts and not a serious contender for a car to buy now.

Volkswagen ID. Buzz

On the note of terrible controls causing problems, that’s the single biggest problem with the ID. Buzz. I really wanted to like this vehicle, but they’ve gone all-in on making the UX confusing and downright dangerous. In this case it isn’t even just that they use capacitive controls, but that they’re also hidden behind many complicated, convoluted, unintuitive layers of menus in their infotainment system.

The problem is so bad that this AutoTrader review had a whole section dedicated to how difficult it was to work the air conditioner!

It’s also not very efficient as an EV goes; it gets 1.6 miles per kWh, which is pathetic. For comparison, my LEAF gets 5-6 m/kWh if I’m driving conservatively, and 4 if I’m driving like a normal person, and even the F-150 Lightning averages 2 m/kWh!

Plus, I have plenty of reasons to categorically dislike VW as a company. For example, they own and operate Electrify America, the most common fast-charging network in many parts of the country. They only did so because the US government made them as punishment for their big diesel emissions scandal. Even then they have set up their EA stations specifically to benefit VW vehicles, and purposefully make the charging situation terrible for LEAF owners (who were their biggest competition when EA started); in parituclar, they only do the absolute bare-minimum CHAdeMO support, they’re awful about maintaining the CHAdeMO ports, and they’ve also set up the stations in such a way that if a CCS user is in the second stall, they prevent the CHAdeMO port in the first stall from even working!

Also, given my brief experience owning a 2008 New Beetle, and how questionable some of the electrical faults in my family’s 1985 Jetta were, I’m not particularly interested in owning a VW ever again, especially for a vehicle that’s fully electric.

Trendy tech press darlings

Canoo

I really like what Canoo is doing, but what they’re doing is relevant to commercial vehicles. I love that they’re building vehicles for delivery fleets and passenger shuttles and food trucks. I don’t think their technology will ever be applicable to individual passenger vehicles. And that’s totally okay!

Rivian

The R1T (truck) and R1S (SUV) are both interesting vehicles, but they’re very much targeting the “tech enthusiast” market. It’s kind of silly but the big turn-off for me is that they don’t have support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Otherwise they seem like pretty decent vehicles.

They also seem pretty interesting in the commerical space; their Amazon delivery fleet vehicles seem really cool for that market segment. I think they have a hit there, and that also leads to some other interesting possibilities, like commuter buses. I just don’t see them being successful in the consumer market in the long term, and that’s okay!

Apparently Rivian the company has some Issues, though.

Tesla

  • You already know about them
  • Anyone who doesn’t know about them is going to be made aware of them anyway
  • They’re overpriced and full of proprietary nonsense
  • Fuck Elon Musk

Summary

If I absolutely had to buy a new vehicle today, I’d probably get the Bolt EUV. (Thankfully, I don’t.)

I think my favorites from the above are the Equinox and the Bolt EUV. Basically, I feel like Chevrolet are making good choices in targeting the lower end of the market. More manufacturers should be doing this.

But all that said, I’d much rather we have good mass transit infrastructure. Owning and operating an individual passenger car shouldn’t be necessary for survival for the vast majority of the United States.

Comments

Before commenting, please read the comment policy.

Avatars provided via Libravatar