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Best electric cars of 2012


The past 12 months saw the EV field expand in breadth and depth, with new models in new categories taking to the road.

This past year saw the electric car inch closer to being a practical vehicle instead of a curiosity. The Nissan Leaf crawled through its second full year with lower-than-expected sales, but it also had more competition. The Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV were joined by a luxury car (Tesla Model S) compacts (Ford Focus Electric, Coda) and even an SUV (Toyota RAV4 EV).

Production numbers for some of these models may still be small, but at least green car drivers have more choices available to them. Here are those choices, the Best Electric Cars of 2012.

Luxury

Tesla Model STesla Model S: Starting from the top, the Tesla Model S is by far the most expensive EV available, but it’s also the only one that can claim to be a legitimate luxury and performance car.

Tesla prices the car based on the size of its battery pack, but even the smallest version offers more range than any other EV. The base model costs $57,400 and comes with a 40-kWh battery pack, netting a 160-mile range. Another $10,000 nets a 60-kWh battery pack and 230-mile range. The biggest battery pack, 85-kWh, gives the Model S a 265-mile range and starts at $77,400. Tesla prices will increase by $2,500 on January 1, 2013.

Tesla’ Supercharger charging stations also promise 150 miles of adde range in 30 minutes.

The Model S doesn’t just ease range anxiety, it also turns anxiety into excitement. It can run from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, or 4.4 seconds (the same as a BMW M5) with the Performance package.

Mounting the lithium-ion batteries in the car’s floor also yields a low center of gravity and increased interior space. Topping it all off is a leather-lined interior with a massive 17-inch touch screen.

Midrange

2012 Nissan Leaf redNissan Leaf: The Leaf was the first mass-market EV and is still the best option for the most people. It’s EPA-certified midsize interior and $35,200 base price put it right in the middle of the EV field.

That money buys a 110 hp electric and a 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Open the Leaf’s nose, and an optional 240-volt charger can recharge the battery in as little as four hours.

The Leaf is no sports car, but with a top speed of 90 mph it shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up with traffic on roads with 65 mph speed limits. It’s 79-mile range is still among the highest in the EV world (excluding the much more expensive Tesla) and no one will ever mistake this zero-emission vehicle for anything else.

Ford Focus Electric begins official dealership roll outFord Focus Electric: Ford’s European-style Focus is one of the most stylish compact cars around, so it’s not surprising that the Focus Electric is one slick EV. The Aston Martin-like grille helps, too.

The Focus isn’t just a pretty face, though. A 23-kWh lithium-ion battery pack powers an electric motor with 141 hp and can propel the Blue Oval EV to 84 mph and 80 miles on a single charge. An optional, 240-volt Level 2 charger can replenish the battery in four hours.

The only major downside is the price: $39,000. That’s a lot to pay for a Focus, even an electric one.
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