Electric cars: New models have over 200 miles of range for under $40,000

This newest version of Nissan's electric Leaf is in a club, of sorts. The "200-mile-plus electric range for under 40 grand" club. The new Leaf Plus, with a starting price just over $36,000, has an estimated driving range of 226 miles. That's a big leap over the regular Leaf's 150 miles, which is still pretty good. (The first-generation Nissan Leaf, introduced in 2011, had an initial range of just 73 miles.)

Also new this year is the Kia Niro EV, to add to the brand's other versions of the Niro. The EPA estimates the all-electric Niro's driving range to be 239 miles, and it'll be under $40,000 when it goes on sale soon.

Thanks to improved battery technology, and more consumers willing to try an EV if the range is comparable to that of a gasoline car, there are now a number of 2019 models in this new "club." The Chevy Bolt EV can go 238; the Hyundai Kona EV is estimated at 258; and the base Tesla Model 3 gets a 220 mile rating. And now, the Nissan Leaf Plus and Kia Niro EV join the category with their 200-mile-plus range estimates. For people who were put off a few years ago by lower-priced EVs only going 100 miles or less, the game is changing.

And experts say a good rule of thumb is to buy more range than you think you may need. Why?

"When the temperature drops to 20 degrees (Fahrenheit), and the vehicle is using the HVAC system to heat the cabin, the driving range actually decreases by 41%," said Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center.

We don't get those kinds of extremes here, but any kind of very cold or very hot weather does affect battery range. Keep in mind that in Southern California, places like the Antelope Valley can routinely get into the 30 degree range during winter months, and parts of the Inland Empire can see weeks of 100 degree temperatures during the summer. According to McKernan, use of air conditioning on a hot day can reduce EV range by about 17%.

For the Nissan Leaf, the new Plus version increases range by about 50% compared to the regular Leaf models, in all three available trim levels. But, the added range comes at an added cost. Each version of the Leaf Plus is more than $6,000 more expensive than the regular Leaf in the same trim level.

So it does cost more to go farther, generally speaking, as the longer-range batteries cost more. But If you're a SoCal Edison customer, there is some good news.

"Edison will give customers that purchase a new or used electric vehicle this year $1,000 as a rebate incentive," said Katie Sloan of Southern California Edison.

That will help knock down the price of any EV you buy. And don't forget about the federal tax credits, and other incentives, depending on where you live. Though keep in mind, both GM and Tesla have hit the limit of vehicles sold that qualify for the full $7,500 federal credit. Those two manufacturers' cars are now on a sliding scale of lower credits. Other makers' cars are still eligible for the full $7,500, which can obviously reduce the purchase price significantly.

You'll have to spend some of that money saved on electricity, but operating an EV is still generally cheaper than running a gas car. And that gasoline does tend to vary in price now and then.
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