The electric car market has gotten really interesting over the last few years, as every manufacturer joining the fray adds a new spin or twist on the idea. While the modern electric car is intended to be an energy-efficient way to get around, engineers quickly figured out how to maintain that efficiency while allowing a new model to stand out from the crowd. Most of the newest electric cars (such as the offerings from BMW and Tesla) are sportier and more upscale than their earlier counterparts, although slightly older models (such as the Nissan LEAF, the car largely responsible for sparking the entire craze) should not be overlooked. There’s a lot more to sportiness than simply speed, and these 10 sporty electric cars are an excellent case study in finding fun where you might least expect it.
10 Sporty Electric Cars
Photo Credit: BMW
2016 BMW i3
There are two ways to think of the 2016 BMW i3: it’s a subcompact luxury car that happens to be all-electric, or it’s a subcompact electric car that happens to be from a luxury brand. From either perspective, the i3 is sort of a loner in the electric car world, as others at its size are considerably less expensive, but it's still one of Autobytel's favorite 10 sporty electric cars. The i3 is a hatchback that seats four, and comes powered by an electric motor paired to a single-speed transmission, with an output of 170 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque. While BMW fans might not get particularly excited about those specs, the i3 does offer impressive acceleration, and its light weight and rear-wheel-drive layout help provide a sports car-like feel. The BMW i3 also corners well and has sharp steering, which also increase the car’s sportiness. The base i3 can travel up to 81 miles on a charge, but there’s a Range Extender model available that uses a gasoline engine to charge the battery.
Photo Credit: BMW
2016 BMW i8
The BMW i8 may look, at least on the surface, like it’s cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned i3. They’re both sleek and futuristic-looking, and both undeniably luxurious. And, well, there’s that naming convention—clearly they’re connected somehow. But while the i3 is content to zip along running on pure electric power, BMW used a more powerful plug-in hybrid drivetrain to power the i8, making it another of the sportiest electric cars. This 4-passenger coupe features a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor, making 357 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic and manages power to all 4 wheels. Smooth and steady acceleration are a distinguishing feature of the BMW i8, as the car is able to reach 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, yet the car is able to switch quickly between its gas and electric power sources, using whatever is most efficient at the time.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt is totally redesigned for this year, and it’s come miles in terms of range, functionality, and general user-friendliness, making it even more worthy of a spot on the list of 10 sporty electric cars. The Volt now seats 5 passengers instead of 4, thanks to a redesigned drivetrain that no longer occupies part of the backseat area. The Volt features two electric motors and a battery that provide the car with 149 horsepower; there’s also a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine should the Volt run out of battery charge, but part of the point of the car is that most of the time, it shouldn’t be necessary. The Volt can go up to 53 miles on a full charge, and achieves 106 mpg-equivalent while running on electric power. While the Chevy Volt makes no pretense of being able to compete with actual sports sedans, it boasts surprisingly strong acceleration, good steering, and firm brakes—characteristics that go a long way toward providing a satisfying driving experience.
Photo Credit: Ford
2016 Ford C-Max Energi
Ford’s C-Max Energi is a compact wagon with seating for five, powered by a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. This sporty electric car comes powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor, along with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The combination is good for 188 horsepower. While the C-Max Energi isn’t a fully electric car, it’s capable of being driven on electric power for up to 19 miles, and earns 88 mpg-equivalent in the process. Otherwise, just drive it like a normal hybrid. Though the C-Max Energi might not be quite as sporty as some of the other electric cars mentioned here (and it certainly doesn’t look particularly athletic), it is recognized for providing much better handling than most hybrid cars of its size.
Photo Credit: Ford
2016 Ford Fusion Energi
The 2016 Ford Fusion Energi is a 5-passenger midsize sedan that’s based on Ford’s mainstream Fusion. This plug-in hybrid operates on the same principles as the aforementioned Ford C-Max Energi; the car has about 19 miles of electric range from a full battery charge before the gasoline engine kicks in. The gas engine, a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit, produces a total of 188 horsepower when paired with the battery, and a continuously variable automatic transmission comes standard. The 2016 Ford Fusion Energi can’t make any claims to sportiness based on its acceleration or overall power, but it handles well for a midsize sedan, particularly a heavy hybrid one, taking curves and turns with ease.
Photo Credit: Nissan USA
2016 Nissan LEAF
Since the Nissan LEAF made its debut in 2011, it’s become the best-selling electric car in the world. This compact hatchback, which seats five passengers, has undergone a few changes for the 2016 model year. The top two trim levels offer an upgraded battery with an improved full electric range, meaning the LEAF can travel on electric power for up to 107 miles (an improvement over the base trim’s 84 miles). The LEAF comes powered by an electric motor that makes 107 horsepower, which provides decent acceleration in city driving but is a little lackluster at highway speeds. It provides good steering feedback and handling that’s better than most people expect. The Nissan LEAF isn’t intended to be a sporty car, and no one here is trying to pretend otherwise. But it earns a spot here based on its eager-to-please nature; more drivers around the world have found that the LEAF is an easy way to live with an electric vehicle.
Photo Credit: Tesla
2017 Tesla Model 3
Don’t get too excited: Tesla’s Model 3—the luxury brand’s most affordable electric car to date—isn’t expected to actually get built for at least a year (putting the start of production somewhere around mid-2017), and since Tesla says it already has more than 400,000 preorders, that could mean a long wait for the late arrivals. When the Model 3 finally does go into production, though, lucky new owners will be able to travel up to 215 miles on a full charge, which falls short of the much more expensive Model S, but is still pretty flexible. The 2017 Tesla Model 3 sedan will accommodate five passengers, and Tesla says it expects 5-star safety ratings.
Photo Credit: Tesla
2016 Tesla Model S
The 2016 Tesla Model S is an electric luxury sedan that seats up to 7 passengers. The Model S is hailed for its efficiency (traveling up to 270 miles on a full charge, and earning EPA ratings of up to 101/102 mpg-e), its performance (532 horsepower in the top trim level, and acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill in just 2.8 seconds), and its upscale looks and features. All but the base version of the Model S come with standard all-wheel drive, and the car features precise steering, athletic handling, a comfortable ride, and excellent safety scores. The Model S is the first of Tesla’s ground-up designs, and it sets the bar for the company’s latest sporty and efficient vehicles.
Photo Credit: Tesla
2016 Tesla Model X
The Model X is Tesla’s 7-passenger crossover SUV. Using the same technology as the previously-mentioned Tesla vehicles (a fully electric drivetrain, a single-speed transmission, and an advanced aerodynamic design), the Model X can go up to 257 miles on a charge. All-wheel drive comes standard with the Model X, along with interesting and unique features such as a panoramic windshield that provides excellent visibility, falcon wing doors for easy entry and egress, and reclining 2nd-row seats. Tesla expects the Model X to earn the status of being the safest SUV ever made, once testing is complete. The 2016 Model X is available, but buyers should expect to wait a little while due to demand that’s currently outpacing production thanks to its early reputation as a great sporty electric car.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime
Love it or hate it, the Toyota Prius is probably the most recognizable hybrid out there. Now, Toyota plans to expand the Prius lineup with the 2017 Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid that’s capable of running on fully electric power for up to 22 miles; when that power is sapped, the hybrid system kicks in. Altogether, the Prius Prime is expected to provide more than 600 total miles of traveling distance. Toyota says the Prius Prime will have “a smoother start” thanks to the instant power of the electric motors, and will have “fun-to-drive acceleration.” According to Toyota’s projections, this new sporty electric car will be available sometime late this year.