Looking for a new EV? Don’t get suckered by the top-of-the-line model

By | December 21, 2022
Enlarge / Our Creative Director didn’t know that I have a fondness for the Ford Ka and still miss the one I sold before moving to America, but I like that he chose one for this graphic.

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

As I look back on Ars’ automotive year and the new cars, crossovers, SUVs, and trucks that we drove in 2022, I have started coming to a conclusion of sorts. And it’s this: Forget the top-of-the-line, fully loaded, superduper electric vehicle; what you want is the least powerful, least expensive variant. And that’s true whether you want an EV because you want to drive something that’s very efficient or if you’re a driving enthusiast who’s going electric.

It’s a thought I’ve alluded to more than once this year, and the effect can be seen when you look at a pair of first drives that bookended this year: the Kia EV6 (which starts at $48,500 for the EV6 Wind) and the Kia EV6 GT (a hefty $61,400). The extra $12,900 buys you a much quicker 0-60 time, and a twin-motor, all-wheel drive powertrain with much more power. But the GT uses the same battery as the cheapest rear-wheel drive EV6, and with its bigger wheels it only has a range of 206 miles compared to the RWD EV6 Wind, which can do 310 miles on the same number of kWh.

OK, so score one for the hypermilers. And for the enthusiasts, I have to report that the cheaper car I drove in January was more fun on the back roads. Because it’s more fun to drive a slow car quickly than a quick car slowly.

A trip to learn about Porsche’s next EV platform also afforded us the opportunity to finally drive the base model Taycan. Better yet, I could drive it back to back with a Taycan Turbo over the same route. The base Taycan, which starts at a not-inconsiderable $86,700 for the 2023 model year makes do with just a single electric motor driving the rear wheels. With a nominal output of 321 hp (240 kW) and a peak output of 402 hp (300 kW), it still reaches 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.

By contrast, the Taycan Turbo starts at $153,300. That $66,600 premium boosts power to 616 hp (460 kW) or 670 hp (560 kW) when using launch control, and between the pair of electric motors that put down that power, there’s a larger 93.4 kWh battery pack versus the 78.2 kWh pack in the entry model. And the Turbo is blisteringly fast, with a top speed that’s 18 mph faster and a 0-60 time of just three seconds. But it’s also a far heavier car—5,119 lbs (2,322 kg) compared to the plain Taycan, which at 4,566 lbs (2,071 kg), is actually pretty light by EV standards.

What you really notice driving the two cars back to back is the added mass over the front axle in the AWD Turbo, or conversely, the much lighter nose of the regular Taycan, the handling of which benefits as a result. It’s true that you don’t get as many luxurious trimmings in the cheaper car—the dash is made of unapologetic plastic, but plenty of Porsches have had unpretentious interiors. And the base model doesn’t come with an additional infotainment screen for the front seat passenger. Previously, I thought I’d be happy with a Taycan 4S, but now I know all I need is the single-motor version, and I’d be set. (And yes, I would take one over a 911 every day of the week now.)

Across OEMs, I keep finding the same pattern. At $48,400, the front-wheel drive Polestar 2 will deliver more smiles per dollar than one with two motors and the performance pack, which adds an extra $10,400 to the price tag. At least with Polestar’s business model, you won’t have to face an additional dealer markup on top of that.

This probably isn’t true for BMW EVs, but the truth is that the iX M60 that the company released this summer doesn’t really improve on the iX xDrive50. Even weighed down with a weekend’s glamping setup, the $84,100 iX xDrive50 is still too fast in sport mode if you have passengers on board who don’t appreciate having their heads slammed back into their headrests every time you crack the throttle. So the prospect of even more power and a more academic top speed (outside of Germany) doesn’t actually sound that appealing, particularly when it costs $108,900.

Or take Mercedes-Benz. Neither the EQS nor the EQE sedans are sports cars, and the less powerful versions are more efficient, cheaper, and don’t burden you with the garish hyperscreen—really three separate displays bonded under a single sheet of glass—when they can use Mercedes ‘Perfectly good 12.8-inch infotainment display instead. And while I’m at it, the smaller and lighter EQE would be my pick over the bigger, more powerful EQS.

There are exceptions to this theory. The Ford Mustang Mach-E comes immediately to mind here, because that car’s character was only properly unlocked in the Mach-E GT Performance Edition. The $75,895 Mach-E is so much better to drive largely because of its magnetorheological dampers, which finally imbue the car with some of the suppleness that characterized Ford’s best drivers’ cars, and Pirelli P-Zero tires that transform the feedback you get through the steering wheel. You could save enough to buy another car if you just went with the $46,895 entry Mustang Mach-E, but make that extra car a Mazda MX-5, because you’ll want something fun to drive to go with the EV.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, it’s time to start persuading the product planners at basically every automaker that we don’t need to make full-length glass roofs a mandatory thing for the North American market, and it’s actually fine to have a metal roof that doesn’t let in the sunshine and cook the occupants during summer. But I fear that’s an uphill struggle.

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