Cheapest Electric Cars You Can Buy in 2021
Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate based in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. He is a content creator and marketing professional who contributes written and recorded pieces to a wide range of media outlets. His work has been featured in Find The Best Car Price and Torque News, among others. He has also had video content featured on Inside EVs. Birkett was an EV Guide for Plug in America events in Massachusetts (Drive Electric Cambridge and Drive Electric Lowell) and Ohio (Earth Day 2019 at Cleveland Zoo). He participates in quarterly advisory panel meetings for EVolve New York (a state-level charging initiative) and has contributed to focus groups for prominent U.S. charging networks.
Birkett is a father-of-two who loves nothing more than packing up the family and hitting the road in their latest electric car, which is currently a 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV. With a Chevy Volt and Tesla Model 3 LR in the extended family, plus various EV rentals when he ventures back home to his native United Kingdom, Birkett has more than 60,000 all-electric miles under his belt and is always ready to try out a new electric vehicle.
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One of the main criticisms leveled at electric vehicles (EVs) is that they are too expensive. Even the cheapest electric cars tend to come in around $5,000-$10,000 more expensive than their gasoline equivalents, which can be a tough pill to swallow for car buyers on a tight budget.
Nonetheless, affordable EVs are available at similar prices to traditional cars if you know where to look.
That’s our objective in this article; to help you find the cheapest electric car to fit your budget.
Table of Contents
A Note on Used Electric Cars
Before we start, it’s important to note that the market for pre-owned EVs is currently a mixed bag. On the one hand, electric cars with very low mileage are available for well under $10,000, putting them in the price range of most budget-conscious buyers. On the other, many of these cars come from the first wave of modern EVs, which means their range is usually limited, and the technology may already be outdated.
The development curve for electric vehicles is much sharper than combustion models, so a four or five-year-old car may be much less capable than a new all-electric model.
That will be fine for some buyers, but it’s essential to take extra time to compare the features and capabilities of used vs. new EVs. Although the former will offer some of the cheapest electric cars on the market - or possibly the cheapest car, period - there could be a significant limitation to the vehicle that explains why its price is so low.
Cheapest Electric Cars Available Today
With the underlying technology improving and battery costs coming down every year, capable new EVs are now available at almost every price point. Factor in available state and federal incentives for electric models, and the cheapest electric cars become a compelling alternative to gas-powered models.
Despite the availability of incentives, we’ll compare the most affordable EVs currently available based on MSRP of the lowest trim level and accompanying offers from the manufacturer, such as complimentary charging packages and support for installation of home charging.
With that in mind, the following five models are our picks for the cheapest electric car on the market today:
|2022 MINI Cooper SE|
|2022 Chevy Bolt EV|
|2021 Nissan Leaf|
|2021 Hyundai IONIQ|
Let’s take a look at each of these models individually to see which affordable EV offers the best bang for your buck.
2022 Mini Cooper SE
While the original MINI was certainly a budget-conscious car, the brand has morphed into a revamped icon since BMW acquired it in the late nineties. Well-optioned models can approach the $50,000 mark, making the all-electric MINI Cooper SE look very reasonable as it slides in below $30,000 before incentives. Federal and state-level offers can slice another $10,000 off that MSRP in some areas, making the 2022 MINI Cooper SE the cheapest new electric car available today.
Naturally, that comes at a cost, one that will be familiar to early EV buyers: limited range. At 114 miles on a single charge, the MINI Cooper SE remains firmly in the “city car” category that has hovered over electric vehicles for many years. Like other models on this list push above 250 miles, they offer more than twice the range of the MINI without doubling the price tag.
Even with this large caveat, for the right buyer, a fully electric MINI at this entry-level price could be the perfect way to go electric. With a quiet ride, peppy acceleration pushing it to 60 mph in six seconds, and the kind of stylish interior that fans of the brand have come to love, there’s a lot to say for this car as a daily driver for a short commute or a fun weekend whizz around the city.
2022 Chevy Bolt EV
Where the MINI Cooper SE offers all-electric style at an affordable price point, the veteran Chevy Bolt EV opts for practicality and a greatly improved range figure. At 259 miles on a single charge for barely $1,000 more on the sticker price, the latest Bolt EV is the cheapest electric car for buyers who regularly need to travel further.
Refreshed for the 2022 model year, the Chevy Bolt EV received external upgrades and a drop in MSRP. The first generation was officially priced closer to $37,000, though dealer and OEM discounts often shaved five figures off that number. Considered a high price for this utilitarian model, General Motors repositioned the MSRP to make room for the larger Chevy Bolt EUV and place the 2022 Bolt EV as the cheapest long-range electric car.
Although GM no longer qualifies for the federal tax credit in its current form, state discounts still apply, and the automaker offers various incentives to help buyers transition to electric driving. For example, a program to pay for installing home charging hardware will help new Bolt buyers make the most of a key EV advantage.
