SUVs Without Shame—Because They're Electric
The best 2019 EV and hybrid sport-utility models
Americans love sport-utility vehicles. Two out of three vehicles sold today are SUVs, minivans, or pickups. That's a huge problem for the planet—except that, finally, SUVs come in shades of green.
These SUVs are crossovers, meaning they sit on car platforms instead of truck chassis. Hybrid SUVs are widely available, some with plug-in variants for electric-only driving. There are also zero-emission battery electric models, two of which are featured here. They're expensive but should get cheaper as battery prices decline. All prices for the 2019 models below include destination charges but not federal tax credits (up to $7,500) or state rebates. Note that the federal subsidy is tapering off for Tesla and General Motors buyers, as those companies have reached the mandated limit of 200,000 vehicles sold.
Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
The battery electric version of the Niro is available in only 12 states, but the plug-in hybrid is available everywhere. The $29,500 price makes this car far more affordable than most of the battery electric SUVs. A small 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine pairs up with an electric motor for 139 horsepower. The all-electric range via an 8.9-kilowatt-hour pack is 26 miles, and that results in 560 miles between fill-ups. A small battery means quick recharging, even on a house current. The Niro is eligible for a $4,543 federal tax credit.
This plug-in hybrid was a hit in Europe before its delayed entry into the US market. Delivering the equivalent of 74 miles per gallon, the Outlander is also fast-charge-capable, using the Japanese CHAdeMO standard, which gives an 80 percent charge in 25 minutes. Drawbacks? Only 310 miles of total range and no third row of seats. It's modestly priced at $35,800, and a $5,836 federal tax credit is available. Recent upgrades include refreshed styling (the European version was released in 2014), standard LED headlights on the GT version, and a warranty that covers loss of battery effectiveness.
A real heavyweight, the 5,500-pound Audi e-tron has twin electric motors (168 horsepower front, 188 rear). Shift to Sport mode and another 33 horsepower is released (for a total of 389), but for only eight seconds at a time. The five-passenger e-tron can reach 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds, and (very optimistic) European testing gives it a range of 248 miles from a 95-kilowatt-hour battery. Starting at $75,800, the car bristles with high-tech electronics, including a digital display and Amazon Alexa.
The e-tron is part of Volkswagen Group's effort to reposition itself in the wake of its diesel scandal; VW is introducing four more battery vehicles in coming years. (In June 2019, Audi recalled e-tron SUVs that had already shipped, to repair a battery issue; no injuries or fires were known to have resulted from the problem.)
Tesla Model X (and Y)
The Model X (with room for seven) has been criticized for its finicky "falcon wing" rear doors but gets kudos for its performance and 295-mile range. The regular model starts at $83,200 and has a 100-kilowatt-hour battery, while the high-performance version has a slightly reduced range but can go from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds. The Model Y, unveiled in March and on sale next year, is a lower-priced crossover based on the Model 3, which is proving to be a big seller for Tesla.
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Introduced in 2017, the Pacifica is the only plug-in hybrid minivan on the US market. Come to think of it, it’s the only hybrid minivan at all. The format is out of favor today, but the minivan still has much to offer as family transportation—including sliding doors and excellent use of space. This Pacifica has a starting price of $39,995, which is a bit pricey but you may qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. The van will travel up to 32 miles on battery alone, so if your commute is short you may rarely access the gas engine. The upscale Limited trim offers add-ons including heated seats, adaptive cruise control, and access to an advanced safety package.
This article appeared in the July/August 2019 edition with the headline "SUVs Without Shame."
This article was funded by the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicle Initiative (sc.org/evguide).