Jeff XuCar and Driver
The electric revolution hasn’t arrived with the ferocity predicted by futurists the world over, but we’re still seeing some pretty big leaps in range, performance, and style with the introduction of each new electric vehicle. It’s a promising sign of things to come, and one that gives shoppers a wide variety of choices. All of the best EVs provide enough range for use as a daily driver while offering features and technology that didn’t even exist a few years ago. It’s an exciting new segment in the automotive industry, and the list below highlights our top picks for the best hybrids, the best plug-in hybrids, and the best pure EVs available for 2021.
Those who are interested in the best EVs and hybrids from 2020 can refer to last year’s list.
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Hyundai Kona Electric
To compete with the growing number of electric vehicles hitting the market, Hyundai has swapped the Kona SUV’s gasoline engine for an electric motor and battery pack to create the 2021 Kona Electric. The swap has resulted in a compelling electric vehicle, with an engaging driving character, zippy performance, and up to 258 miles of all-electric driving range. Styling differences include a unique grille and wheels, but the Kona Electric’s unique looks still turns heads like the regular version. Rival EVs such as the Chevrolet Bolt, the Tesla Model 3, and Kia Niro EV offer similar functionality, but the Hyundai’s starting price and unbeatable warranty makes it one of the smarter choices in the segment.
Chevy Bolt EV
The 2021 Chevy Bolt EV isn’t as interesting as the Hyundai Kona Electric or as sexy as the Tesla Model 3, but its smooth ride, roomy cabin, and popular standard features make it an appealing option to mainstream-brand shoppers. The Chevy has an EPA driving range of 259 miles, which is nothing to sneeze at, and its fast-charging capability allows it to replenish up to 100 miles of range in 30 minutes. Sure, the Bolt’s design borders on dorky, and its interior quality doesn’t qualify as premium despite a starting price close to $40,000 (before federal tax credits), but its electric motor sends 266 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels, providing zippy acceleration. We also appreciate its one-pedal driving and satisfying-to-use hand-brake function.
The 2021 Honda Insight is a hybrid with great fuel economy that looks and drives mostly like a conventional compact sedan. It shares many components with the popular Honda Civic sedan, and delivers a similarly pleasant driving experience and roomy, practical interior. The crucial difference is the Insight’s combination of a gasoline engine and electric motors, which supply power in a non-traditional way in the name of efficiency. The hybrid system is seamless during everyday driving but can occasionally be noisy when accelerating hard. But the Insight’s minimal price premium over the Civic and superb fuel economy make it a smart buy.
The 2021 Toyota Corolla continues its tradition of being an inexpensive, safety-minded, and well-equipped compact car. Available as either a four-door hatchback or sedan, the little Toyota offers a variety of personalities. Both body styles feature a pair of dutiful four-cylinder engines, and they’re also offered with an extremely frugal hybrid powertrain. For folks who appreciate driving engagement, the Corolla can be had with a manual transmission and a sport-tuned suspension. However, it’s still less exciting than most of its competitors, such as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. While the hatch has a tiny back seat, it shares desirable features and an attractive cabin design with the sedan. The 2021 Corolla isn’t the most exciting small car, but it’s still an efficient and stylish choice.
Hyundai is becoming increasingly known for daring designs, and the company’s compact sedan, the 2021 Elantra, is the latest to receive a bold new look. The new Elantra sports angular exterior details and an upscale cabin, both of which are intended to pull focus away from the segment’s heavy hitters—namely the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Sentra. The standard powertrain is a 147-hp four-cylinder but Hyundai also offers a 201-hp turbocharged N Line model and an available hybrid powertrain. A host of driver-assistance features are standard, with even more advanced tech offered as options.
The 2021 Hyundai Ioniq isn’t flashy or exciting. Instead, the small hatchback offers hybrid and plug-in-hybrid powertrains that prioritize efficiency. The Ioniq also looks like a normal car, which is a departure from extroverted—some would say weird-looking—alternatives such as the Toyota Prius. While the Toyota hybrid is renowned for its gas-sipping efficiency, the hybrid Hyundai actually has better EPA fuel-economy ratings, especially on the highway (up to 59 mpg versus the Prius’ 53). However, the plug-in hybrid version of the Ioniq is less efficient than the plug-in Prius Prime. Along with a handsome interior as well as a competitive roster of driver assists and infotainment features, the 2021 Ioniq does a great job of sipping fuel while shipping people. Just don’t expect it to raise any pulses.
