The 16 Plug-In Electric Cars You Can Buy (Or Can't) For 2014

March 25

Electric cars may still seem futuristic, but there are actually 16 different plug-in models you can buy today.

Availability depends a lot on where you live, though. Several of them are so-called compliance cars, offered only in California and a handful of other locations to meet that state's requirements for sales of zero-emission vehicles.

Others are more widely distributed, but are very low-volume, selling only a couple of hundred a month--or less.

Here's our rundown of all the plug-in electric cars you can buy today, both battery electric ("pure electric" cars) and plug-in hybrids (which have both the ability to run on battery power alone and an engine to provide more power and extend their range).

We've broken them into categories so you can understand which apply to you and may be available in your area.

HIGH-VOLUME

These six cars--two battery electrics, and four with both battery packs and combustion engines--represent the bulk of plug-in car sales in the U.S. this year. All of them have fairly wide distribution, and five of the six are from established carmakers.

But they differ enormously in size, range, body style, and personality. Here's our breakdown of stats and assessments.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

The range-extended electric Chevy Volt will do all of its first 35 or so miles on electricity from its battery, then switch to its range extender--essentially a gasoline engine that turns a generator to power the electric motor that turns the front wheels--for another 300 miles or so.

2014 Ford C-Max Energi

One of Ford's two Energi plug-in hybrids using identical powertrains, the C-Max Energi is a five-door compact hatchback that's built on many of the same underpinnings as the popular Focus compact sedan and hatchback.

2014 Ford Fusion Energi

One of three plug-in hybrids that look little different from their hybrid or gasoline counterparts, the Fusion Energi shares both its powertrain and the longest rated range with the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid hatchback.

2014 Nissan Leaf

The distinctive Leaf is the world's best-selling electric car, with more than 100,000 delivered as of early this year. Nissan has placed a bigger bet on battery electric cars than any other established automaker, and seems determined to make the Leaf work--though there have been hiccups aplenty in the process.

2014 Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S battery-electric luxury sport sedan is remarkable in any number of ways, from its performance (as low as 4.1 seconds from 0 to 60 mph) to the company's expanding network of DC fast-charging Supercharger locations that can recharge the car's battery to 80 percent in as little as 20 minutes. The Silicon Valley startup automaker has broken many rules of the auto industry, but it's succeeded in producing a car that's not just good but has won awards, delivered customer-satisfaction scores as high as any Consumer Reports had seen, and generally shaken up the global auto industry.

2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

When it went on sale in February 2012, the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid was the only competitor for the Chevy Volt. Both cars plugged in to run on battery power, with an engine to back up the battery and add range once it was depleted. The trusted Prius hybrid brand (and access to California's carpool lanes) gave it a boost early on, but with many more plug-in hybrids on the market now--every one of them with more electric range--its sales appear to have plateaued lately.

Finally, we get to six vehicles that for various reasons sell only in low volumes. Some are pricey, some are in segments that normally see only low sales, and all of them are running at just 200 sales per month--and in some cases, considerably less.

LOW-VOLUME

2014 Cadillac ELR (above)

Launched only in December, the mission of the Cadillac ELR range-extended luxury coupe was to use GM's Voltec powertrain (as in the Chevy Volt) in an upscale, more luxurious vehicle that would give Cadillac a plug-in to compete with models coming from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and other luxury brands. But while the striking coupe design is luxurious and quiet inside, it's neither powerful nor revolutionary--and most reviewers felt it falls far short of its high price.

2014 Ford Focus Electric

After the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric was the third plug-in car from a global maker to go on sale, way back in late 2011. But its sales have been minimal, and Ford itself has said it doesn't expect the car to succeed--a puzzling message given that the company brags that it can build the electric Focus on the same production lines as the gasoline versions.

2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid

The latest generation of the Honda Accord, which debuted for 2013, has been well received--and it adds two new models, both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. The latter is sold only in small numbers, through the same Honda dealers who sell the Fit EV battery-electric hatchback.

2014 Misubishi i-MiEV (late spring)

Before the Nissan Leaf arrived in December 2010, the i-MiEV electric minicar was the world's most popular electric car, based on its sales in Japan and Europe. It came to the States after extensive revisions to meet North American safety standards, but the little five-door hatchback is likely perceived as just too small for most buyers--although it has a surprising amount of room inside for its length. The 2014 model will go on sale late this spring, following a one-year hiatus in i-MiEV sales after the 2012 model year.

2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

The first plug-in hybrid sedan from a prestige German brand, the E-Hybrid model of Porsche's Panamera four-door sport sedan arrived in December and set a brisk sales pace for its class. The EPA still hasn't released ratings for either electric range or gas mileage, but the appeal of a practical Porsche that plugs in seems to have persuaded almost 250 buyers to write checks in just three months.

2014 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (coupe and cabrio)

The Smart is small and cute, but the gasoline version is unpleasant to drive, with an automated manual transmission that shifts hard and rough, pitching the car back and forth as it accelerates. The electric powertrain dispenses with all that, making the car smooth, quieter, and far more peaceful. The base vehicle dates back to the late 1990s, however, and it shows its age in several ways--but if you need easy parking on big-city streets and can recharge at night, it's good as an urban street warrior.

'COMPLIANCE CARS'

Finally, there are also four additional battery-electric vehicles on sale, at least in very specific parts of the U.S.

They're what's known as compliance cars, or vehicles built solely to meet a California mandate that the six highest-volume automakers in the state put a certain number of vehicles with no tailpipe emissions at all on the road every year.

They're sold in California and often in eight other states that have adopted the Golden State's stricter emission laws, but they're essentially unknown in the rest of the country.

The four vehicles are:

They're covered in much greater detail today on Green Car Reports, which looks at how they're doing and what the future of these low-volume limited-availability cars may be.

But the diverse range of plug-in electric vehicles now offered in at least parts of the U.S. means that drivers have more options in alternate powertrains than ever before.

What factors would get you to buy--or keep you away from--a plug-in car, whether it's a battery-electric like the Nissan Leaf or a plug-in hybrid from Chevy, Ford, Honda, or Toyota?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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(c) 2014, High Gear Media.

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