One of the many barriers of entry to getting a new electric vehicle (EV) is the initial purchase price. Affordability in the automotive space has been under attack in the past few years, as cheap options for gasoline vehicles are continually dwindling, and there currently aren’t any cheap EVs at all. According to Edmunds data, which is “weighted by sales volumes in order to be more reflective of the market and diminish the effect of extremes,” the average transaction price of a new EV was $60,984 in May 2022.
As it stands, the least-expensive electric model is the 2023 Chevrolet Bolt at $26,595 with destination costs, and that’s after its price was recently significantly cut. That’s fairly affordable, but it’s not cheap. Incentives and rebates could soften the blow, but they aren’t available in every state to every customer for every EV.
When looking at electrics that are for sale right now, there are only six vehicles that have starting MSRPs of less than $40,000 before any state or federal discounts. Only three of them are less than $30,000, and if you don’t like Chevy, the aging Nissan Leaf is the lone remaining option. That’s not much of a choice for low- and middle-class people trying to ditch gasoline, but this is what’s available. Let’s take a look.
2023 Chevrolet Bolt
Starting MSRP (with destination, without tax credits, without markup): $26,595
Length: 163.2 inches
Battery Pack: 65 kWh
Claimed Total Range: 259 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 11.5 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 200 horsepower
Claimed Torque: 266 pound-feet
Claimed 0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds
The Chevrolet Bolt, which recently saw a significant price drop (in this economy?), is the cheapest of this bunch and also one of the most complete offerings. Its familiar hatchback shape offers inoffensive looks, it has more interior volume than the longer Leaf, its power numbers are great for a car of this size, its range is unbeatable at this price point, and it’s known to have one of the best one-pedal driving experiences of any EV. General Motors even sweetens the deal by offering to cover the costs of the installation of a Level 2 charging outlet for people who purchase or lease a 2022 Bolt EUV or Bolt EV.
For $3,900 extra, Bolt EV buyers can upgrade from the 1LT to the 2LT, which gains leather seats, machined-face aluminum 17-inch wheels, an eight-way power front seat, ambient instrument panel lighting, a surround-view camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, added safety features like rear cross-traffic alert, and the availability of wireless device charging, rear USB ports, and adaptive cruise control, among other features.
This is less of a concern for new-car buyers, but it must be said that 2017-2022 Bolts and 2022 Bolt EUVs have been recalled due to a fire risk from the batteries. However, Chevrolet is on it and has been replacing defective battery packs free of charge. The recalls are NHTSA Campaign Numbers 20V701000, 21V650000, and 21V560000. Visit Chevy’s recall page for more information.
2023 Chevrolet Bolt EUV
Starting MSRP: $28,195
Length: 169.5 inches
Battery Pack: 65 kWh
Estimated Total Range: 247 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 11.5 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 200 hp
Claimed Torque: 266 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds
The Bolt EUV is just a slightly bigger Bolt with a shorter single-charge range by 12 miles, though it does offer the option for General Motors Super Cruise driver assistance technology. It has the same battery pack, same power numbers, and same looks, but it has a longer wheelbase by 2.9-inches and it’s 6.3 inches longer overall. Height and width only increase by 0.2 of an inch for the EUV.
Inside, the only major difference is the EUV has 3.1 inches of extra rear legroom. Headroom is worse by 0.1 of an inch in the front and rear, rear shoulder room is worse by 0.8 of an inch, and hip room is better by 0.1 of an inch in the front but worse by 0.6 of an inch in the rear.
It only offers 2.6 cubic feet of extra passenger volume, and oddly enough, cargo volume behind the rear seat is actually worse by 0.3 cubic feet. The Bolt EUV was also subject to the same recall as the Bolt EV. Visit Chevy’s recall page for more information.
2023 Nissan Leaf
Starting MSRP: $28,895 / $36,895
Length: 176.4 inches
Battery Pack: 40 kWh / 62 kWh
Estimated Total Range: 149 / 212 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 6.6 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 147 hp / 214 hp
Claimed Torque: 236 lb-ft / 250 lb-ft
0-60 mph: Not Provided
Nissan launched the Leaf in 2010 for the 2011 model year and began building the Leaf in Tennessee in early 2013. For a while, the Leaf was the best-selling mainstream EV on the market (Nissan has sold more than 500,000 globally), but its early lead has been overtaken by other automakers like Tesla.
The dated Leaf isn’t the prime pick of these vehicles, but if it came down to it, the $36,895 SV Plus trim is the best-equipped of the available options. Although the $28,895 S trim with the 40-kWh battery is cheaper, the SV Plus offers much better power and range, plus it adds faster quick charging, heated features, LED lighting, intelligent cruise control, and a heat pump, among other features.
For what it’s worth, the 2014-2017 Leaf also had one of the lowest death rates of any car between 2015 and 2018, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) status report from 2020. The current Leaf might not be long for this world, though. New reports suggest the Nissan could soon cease production, with no indication of whether or not the car will get another generation or if it will be replaced by something else.