With so much range at this low price point and with one of the most frequently asked questions - “where will I charge it?” - answered by the manufacturer, the 2022 Chevy Bolt EV makes a strong case as the most capable cheap electric car on the market.
2021 Nissan Leaf
With a full decade now under its belt, the Nissan Leaf is a fixture on any list of affordable EVs. In addition to propping up the used EV market with first-generation versions available from $5,000, the second generation offers faster charging and a greater range across two different pack sizes.
In its base trim, the 2021 Nissan Leaf delivers 149 miles on a charge from a 40 kWh battery pack. Although a 62 kWh pack is available, MSRP on that trim pushes past the $40,000 mark and becomes uncompetitive with newer models like the Volkswagen ID.4. However, like GM with the Bolt EV, we now see Nissan offering regular manufacturer discounts and attractive lease deals for the longer-range Leaf, which provides a more compelling 226 miles per charge.
Despite these discounts, it’s hard to recommend the Nissan Leaf now that so many cheap electric vehicles exist at a similar price point.
For those who can deal with a range below 200 miles, the MINI Cooper SE costs less and is more fun to drive. For those willing to pay a little more to get a larger battery pack, the Chevy Bolt EV is similarly priced, has a larger battery pack, and utilizes the more common CCS charging standard to make long-distance travel more manageable. As the last remaining mainstream EV on the CHAdeMO charging standard in North America and with no thermal management to cool its battery in hot climates, the Nissan Leaf will always be a tough car to road trip. As an affordable option for regional travel, though, the Leaf earns its spot on the list of cheapest electric cars.
2021 Hyundai IONIQ
Long heralded for its excellent efficiency, the Hyundai IONIQ was only recently ousted from the top spot by Tesla’s sleek Model 3.
Affectionately nicknamed the “Wind Knife,” this model frequently exceeds its already impressive 170 miles of EPA range from a 38.3 kWh pack. As the only sedan on this list of the cheapest electric cars, perhaps it’s inevitable that the IONIQ is also the most efficient. Still, its blend of solid range and strong fast charging makes it competitive against EVs with larger battery packs.
Another factor in its favor is that Hyundai still qualifies for the full federal tax credit and has always offered attractive deals on the IONIQ line. Taking advantage of all available discounts puts this model in the low $20,000 range for buyers in some areas, making it no more expensive than its plug-in hybrid cousin.
Add the adoption of CCS charging on Hyundai EVs, plus generous warranty terms over 10 years/100,000 miles, and you have a cheap electric car that covers most driving bases and offers peace of mind into the package.
2022 Volkswagen ID.4
As the most expensive option on this list - and one that barely squeezes in below $40,000, no less - it’s fair to ask why Volkswagen’s brand new EV makes the cut as an affordable electric vehicle.
Two reasons: 1) Full availability of the federal tax credit, and 2) three years of free “fuel”
Because Volkswagen Group effectively owns the Electrify America charging network, which has the best geographical coverage of any public US network, it brings a lot of leeway to include complimentary juice with the EVs it sells. Similar sweetheart deals exist with Audi and Porsche, but only the VW ID.4 brings the offer to the affordable end of the market.
All of this means that some prospective EV buyers can get into a sizeable all-electric crossover for around $30,000, then eliminate fuel costs for the first three years of ownership if they live or work near an Electrify America location. With 260 miles of range and 125 kW CCS charging, both the highest numbers on this list of cheap electric cars, the ID.4 is easily the best long-distance option on this list. As an accessible option with very few tradeoffs compared to its gasoline competitors, it’s not surprising that the Volkswagen ID.4 is already being tagged as the best value for money in the current EV market.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cheapest EV available right now?
Well-optioned models can approach the $50,000 mark, making the all-electric MINI Cooper SE look very reasonable as it slides in below $30,000 before incentives. Federal and state-level offers can slice another $10,000 off that MSRP in some areas, making the 2022 MINI Cooper SE the cheapest new electric car available today.
What is the cheapest EV with the longest range?
At 259 miles on a single charge for barely $1,000 more than the MINI Cooper SE, the latest Bolt EV is the cheapest electric car for buyers who regularly need to travel further.
Do manufacturers offer incentives for EVs?
Chevrolet offers support for free home charger installation, Nissan offers up to a $250 charging credit, and Volkswagen offers three years of free charging on its Electrify America network.
Should I buy a used EV?
On the one hand, electric cars with very low mileage are available for well under $10,000, putting them in the price range of most budget-conscious buyers. On the other, many of these cars come from the first wave of modern EVs, which means their range is usually limited, and the technology may already be outdated.
What EV models still qualify for the federal tax incentive?
Models like the MINI Cooper SE, Hyundai IONIQ, and Volkswagen ID.4 still qualify for the full federal EV tax credit. However, Tesla models and the Chevrolet Bolt no longer qualify.