America’s Most Efficient Plug-in Cars

At a time when 25 mpg is average, and 50 mpg is stellar, plug-in electrified vehicles handily leap over these efficiency markers from conventional and regular hybrid cars.

Consisting of both plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars, even the lower-level PEVs boast more than triple the efficiency of average petroleum-burning vehicles, but getting one’s mind wrapped around it has been a challenge for some.

Attempting to make a simplified standard, the EPA has settled on a virtual measurement for electrified vehicles called “miles per gallon equivalent” (MPGe).

In short, if the EPA says an electric car like a Nissan Leaf gets 114 MPGe combined, its operating efficiency is on par with a conventional car that gets 114 mpg – which none do, of course, and the highest rated non-plug-in hybrid gets 58 mpg.

SEE ALSO: What MPGe Is – And How To Figure Plug-in Energy Costs

MPGe represents the number of miles a vehicle can travel using a quantity of “fuel” – actually electricity – with the same energy content as one gallon of gasoline. A gallon of gasoline is roughly equal to 33.7 kilowatt-hours of battery power.

This also means even the most powerful EVs like a Tesla with 100 kWh battery come with the energy value of around three gallons of gasoline – and an average EV like a 30-kWh Leaf has less than one-gallon’s worth of energy.

If you’ve not considered this before, consider also electric motors can be upwards of 90-percent efficient, whereas better gas engines may be in the 30-percent range, and 40 percent is really pushing the limit. Because electric drivetrains are so efficient, even though batteries are far less energy dense than petroleum, the combination is good enough to make electric-driven cars viable.

Between plug-in hybrids and all-electrics, the pure EVs have tended to be more efficient on the EPA’s MPGe calculation, but a few exceptions are out there. Following are the top three of each category.

Plug-in Hybrids

In most cases plug-in hybrids are simply hybrids of some form with a large enough battery to let them travel a certain distance all-electrically, while still being primarily gas-electric hybrids. They get two measurements therefore – MPGe and mpg.

PHEVs might be a good choice for people who can make do with the allotted EV range – ideally enough for them to cover all or most daily driving on electricity just as if it were an EV.

#1. 2017 BMW i3 REx – 111 MPGe / 35 MPG

Off the bat is an exception to the rule that most PHEVs are just hybrids with a bigger battery.

The EPA calls the BMW i3 with range-extending engine a PHEV, but architecturally, its powertrain is more a pure battery electric with 600cc gas-generator backup.

The 2017 model now with 94 Ah battery still leads the pack, but has lower efficiency than the 2014-2016 model year i3 REx, which was rated 119 MPGe and 39 mpg.

The i3 when running on gas is a “series hybrid.” However, because it has a tiny fuel tank and decreased power when running on electricity generated by its scooter-derived engine, it is not full-power like other plug-in hybrids intended to work full time in gas-burning mode.

Total EV range is 97 miles, and gas-plus EV range adds to 180, says the EPA – up from the former model’s 72/150 numbers.

An outstanding piece of engineering, using advanced carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, and bleeding-edge assembly techniques, the i3 is a unique solution and its 97 miles EV range also technically places it ahead of all other PHEVs sold.

#2. 2017 Toyota Prius Prime – 133 MPGe / 54 MPG

You’ll note the amazingly efficient Prius with a plug is ranked by the EPA behind the BMW, and that would only be because the BMW has far more EV range meaning it runs on more-efficient electricity more of the time.

Yes, the Prius with its modest 8.8-kWh battery and 25 miles EV range, offers just about one-fourth the EV traveling distance of the i3 REx.

Based on the fourth-generation Prius Liftback, the Prius plug-in is now a second version of the plug-in car first introduced in 2012.

The four-seater has been selling relatively well due to a pricing strategy that has it within realm of the cost of a non-plug-in Prius, and it represents a solid balance of attributes for which the Prius has long been known.

#3. 2017 Chevrolet Volt – 106 MPGe / 42 MPG

Fully updated in 2016, the 2017 Volt carries forth with 53 miles e-range which is the highest for any plug-in with full range and power.

Powered by a 1.5-liter engine and electric motor drive, its 18.4-kWh battery is the largest among its closer “blended” PHEV competitors.

The Volt has developed a healthy following among people who’ve actually owned and/or driven it. Its 420 miles total range, and peppy running with sporty handling make it an ideal one car to own with enough range for most people’s daily driving requirements.

All-Electric Cars

Also called “pure” EVs or battery electrics, the all-electric cars have simpler powertrains without gasoline engines, and larger batteries to give longer traveling distances.

#1. 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric – 136 MPGe

New for this year, the Ioniq Electric is one of three variants based on the same purpose-built electrified vehicle chassis by Hyundai.

Although its total range is a modest 124 miles from 28 kWh battery, its efficiency is top of the heap among all plug-in vehicles sold – PHEV or EV.

The new EV comes right when other manufacturers are rolling out 200-mile-plus cars, but Hyundai has sharpened its pencil and says many people are fine with the range the Ioniq has.

Perks in California along with a cut-rate lease program help make the roomy and comfortable EV more attractive.

#2. 2017 BMW i3 BEV – 124 MPGe

Look, the BMW is back, this time in the pure electric version with 60 Ah battery.

Its 81 miles range is so 2013, but this otherwise is a super sophisticated car and has garnered fans to its sustainable ethos.

A longer-range 94 Ah version this year is rated 118 MPGe and bumps range to 114 miles.

Both cars have the same effective rated operating costs per year, according to the EPA.

#3. 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV – 119 MPGe

The newest, longest-range EV in its sub-$40,000 price class (before incentives) also makes the grade in the efficiency department.

Chevrolet’s Bolt EV is roomy, quick, fun to drive, and its 60 kWh battery is as big as what has been sold in an entry level Tesla Model S, albeit the Bolt represents less luxury and a different form factor.

Its 238 miles range is so long that many more people can live with it for their local and regional driving needs.

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