2021 Car and Driver EV of the Year: The Contenders


ev of the year

Welcome to the New Frontier. Battery prices continue to drop, multiple nationwide fast-charging networks exist, and the world’s largest automakers are finally building electric vehicles that you might want to buy not out of guilt or a sense of moral obligation, but because they’re truly desirable. The time has come: Electric vehicles are primed to go mainstream.

Despite this progress, the electric frontier is still a wild, orderless place. There are four different plugs in play. The patchwork public infrastructure is littered with broken or painfully slow equipment and has vast dead zones if you stray too far from major interstates. And while we look forward to the day when we can write about a new EV without dwelling on its range, many new models still can’t clear 200 miles on the highway.

welcome to the new frontier

Illustration by Tavis CoburnCar and Driver

To make sense of this transition period, we rounded up all the EVs we could get our hands on and put them through instrumented testing, subjective evaluation, and side-by-side comparisons. We measured real-world range with our 75-mph highway test and plugged in to DC fast-chargers to see how quickly today’s EVs can refuel. We staged a 1000-mile rally to find out how those two factors would come together on a road trip. Closer to home, we drove back roads and city streets and poked touchscreens and dash covers. Then we compared our impressions and cast our votes to determine the best.

We picked our winner based on the same criteria we use to decide Car and Driver‘s 10Best awards. Our EV of the Year is an excellent value, fun to drive, and better at fulfilling its purpose than any other vehicle in its class. To those guiding principles, we added a fourth factor: At this critical moment, our EV of the Year should advance the state of the art. That could mean raising the bar on driving range, lowering the price of entry in a segment, or delivering more driver engagement than the competition. However that manifests, the year’s best electric car needs to make EVs more enticing to drivers.

After testing 11 vehicles over three weeks, we can confirm that auto­makers are pushing into new territory. In terms of both practicality and entertainment value, today’s best EVs are capable of serving as your only vehicle if you do a little planning. And one EV is more qualified than all the others. But first, in no particular order, the competition . . .

Tesla Model 3 Performance

Volkswagen ID.4

Polestar 2

Nissan Leaf Plus

Tesla Model Y Performance

Kia Niro EV

Audi e-tron

Porsche Taycan 4S

Volvo XC40 Recharge

Tesla Model S Long Range Plus

Ford Mustang Mach-E


The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: Tesla Model 3 Performance

Either the Tesla Model 3 Performance will get you hyped about EVs or nothing will.

Andi HedrickCar and Driver

If Tesla has proved anything, it’s that electric cars don’t have to be boring. The Model 3 Performance has the power, tires, and brakes of a proper sports sedan, and it can set your pulse racing as fast as any gas-powered four-door.

Not a believer? Floor it from a stop. Now try a few 30-to-50-mph pulls. This is a car that flirts with 1.00 g both on the skidpad, with a 0.96-g effort, and in its acceleration, where it punches the gut like Tyson in the ’80s. It blasts to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, with an instant response and all-wheel-drive traction that give it an off-the-line advantage over the 760-hp Ford Mustang Shelby GT500.

It’ll go sideways, too. In Track mode, the driver can adjust the torque split to favor the rear wheels (or the fronts). Also, the Performance model allows the driver to do something other Teslas won’t: completely disable stability control. The Model 3’s small-diameter steering wheel is direct and precise, creating a sense of lightness that’s unusual among EVs. Hustling the 3 Performance down a ribbon of asphalt triggers an endorphin rush, but road noise and the electric motors’ subdued whir leave your ears wanting. Our eyes were also left wanting when they noticed the large gap around the hood of our test car, a too-common Tesla build-quality issue.

Tesla’s rethinking of norms is equal parts brilliant and confounding. That big touchscreen combined with the company’s vast Supercharger network makes finding a place to top up a low-stress affair. But tapping a glass screen to activate the windshield wipers will never make sense, no matter how many times we do it.

The EPA estimates the 3 Performance will travel up to 310 miles on a charge. In our 75-mph real-world test, however, Teslas tend to miss their window-sticker numbers by larger margins than most EVs. We achieved 220 miles in our range run—still a strong showing, but those fuddy legacy automakers are starting to bridge Tesla’s moat.