In the shrinking segment of family sedans there are still some great cars to choose from, but one stands above the rest for its impeccable driving dynamics, practical interior, and value: the 2021 Honda Accord. So impressed are we with the Accord that it’s become a nearly permanent fixture on our annual 10Best list and it finds itself there again for 2021. Buyers can choose from two turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains; there’s also a fuel-sipping hybrid model available. No matter what engine powers the Accord, its handling is effortlessly balanced, which makes navigating twisty roads a joy and long highway journeys a pleasure. The Accord boasts a spacious trunk that will make grocery runs a snap and a back seat is commodious enough for two adults for long road trips. The roomy interior also easily accommodates multiple child seats for growing families.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata is a really good way to get attention while driving a family sedan. Its dramatic styling includes exaggerated proportions, a prominent grille, and a quirky design cue featuring a spear of bright trim that flows along the front fenders and into the headlights to create what designers call a “lighting signature.” Inside, the Sonata flaunts a sophisticated, attractive space loaded with upscale features and plenty of passenger room. While the Sonata isn’t quick or engaging to drive, it has a trio of efficient powertrains, including a hybrid option that has higher government fuel-economy ratings than the Toyota Camry hybrid. Still, the Hyundai is less about numbers and more about value, thanks to its affordable pricing and an impressive amount of content.
The Toyota Camry has gone from a fantastic family sedan to anonymous four-door and now back to its former glory. That’s right. The Toyota is once again a truly desirable option in a segment that’s slumping but still highly competitive. If it weren’t for the 10Best dynasty that is the Honda Accord, the Camry would be even more desirable. Still, credit its diverse powertrain platter for its mass appeal. There’s a thrifty four-cylinder, an even more frugal hybrid option, and a strong V-6. The best way to experience the latter is with the sport-tuned TRD model, which showcases the Toyota’s rediscovered fun factor. Those who simply prefer a stylish and comfy family sedan, with driver assists and popular features galore, will also adore the 2021 Camry.
If you’re seeking a compact SUV with impressive versatility, know that the 2021 Honda CR-V does just about everything well. The two-row Honda provides an attractive and spacious cabin bolstered by bountiful storage solutions that are perfect for pack rats and road trips. While neither of its four-cylinder powertrains—one turbocharged, one hybrid—are especially quick, both have notable fuel-economy ratings. Compared with the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan, the CR-V is less entertaining from behind the wheel, but it has a pleasant ride and never feels uncoordinated. It also comes equipped with myriad active-safety features and offers all manner of popular technology. These qualities and a sophisticated appearance make the 2021 CR-V one of the best compact SUVs for small families.
Full-electric and hybrid powertrains continue to spread rapidly throughout the automotive industry, so it’s no surprise that hybrid-car specialist Toyota offers a RAV4 Hybrid and plug-in hybrid RAV4 called the Prime. The Japanese automaker has applied the lessons learned from its Prius hybrid to its entry in the far trendier compact-SUV class. Based on the regular nonhybrid RAV4 (reviewed separately), the RAV4 Hybrid and Prime offer similar practicality and features with much better fuel efficiency and, in the case of the Prime, respectable electric-only driving range. These electrified Toyotas aren’t alone in the segment—hybrid versions of the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape, and the Mitsubishi Outlander are also available—but they are well-equipped to compete for your hard-earned dollar.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
The past and the future collide on the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, which is inspired by the automaker’s unmistakable pony car and powered exclusively by electricity. Although it shares a name and familiar styling cues with the Mustang, the all-electric crossover otherwise is completely unrelated. With two available battery sizes and either rear- or all-wheel drive, Ford says the Mach-E can provide up to 305 miles of driving range. Its five-passenger cabin is fitted with contemporary features and cutting-edge infotainment options as well as some unique cargo and storage solutions. While purists might call an electric Mustang crossover sacrilegious, Ford expects the name and design adaptation to increase interest and help sell a lot of copies of the 2021 Mach-E.
When it comes to hauling people and cargo, minivans are better than SUVs—a fact we wish more consumers would accept—and the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is our current favorite. The Pacifica is a thoughtfully designed, comfortable family van, and its eager driving dynamics are the icing on the cake. Both a regular V-6 engine and a plug-in hybrid powertrain are offered, and in our testing, each proved to be reasonably fuel efficient. The second and third rows fold completely flat to transform the Pacifica into a spacious cargo van, making it perfect for hauling bulky items. The Pacifica’s entry-level models were rebranded as the Voyager for 2020, so we review those bargain models separately.
