I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?

Illustration for article titled I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?
Photo: Jason Torchinsky

Christopher’s “fun car” was his 1992 Mustang, but unfortunately it got totaled. He is looking to replace the Fox with something electric and unique. However, he is working with a modest budget. What car should he buy?

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(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I totaled my convertible 1992 Fox Body mustang and am looking for another car to have fun with. The catch is that I’m looking for something electric. I have a Subaru Crosstrek that I use for business, so this car would be for getting around town (I live in the city) going on road-trips, and cruising around. I don’t care about range because if I need to go somewhere far, I’ll just take the Subaru. Otherwise I don’t mind taking long breaks to recharge.

I’m looking for something electric and I’m looking for something that has character. I also want a car that I can have fun modifying mostly appearance-wise. The only catch is that I don’t have a large budget. I don’t really want to spend more than $15,000.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $15,000

Daily Driver: Sometimes

Location: Baltimore, MD

Wants: Fun, Affordable, Electric

Doesn’t want: A truck or SUV

Expert 1: Tom McParland — Carbon Fiber Fun

Illustration for article titled I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?
Photo: Autotrader

The affordable EV market is definitely under-utilized for folks like yourself who just need a short-distance commuter car. Of course, the biggest challenge is that not everyone has easy access to charging. It all depends on their living situation. While there aren’t a ton of different models to choose from, there are lots of cheap EVs out there with some compelling options.

One of my favorites is the BMW i3. If you want something unique, the compact Bimmer really stands out. It’s made out of carbon fiber, it has rear-wheel-drive, and in the case of the range-extended version, it has an internal combustion engine mounted in the back. These are the characteristics of many high-end sports cars, but in this case, you can have these qualities at a fraction of the cost. Here is a nice 2014 model with only about 20,000 miles well-within your budget.

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Expert 2: José Rodríguez Jr. — Run The Blitz

Illustration for article titled I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?
Image: Carvana
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Wow, Christopher! This is a question we don’t see often because EVs can seem unapproachable to lots of folks, myself included. The rhetoric of “high upfront cost” has stuck to EVs and it’s time we started to re-evaluate this!

I think a great, affordable option is this mostly-electric 2013 Chevy Volt. There is an internal combustion engine, but with 40 miles of all-electric range, the ar hardly ever uses it. Chevrolet’s clever concept with the Volt is a great solution for drivers who want electric drive around town, but an internal combustion engine for taking the highway out of it. It’s also a Chevrolet which means there’s an extensive dealer network to help sort any issues.

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Second-hand Volts are affordable because they largely go ignored and that means you have money left over for your mods. I’m recommending this Volt because it’s within your budget, but mostly because you seem keen on modifying your car’s appearance.

The Chevrolet Volt underpins the Opel Ampera, which just looks gnarly. A front end transplant could be expensive and/or complex but I’m sure with a little persistence and effort you could be the only driver in Baltimore with your very own blitz logo, descended from Mt. Olympus itself, the envy of every Prius.

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Expert 3: Mercedes Streeter — Top-Down Fun

Illustration for article titled I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?
Photo: Smart
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I’m breaking the rules and suggesting a car I know too well. I know this will be a hard sell, but hear me out. The Electric Drive is one of the best versions of the Smart Fortwo.

Many complaints about the gas version are completely eliminated here. Many owners get about 80 miles on a charge with some getting 100 on a good day. This isn’t exactly road trip material, but perfect for cruising around. Since this car is fueled by electrons and not fossil fuels, you don’t have to worry about how the transmission feels.

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It’s also a convertible, so when the weather is good you can drop the top and catch some rays. Get some good tires and it’ll handle like a go kart, too.

Best yet, the Smart Fortwo is infinitely customizable. You can make the car look just any way you want and the number of aftermarket parts is practically endless.

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Here’s a third generation 2017 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Prime Cabriolet that comes in right around budget.

Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky — Nobody Really Wins, Here

Illustration for article titled I Need A Fun Electric Car, But It's Gotta Be Cheap! What Should I Buy?
Photo: CarGurus
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Oh, Christopher, this is a tricky one. Your problem may be that you’re a bit ahead of your time, in the sense that the current supply of sub-$15,000 EVs isn’t really made up of cars that will do all the things you want. I think they’ll come close on most, but the road trip part might prove to be an exercise in frustration, or, if you really don’t mind taking long recharge breaks, a meditative slog through America’s, um, crablands.

But, I think there’s some reasonable options for you. Not great options, but reasonable ones. Like a Fiat 500e.

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I drove one of these when it first came out back in 2013, and I liked it, though the range was under 90 miles. That sort of, you know, sucks. A Nissan Leaf of similar vintage gets a bit better, around the 100 mile range, but something like a Chevy Spark EV is sub-90 like the Fiat, too.

Look, for cheap used EVs, you’re basically buying a car with a gas tank that never goes more than 1/4 full.

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I like the BMW i3 suggestion, but for some baffling reason on the range extended ones, the gas tank is way too tiny, so you end up being able to take long road trips only at the cost of stopping to refuel maddeningly often. With that in mind, maybe your acceptance of long recharges is key here.

So, what the hell, why not a Fiat 500e? Here’s a 2017 one for under $10,000 with only 28,000 miles on it. I like the look of these, and I found them pretty fun to drive. They’re cheerful little cars, and I think they have more character than a Leaf or Spark, so why not have something fun to stare at on your very likely numerous recharging stops?

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I have no idea why this dealer uses that fisheye lens in all the pictures, though. Were they taken in a closet?

Besides, you live in Baltimore, which is in the densely-packed part of America, so how long are your road trips gonna be, anyway?

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The 500e is a surprisingly good (for a compliance car) EV. I think it could serve you well enough here until your life changes to the point where you want to drive more than 80something miles before stopping for an hour.

Until then, have a blast!

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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

DISCUSSION

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