The Model 3 Performance is a glimpse into the future of electric cars, and we like what we see. At an as-tested $66,190, the Model 3 costs less than other high-powered sports sedans such as the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63. But those gas burners offer a more emotional, if less quick, experience. Tesla will drive the final nail in the coffin of internal combustion when it figures out how to make the EV driving experience as gratifying as that of a hot-rod sedan, including the sounds. If the turn signals can be programmed to make fart noises, we don’t think we’re asking for too much. —Connor Hoffman

Specifications

Base/As Tested: $58,190/$66,190
Front Motor:
induction AC, 176 hp
Rear Motor:
permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 255 hp
Battery Pack:
liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 81.0 kWh (C/D est)
Onboard Charger:
11.5 kW
Transmissions:
direct-drive
Curb Weight:
4072 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph:
3.1 sec
1/4-Mile:
11.6 sec @ 115 mph
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.

Top Speed (mfr’s claim):
162 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph:
147 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad:
0.96 g

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Comb:
116 MPGe
Range: 310 mi

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The People’s Other Car: Volkswagen ID.4

Aimed at the heartland, the Volkswagen ID.4 could use a little more heart.

Andi HedrickCar and Driver

Volkswagen could have gone full GTI with its battery-powered ID.4. Instead, it went for mass-market appeal, building a comfortable EV with a 250-mile EPA range and a fair price. Aimed at compact-crossover buyers who want to take the leap to electric, the ID.4 has the size and shape, if not quite the height, of top-selling gas-powered utes such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Look past the slow-for-an-EV acceleration offered by the ID.4’s 201-hp motor and you find a good small SUV with practicality, a smooth ride, and a quiet demeanor.

Inside, the ID.4 has a familial resemblance to other Volkswagens, but it’s sprinkled with enough ultramodern touches to feel special, if a little annoying. Seriously, VW, you couldn’t give the driver dedicated switches for the rear windows?

Like the three-row Atlas and the big, sensible Passat, the ID.4 smacks of a German brand trying to satisfy what it thinks are American tastes. If this leaves you a bit cold, help is on the way. A more powerful ID.4 with a second motor and all-wheel drive is coming soon. —Drew Dorian

Specifications

Base/As Tested: $41,190/$45,190
Motor:
permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft
Battery Pack:
liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 77.0 kWh
Onboard Charger:
11.0 kW
Transmission:
direct-drive
Curb Weight:
4700 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph:
7.6 sec
1/4-Mile:
16.0 sec @ 86 mph
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.

Top Speed (gov ltd):
101 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph:
168 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad:
0.85 g

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Comb: 97 MPGe
Range: 250 mi

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Simple Machine: Polestar 2

The Polestar 2 strips the idea of a car down to the basics.

Andi HedrickCar and Driver

If EVs are our future, Volvo spinoff Polestar takes a guarded approach to what’s next. Its Polestar 2 seemingly draws from modernist architecture, with a palette dominated by gray tones reminiscent of concrete and steel. Exterior styling is restrained and free of gimmicks. This is essentially tomorrow’s Volvo.

The Android-based infotainment system featuring a voice-activated Google Assistant is simple to operate, and the most commonly used touchscreen controls are easy to find.

Our test car’s adjustable Öhlins dampers refine the ride, but the 2 will change from laid-back city commuter to eager corner carver when asked. Ample punch from the 408-hp electric motors rockets the car to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. However, the 200-mile range we recorded in our 75-mph test can’t match the segment’s top end. By combining otherwise strong performance with clean design, Polestar offers a practical alternative to its more audacious electric competitors. —Connor Hoffman

Specifications

Base/As Tested: $61,200/$66,200
Front Motor:
permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 204 hp, 243 lb-ft
Rear Motor:
permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 204 hp, 243 lb-ft
Combined Power:
408 hp
Combined Torque:
487 lb-ft
Battery Pack:
liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 75.0 kWh
Onboard Charger:
11.0 kW
Transmissions:
direct-drive
Curb Weight:
4714 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph:
4.1 sec
1/4-Mile:
12.7 sec @ 109 mph
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Top Speed (gov ltd):
125 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph:
157 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad:
0.90 g

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Comb: 92 MPGe
Range: 233 mi

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The OG EV: Nissan Leaf Plus

The Nissan Leaf Plus falls to the competition.

Andi HedrickCar and Driver

A decade ago, the Nissan Leaf emerged as the first affordable EV of the modern era. Intense competition has since rendered it more of a relic than a trailblazer. Even a major 2017 redesign that brought more horsepower and range with larger battery packs didn’t help.

With a 215-mile EPA range, the most power­ful Leaf falls short of the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Niro EV, Tesla Model 3, and Volkswagen ID.4, all of which have CCS fast-charging ports. Plugs…



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