I can't afford the brand new, cheaper Tesla Model 3. I certainly can't afford a used Tesla Model S (on Tesla's website and Auto Trader, the cheapest few are more than $90,000). I want a sexy-but-practical green car. Gas is cheap, so it's more of an eco thing. Can I get a decent used e-car or a hybrid for around $15,000? – Mohammed
Starting at $35,000 (U.S.), Tesla's budget car isn't cheap. At your budget, the greenest pasture is full of hybrids.
Used plug-ins are relatively pricey. Part of the problem is that there aren't many used electric cars out there. We checked online ads. For around $15,000, you're limited to, at best, a handful of Smart fortwo EDs and computer-mouse-like i-MiEVs from Mitsubishi. You might be able to find a Nissan Leaf or two. And that's across the whole country.
Unless you have a Pokemon fetish, none of those cars should be called sexy. And even the cheaper new electric cars aren't that cheap to buy compared to gas cars, even with rebates. For example, a new base iMiEV has a $27,998 MSRP. And there still aren't many out there. Again, looking at Mitsubishi's iMiEV – which Consumer Reports called "a glorified golf cart" – only 639 have been sold in Canada since 2011.
Even if you break your budget by up to $3,000, e-cars still won't be easy to find. Your chances are better with hybrids, although choices increase for those around $17,000. So, can you find a sexy, practical hybrid – a Tesla light – for $15,000? Let's look at the contenders:
2010-2012 Toyota Prius
Okay, it ain't sexy. This is a car that looks like a good deed. Or a taxicab. And it's not the most original choice – there are a lot of them out there. If you include all the Prius models, Toyota has sold nearly 56,000 in Canada (and nearly two million in the United States).
But there's a reason for that: it's practical, reliable and durable. In 2013, Canadian Black Book said the Prius had the best retained value of all compact cars. In this price range, you'll find cars from the third generation (2010-15) with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with electric motor putting out 136 hybrid net horsepower.
It has a CVT and a nickel metal hydride battery pack. Natural Resources Canada says the Prius gets 4.8 litres/100 kilometres combined city and highway.
Toyota offers an eight-year or 160,000-kilometre warranty on hybrid-related components, including the battery. But the battery should last. In 2011, Consumer Reports tested a 2002 Prius with its original battery and more than 321,000 kilometres on it. It drove almost exactly like a new one tested a decade earlier.
Edmunds praises the Prius's fuel economy, back-seat and cargo room, and comfortable ride. It gripes about an awkward driving position, noise on the road and overcomplicated gauges.
For this price, you might also be able to snag a Yaris-sized Prius C, a Prius V wagon or a Camry hybrid. The plug-in Prius, which combines an EV with a hybrid's range, is out of your range.
2011-2012 Honda CR-Z
Sexy? To some, especially fans of the 1980s CRX. Practical? Maybe to people with no kids and no carpooling duties.
The two-seater wasn't a big seller – just more than over 1,300 have been sold in Canada – but there are first-generation versions out there for less than $15,000.
Honda called it the world's first sport hybrid. Some reviewers say it's not all that sporty. But at Edmunds, CR-Z owners say it's a fun car to drive.
Its 1.5-litre four-cylinder gas engine is paired with a nickel metal hydride battery pack and Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor to deliver 122 horsepower.
It has worse gas mileage than Honda's Insight or the Civic hybrid – but it's still no gas guzzler.
Natural Resources Canada gives the CR-Z a combined 6.4 litres/100 km for the CVT. For the six-speed manual, it's 7.1.
Consumer Reports gives the CR-Z top marks for reliability but says the "ride is choppy, noise levels are high, and on-limit handling can be tricky."
One nifty feature is the ring around the speedometer that changes colour. Red in sport mode, blue in normal mode and green in eco mode – when you're driving economically.
In this price range, you'll also find Honda Insights and Civic hybrids, both up until 2011.
2011-2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Practical? Sure. Sexy? Yep. The hitch is that you might not be able to get one for a song – they're tougher to find than the other two at around $15,000, but they're out there.
The hybrid version of Hyundai's sedan has a six-speed automatic and a 199-horsepower, 2.4-litre four-cylinder with electric motor and lithium ion battery pack. It gets a combined 6.4 litres/100 km.
Consumer Reports gives the 2011 Sonata an average reliability rating. And it's not a big fan of the hybrid version: "Although it gets better fuel economy than its non-hybrid doppelganger, the trade-off in driveability, refinement, and braking performance is too high."
Edmunds also complained about performance trade-offs in the greener Sonata. "Almost all hybrids exhibit some quirkiness, but the Sonata Hybrid's acceleration and braking is the quirkiest of the bunch," the site says.
Another option at this price: the Kia Optima hybrid.
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