The 2021 Audi e-tron and e-tron Sportback are all-electric luxury crossovers that straddle the line between the present and the future. While their battery-powered, all-wheel-drive powertrains deliver up to 222 miles of EPA estimated driving range and foreshadow the death of internal-combustion engines, their refined driving manners and serene interior spaces are similar to the non-electric Audi models currently occupying showrooms. These recognizable traits as well as their traditional exterior designs make the e-trons appear less revolutionary than luxury EV rivals such as the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X. Although the 2021 e-tron and e-tron Sportback have shorter driving ranges than the Jaguar or Tesla, Audi believes this more conservative approach will make the transition from traditional gas-fed models to all-electric vehicles easier for buyers.
With electric vehicles becoming more commonplace, the electron-fueled 2020 I-Pace adds some excitement to the mostly sedate segment. Its alluring exterior makes a statement that rivals don’t, while its interior supplies an excellent mix of luxury and technology. The all-electric Jaguar SUV accelerates with quiet gusto and actually manages to engage its driver with a surprising amount of athleticism. While every model has a claimed driving range of 253 miles and DC fast-charging capability, we found it hard to achieve that range and regular charging was on the slow side. Still, the 2020 I-Pace interrupts EV innovation in favor of making the species more desirable.
Supremely elegant and technologically advanced, the 2021 Volvo XC90 is one of the most desirable mid-size luxury crossovers. Volvo loves to promote its safety-conscious image and makes it real by packing its lone three-row SUV with copious standard driver assists. Along with tech-savvy features such as a fully digital gauge cluster and a tablet-like infotainment touchscreen, the XC90 offers a semi-autonomous drive mode. Although the Volvo isn’t very engaging from behind the wheel, especially compared with sportier rivals such as the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, it has one of the prettiest interiors in the game. A trio of four-cylinder engines is highlighted by a quick and potent 400-hp plug-in hybrid. However, the hybrid has a short all-electric range. Still, the 2021 XC90 is a perfectly splendid luxury vehicle with seating for up to seven.
The 2021 Jaguar I-Pace is a fascinating all-electric crossover that looks good and drives well. Its luxury designation and price will limit its mainstream popularity, but there’s no denying that the I-Pace’s futuristic facade captures the imagination. This ute boasts an EPA-rated range of 253 miles plus fast-charging capability and instantaneous acceleration. The I-Pace also handles more like a sports car than a five-seat crossover, with its controlled demeanor and tactile steering. Inside, the Jag shows off with cutting-edge design, ample passenger space, and popular features. Although it fell short of its claimed driving range in our real-world test and was slow to charge using a common outlet, the 2021 I-Pace proves that EVs can be electrifying in other ways.
Tesla Model 3
Among the more affordable options in the electric-vehicle marketplace, the 2021 Tesla Model 3 is, without doubt, the one with the most name recognition. It borrows some styling cues from the company’s Model S sedan and Model X SUV, but goes its own way with a unique interior design and an all-glass roof. Acceleration is quick, and the Model 3’s chassis is playful as well—especially the Performance model‘s, which receives a sportier suspension and a track driving mode. But EV buyers are more likely interested in driving range than speediness or handling, and the Model 3 delivers there too. The base model offers up to 263 miles of driving range according to the EPA, and the more expensive Long Range model can go up to 353 per charge.
Tesla Model S
Tesla’s Model S sedan was the first mass-market car to prove that electric vehicles could be fun-to-drive, eco-friendly, viable as everyday transportation, and even useable for long trips. The Model S does all that even better for 2021. Depending on which trim you choose, the Model S can travel between 390 and 520 miles on just one charge and deliver blistering acceleration performance that rivals some of the world’s best supercars. Tesla now sells more practical and more affordable models such as the Model Y SUV and the Model 3 sedan, but the Model S remains the flagship of the brand. Its interior is spacious for four adults but doesn’t live up to the luxury price tag. With increased pressure from rivals such as the Porsche Taycan and the upcoming Lucid Air, the 2021 Model S is no longer in a class of one, but for some buyers, the car’s athletic chassis, Ludicrous driving mode, and exceptional range are enough to sell them on the Tesla EV lifestyle.
The 2021 Porsche Taycan (pronounced tie-kahn) is a truly innovative electric vehicle, showcasing the high-performance potential of the species. As the first production EV with an 800-volt architecture and a multispeed transaxle, it sets new benchmarks in charging speeds and acceleration times. In fact, the top-of-the-line 750-hp Turbo S is among the quickest cars we’ve ever tested, even tying hypercars like the $1.7 million, 1000-hp Bugatti Veyron 16.4 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds. This EV also has stamina, with the ability to make multiple high-speed runs without a significant loss in performance. Sure, the four-door sedan has a much shorter estimated driving range than its primary rival, the Tesla Model S, and all-wheel-drive versions cost at least six figures at present. But the Taycan drives like a Porsche sports car and exhilarates in ways few electric models have done before.
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