The ZAP Xebra sedan will never be described as luxurious, smooth, or extremely well built—but unlike much of the competition in the electric car market, it’s real, affordable, and available. For about $12,000, you can bring home the Chinese-built all-electric four-seater and begin enjoying the benefits of a zero-emissions vehicle. ZAP electric cars and scooters are sold through a nationwide network of dealers.

There are quite a few compromises to make, from cramped quarters to a maximum speed of about 40 miles per hour. Some car reviewers put the Xebra through the same scrutiny as mainstream gas-powered vehicles. That’s a mistake. A reviewer at the website The Truth About Cars complained about having to contort his legs to find the foot pedals and about how “every bump, crack and pothole becomes an obstacle to avoid or regret.” Okay, but that’s not really fair because the Xebra is not a car. It only has three wheels and is legally considered a motorcycle.

TTAC also complained is about quality of manufacturing: “Its crudely finished fiberglass body is a rolling wart of huge panel gaps, wavy surfaces and rough edges.” But ZAP stopped making car bodies out of fiberglass in 2007. The 2008 and 2009 Xebra models are made of steel and include many upgraded features such as a hatchback, leather padded dashboard, and more leg room. There are legitimate caveats: the Xebra has not been crash-tested, has a limited warranty of six months, and finding replacement parts has been a challenge for some customers.

Not Much Competition

The Xebra is by far the least expensive three-wheel road-ready electric vehicle on our list. The only slightly comparable vehicle is the Myers NmG, which is three times the cost and was produced in low numbers (and has an uncertain future). The Aptera and VentureOne are much more expensive—and ultimately more promising as engineering and design studies—but release dates for these vehicles are uncertain and waiting lists could be long. The better comparison is the four-wheel GEM car, selling for the same or less than the ZAP Xebra, mostly to gated communities and campuses.

Think of it this way: The Aptera and VentureOne are more like high-end high-speed toys, while the Xebra is a low-cost low-frills low-speed alternative for local tooling around. Sure, it feels cheap—but it’s relative affordable and is cheap to run. If you are on a budget and are tired of waiting for the electric car revolution to come to you, put your money down, plug it in, and get going (with no tailpipe emissions). Driving range is about 25 miles between charges.

ZAP also sells a truck version of the Xebra, as well as a new four-wheel low-speed truck—and a two-seat three-wheel sports car called “The Alias” is in in the works.