2023 Mazda MX-30 (Only available in California)
Starting MSRP: $34,695
Length: 173.3 inches
Battery Pack: 35.5 kwH
Estimated Total Range: 100 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 6.6 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 143 hp
Claimed Torque: 200 lb-ft
0-60 mph: Not provided
The Mazda MX-30 is an extremely niche vehicle due to its limited availability in California only and its limited single-charge range of an EPA-rated 100 miles. Despite Mazda offering three free years of its Elite Access loaner program that allows owners to access Mazda’s other gas-powered vehicles, it’s a hard sell for anybody who isn’t a brand loyalist. Packaged with charming looks and fun design features like coach doors that open the opposite way, the MX-30 is marked as a crossover, but it’s actually similar in size to the base Nissan Leaf (3.1 inches shorter in length, 0.2 inch wider, and the same height).
There are only two available options when building the MX-30, the base car or the Premium Plus model for $3,010 more. On top of the great list of standard features, it adds a different style of 18-inch wheel, blind spot assist, front cross-traffic alert, driver monitor, dynamic lines on the rearview camera, keyless entry, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, SiriusXM radio, a 12-speaker Bose system, a heated steering wheel, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a cargo area light, and a 360-degree surround-view camera.
Through June, Mazda has sold a total of 316 MX-30s this year in the U.S., 23 in June. If you really want a Mazda with EV power but are nervous about the range, it might be best to wait until the MX-30 plug-in hybrid with a rotary range extender debuts.
2023 Mini Cooper SE
Starting MSRP: $35,075
Length: 151.7 inches
Battery Pack: 32.69 kWh
Estimated Total Range: 114 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 7.4 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 181 hp
Claimed Torque: 199
0-60 mph: 6.9 seconds
Among this group of vehicles, the electric Mini Cooper is the one for people who prioritize fun driving and unique personality over size, space, and range. The Mini is the smallest of the bunch, and the full-charge range is only 114 miles, according to EPA ratings. It’s also the only sub-$40K EV with two doors.
The electric Mini Cooper was previously significantly cheaper at $30,750, but due to the unavailability of the base trim, its entry price is $35,075 for now. Buyers have the choice of the Signature 2.0 trim at that price or the Iconic 2.0 trim for an additional $2,475. The Iconic 2.0 trim adds more paint and roof color options, premium interior equipment options, a Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display, piano black exterior trim, advanced real-time traffic, a universal garage door opener, and a parking assistant. For city driving, the Mini is a less-practical quirky option, especially for street parkers.
2022 Hyundai Kona (only sold in CA, CO, CT, ME, MA, MD, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT & WA)
Starting MSRP: $35,295
Length: 165.6 inches
Battery Pack: 64.0 kWh
Estimated Total Range: 258 miles, per the EPA
Onboard Charger: 7.2 kW
Claimed Horsepower: 201 hp
Claimed Torque: 291 lb-ft
0-60 mph: Not provided
The Kona, which is labeled as a small SUV but is basically a hatchback akin to the Bolt, is a car that wears many hats for Hyundai. There’s a cheap gas version with available all-wheel drive, there’s a performance gas version called the Kona N with 276 horsepower and launch control, and there’s an electric version. Although the styling across the range is polarizing, all three are solid cars for the money. They’re fairly peppy, they handle decently well (in part thanks to rear multi-link suspension), they offer a nice level of refinement, and they’re well-equipped. The Drive’s contributor Kevin Williams said it was “unpretentious and easy to use with good real-world range” in his test drive review.
The Kona EV is available in two trims, SEL for the base price and Limited for $8,500 more. That’s a significant jump, especially when power and range stay the same, but the Limited trim does give buyers LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats, ventilated front seats, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen (up from eight-inch), a rear USB outlet, wireless phone charging, smart cruise control, ambient interior lighting, digital key, and a few extra active safety features.
Not everybody will be able to buy a Kona, however. They’re only sold in the select states listed above.
Slightly More Expensive Than $40,000:
These cars technically list for more than $40,000, but it’s possible they could be cheaper with incentives or tax breaks, so we wanted to mention them for consideration.
- The base rear-wheel-drive 2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 with an EPA-rated 220 miles of range for $41,245
- The base front-wheel-drive 2022 Kia Niro with an EPA-rated 239 miles of range for $41,285
- The base all-wheel-drive 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Pro with an EPA-rated 230 miles of range for $41,769
- The base rear-wheel-drive 2022 Volkswagen ID.4 Pro with an EPA-rated 275 miles of range for $42,525
- The base rear-wheel-drive 2022 Kia EV6 with an EPA-rated 232 miles of range for $42,695
These Prices Are Before Incentives
Incentives, tax breaks, and perks for electric vehicles from dealerships, state governments, and the federal government are possible, but they are not guaranteed. Whether or not a purchase qualifies for these discounts will depend on the person, the state, the dealership, and the availability of incentives. These discounts could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, but again, there also might be none. Inquire about these discounts in your local area to get a better idea of what the final cost of these vehicles could be.
Clarification: July 29, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET: This article previously included a section for upcoming electric vehicles that might fit this criteria. However, due to the uncertain and unclear nature of the reality, viability, and timing of future vehicles, that section has been removed. New vehicles will be added when production models are for sale and available to the public.