Electric vehicles aren’t just street legal golf carts anymore, but they are still known primarily for saving their owners money and maybe some carbon emissions. There is a fun side to EVs however, thanks to instant electric torque. Instead of waiting on a gas engine to rev up, an electric motor provides all of its power at the speed of light, giving you huge acceleration around town and the on-ramps. Here’s what to shop when you want a fun EV.
Leave it to BMW to build a better small electric car. At launch in 2014, the BMW i3 stacked up awards and trophies, including the appropriately-named “Game Changer of the Year.” The unique exterior pops with street presence, as it looks like nothing else on the road. The EV with personality keeps up the design language inside, with an ultra-contemporary interior and dual screens up front that gives the impression of a more expensive vehicle. The interior does take some getting used to but once on the road the gauges are nicely laid out, the flat screens are bright, and the giant windshield is lovely. Steering feel is probably the best on this list, which is surprising as late model gas BMWs have stepped away from the precise enthusiast steering feel, but the i3 makes driving an EV fun. Carbon fiber, aluminum, and even hemp are heavily used throughout, creating a lightweight and strong chassis that scores points out on the road and in the NHTSA’s labs. Car & Driver tested the i3 to 60 mph, and hit 6.6 seconds, while the new i3S hit it in 6.5 seconds. That’s quicker than a 5.3-liter V8 Chevy Silverado by a half second.
The Fiat 500e is the perfect electric city car. Like the other 500 models, the 500e has undeniable old-school classic charm. Unlike the i3, there are very few distinguishing features here that call it out as an EV, so this one is for the drivers that want a car that will blend in with traffic. That cute design matches the well thought out interior too, making this a good place to spend time. It goes like it looks too, and with 150 lb-ft of torque available instantly, it will happily blast down twisty Italian country roads, or to your neighborhood Starbucks. Heavy EV batteries sometimes kill the fun driving characteristics, and while the 500e weighs 600 lbs more than the gas version, that oddly seems to help the handling. By placing those big batteries low in the rear, it gives the small car a nearly neutral weight balance and low center of gravity. The result is the most fun Italian driving experience this side of an old Alfa Romeo, but quieter and more reliable. The weight also helps smooth out the ride, offering the quietest ride of any Fiat. Zero to 60 takes eight seconds, which is faster than the base gas engine’s sprint, and faster than the Kia Soul (which is also available as an EV). Plus, the tiny footprint means you can find a parking space anywhere.
The best-selling EV ever made has a reputation for thrifty driving, averaging half the cost per mile of your average hybrid. That’s great, but it’s also a fun drive thanks to the surprising amount of torque. The current LEAF has 147 horsepower, equivalent to an average four cylinder, but the 236 lb-ft of torque is more like a diesel. The 2018 LEAF sprints 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds, which is quicker than the Audi A8 with the 3.0-liter diesel, a far more expensive car. Throttle response is super sharp, so it feels like a V8 car from a stop. There’s no waiting on an engine to wind up, and with the slightest stab of the throttle, it silently goes, immediately. Inside you’ll notice clever use of space, and the seats are GREAT. So comfy, but also supportive, and they even look cool and modern. Outward visibility is refreshingly unobstructed, giving a large airy feel to the cabin. While the first generation was limited to around 100 miles of range between charges, most commuters didn’t have any problems with range anxiety. The new second generation Leaf pushed past 150 miles of range, in a more powerful and spacious car.
The sport versions of the S will embarrass a Lamborghini, so it’s no surprise even the base S is the fastest on this list. Flooring it from a stop is best described a sudden. The Model S handles well too, which is surprising for a car that weighs more than a loaded Dodge Charger (around 4,600 lbs). This is due to the battery configuration beneath the floor, creating a center of gravity that feels like it’s beneath the street. It’s also gorgeous, even in “low end” 60D trim. If EVs are the future, the Model S proves the future is fast and attractive. Keep in mind the Model S is the first car of any kind to score above five stars on the NHTSA crash test. That’s because the test car broke the government’s roof crushing machine. Speaking of crushing, the highest end trim can crush 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds, thanks to its astonishing 792 lb-ft. What is the Model S P100D faster than? Just about everything. At its release in 2015, the P100D was the third-fastest production car of any kind ever made, behind only the million dollar titans from Ferrari and Porsche.