Car Reviews: Electric Green Cars

BMW 330e, Kia Soul EV Plus, Toyota Prius Two Eco

Cars with gasoline engines will be with us for quite a while. But some sort of electric motive power is clearly in our future, if for no other reason than federal standards require progressively greener—i.e., more fuel efficient, less polluting—cars. And in the automakers’ toolbox, electricity is possibly the most important tool to meet those standards.

Here we have three variations on how green cars can use electricity. BMW’s 330e plug-in hybrid can run for a dozen or so miles on electricity alone. Kia’s Soul EV is a pure electric vehicle. And Toyota’s Prius is a standard hybrid moved primarily by a gasoline engine, but with the assistance of an electric motor.

BMW 330e

Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter inline 4, electric motor (248 hp combined), 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, 8-speed automatic, RWD

MSRP: $45,095 (base), $60,245 (as tested)

MPG, combined city/hwy: 31 (gasoline only), 72 (MPGe, gasoline and electricity)

Standard safety features: Front side and full side curtain air bags, driver and passenger knee air bags

Spare tire: Run-flat tires

Final assembly: Germany

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA: not yet rated. IIHS: moderate front overlap, side, roof, head restraints/seats, good; small front overlap, marginal

What’s cool: Attractive, high-quality fit and finish inside and out

What’s not: Break-My-Wallet price

BMW 330e
Take BMW’s best-selling 3 Series sedan, install a 180-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and an 87-hp electric motor/generator, put a lithium-ion battery pack under the trunk, and you have the new-for-2016 330e plug-in hybrid. Like other hybrids, the 330e moves mostly under the power of its gasoline engine. But if the battery is charged—by either plugging the car into household current for several hours or by the onboard electric motor/generator—the Bimmer can travel a max of 14 fossil fuel–free miles on electricity alone. Considering the BMW’s “ultimate driving machine” mantra, how does the 330e feel from the driver’s seat? With assistance from the electric motor, the turbo engine provides sizzling acceleration, whether dashing away from a stoplight or passing at highway speeds. But when negotiating a twisty road, there’s a certain heaviness to the 330e’s responses. That’s not surprising, because the car is heavy. All that hybrid stuff adds 500-plus pounds to a conventional 320 sedan’s weight. It also adds $10,650 to its price tag. As a plug-in hybrid, the 330e qualifies for a federal tax credit (regular hybrids don’t). But even subtracting the $4,001 credit, a 330e with options can have an eye-watering price tag well above 50 grand—proving that driving green doesn’t necessarily come cheap.

Kia Soul EV Plus

Vehicle layout: Electric motor (109 hp), 27-kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery, 1-speed automatic, FWD

MSRP: $36,800 (base), $38,025 (as tested)

MPGe, city/hwy/combined: 120/92/105

Standard safety features: Front side and full side curtain air bags, rearview camera

Spare tire: Tire-inflator kit

Final assembly: South Korea

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA, IIHS: not yet rated

What’s cool: “B” driving mode automatically slows the car, reducing the need to apply the brake pedal

What’s not: Really useful only around town and for short to medium trips

Kia Soul EV Plus
If you dig the funky Kia Soul, you need to check out its electrified cousin, the Soul EV. It’s got all the virtues of the gasoline-powered Soul—offbeat good looks, lots of standard equipment, and a roomy, attractive interior—plus a few of its own. For starters, the Soul EV is driver-friendly. The steering is responsive, and acceleration from the electric motor is instantaneous, strong, and smooth. High-tech electronics let you know at a glance your battery-charge status and where the nearest charging station is. And the Soul EV is really quiet—eerily so, in fact—and not just because there’s no racket from an internal-combustion engine. Kia clearly has put a good deal of effort into banishing tire, road, and wind noise from the cabin. Plus, the battery pack’s extra weight gives the Soul EV a more composed ride. The downsides? Actually, just two. First, a mild degree of “range anxiety,” though the Soul EV’s 93-mile range is high as EVs go, and every Soul EV comes with a DC quick-charging port, which provides an 80 percent charge in a half hour. Second, the Soul EV ain’t cheap. MSRPs range from about $33,000 for the low-end, California-only EV-e to around $37,000 for a high-zoot EV Plus. Of course, that doesn’t take federal and state incentives into account, plus the $6,000 you’ll save in fuel costs over five years, according to EPA estimates. Everything considered, the Soul EV is one sweet ride.

Toyota Prius Two Eco

Vehicle layout: 1.8-liter inline 4, electric motor (121 hp combined), 0.7-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, CVT, FWD

MSRP: $25,535 (base, as tested)

MPG, city/hwy/combined: 58/53/56 (Two Eco trim level)

Standard safety features: Front side and full side curtain air bags, driver’s knee air bag, rearview camera 

Spare tire: Tire-inflator kit

Final assembly: Japan

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA side, overall: five stars; front, rollover: four stars. IIHS small and moderate overlap front, side, roof, head restraints/seats: good; Top Safety Pick Plus (with optional front-crash prevention)

What’s cool: Drives pretty much like a regular car

What’s not: Rear-end styling not even a mother could love

Toyota Prius Two Eco

In Hybrid World, the Toyota Prius rules. For value, reliability, practicality, and jaw-dropping fuel economy, it’s the hands-down champ. So when the all-new, fourth-generation Prius arrived earlier this year, the main question was, is it a better car? Yes. Toyota sweated the details and improved the Prius on almost all counts. The interior looks fresh and futuristic, with glossy white plastic accents, upscale soft-touch materials, and more supportive, comfortable seats. LED headlights and taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a rearview camera—nice features, all—are standard. And there are lots of invisible improvements, like a more efficient engine and CVT; a smaller, lighter battery pack; and available advanced safety features. The new Prius is also more engaging to drive. The steering feels precise, there’s less body lean in turns, and overall handling is improved, thanks in part to a new, independent rear suspension. All in all, the car feels solid and delivers a smooth, quiet ride.  And the Prius’s raison d’être, fuel economy? That’s been improved, too: 52 mpg combined for most versions, 56 for the miserly Two Eco version. And with an MSRP of around $25K for a basic Prius Two to about $33K for a well-dressed Four Touring, the Prius is an excellent automotive value. So what’s not to like? Polarizing exterior styling and (boo!!) the lack of  even a temporary spare tire on the Two Eco, Four, and Four Touring trim levels. Nonetheless, if you’ve been holding out for a better Prius, this is your car. Case closed.

Photo (top): Courtesy Toyota Motor Corporation

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