You probably think electric cars are for tree-huggers who wear sensible shoes, eat organic root vegetables and recycle their used bath water. Have you driven an electric car lately? The latest crop — we’re talking full plug-in, not gas/electric hybrids — are screamers. They’ll pin you back in the driver’s seat with acceleration that matches all but the hottest high-end sports cars. And they’ll do it while delivering the equivalent of more than 100 mpg, meaning you’ll spend 50 to 75 percent less on fuel. As consumer demand grows, automakers are ramping up production. While still a tiny proportion of overall vehicle sales (between 1 and 2 percent), EVs posted an 81 percent sales jump in the United States in 2018, with about 361,000 leaving showrooms. We drove three recently — alas, not a Tesla, which couldn’t make a test vehicle available. But Tesla’s not the only game in town anymore.
Price: Starts around $10,000. Range: 30 to 100 miles, based on battery type.
The hometown favorite. Born in Fargo and now made by Medina-based Polaris Industries, the GEM is often described as a golf cart on steroids. But that’s underselling the sophistication of this little runabout, which boasts rack-and-pinion steering, a backup camera and disc brakes. GEMs have many of the safety features found on mainstream cars and are street legal in most states on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. GEMs come in a range of configurations. The performance is peppy but not nearly on the level of the other EVs we drove. More than a golf cart and less than a car, the GEM does its own thing as a funky, simple, sensible little errand-runner that won’t give you much trouble.
Price: Starts around $37,000. Range: 238 miles.
This compact hatchback is solid and comfortable, yet handles like a sports car. The Bolt feels bigger than it is with plenty of passenger room, even in back, and generous cargo space. On the road, it impresses with stellar performance. Punching the throttle summons a quiet whir and a smooth surge of power. You won’t feel nervous about changing lanes or merging onto the highway. There’s no power lag, even at speed. When you hit the accelerator, the Bolt responds instantly. Brightly colored electronic displays let you monitor power, range and performance. Right now, General Motors can’t make enough to keep up with demand. Expect to pay full price and expect to be pleasantly surprised at what you get.
Price: Starts around $70,000. Range: 234 miles.
The engineers thought of everything when they designed this luxury hatchback, even down to the sounds. Unlike the other EVs we drove, the all-electric I-PACE emits a soft growl under acceleration that sounds like a gas-powered sports car. The subtle touch goes well with the leather seats, giant moon roof, cavernous cargo bay and supercool flush door handles that pop out when you hit the key fob. It’s smooth and stable on the highway, with an aluminum frame and air suspension that soak up annoying pavement bumps. The instrument panel has enough bells and whistles to satisfy the most devoted techie. And it goes like a bat when you hit the gas — er, throttle. If you’re into British luxury, this should be on your list.