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Dear Kelley Blue Book: Small Electric Vehicles

The Challenge: Looking for an Electric Vehicle to Replace a Gas Powered Small Car


Despite the popularity of larger trucks and SUVs, many value-conscious Canadian car buyers still look to the sub-compact and compact segments for their daily transportation in the form of small sedans, hatchbacks or SUVs. And while new, internal combustion engine (ICE) small vehicles are remarkably fuel-efficient compared to older generations, replacing your current compact with an electric vehicle (EV) is now a realistic possibility. These small EVs use no gas at all, and a home-installed charging station means never having to go to the gas station. 

If you are considering replacing your current ICE small vehicle with a new EV, we’ve gathered seven front-wheel-drive sub-compact and compact 5-passenger hatchback EVs for your consideration. The question is: which one offers the most practicality, cargo room, reasonable amount of electric driving range, and lowest purchase price, not including Canadian federal and provincial EV rebate programs? 


The Contenders 


2020 Chevrolet Bolt 


With an estimated electric driving range of 417 kilometres and a starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $44,998 CDN, the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt offers the most extended range in this group. The electric Chevy’s 150-kilowatt electric motor makes a generous 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. As per all these small EVs, the Bolt uses a single gear automatic transmission. 


Despite never having to visit a gas station, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the Bolt’s estimated annual energy costs are a relatively low $463 CDN (based on the combined city/highway rating, an annual driving distance of 20,000 km and forecast prices of $0.13/kWh for electricity). As with other electric vehicles, the Bolt is quick off the line, quiet and offers a compliant ride. Even with only 478 litres of rear cargo space, the Bolt makes an excellent city car or runabout, and with some planning for recharges, it can even be a road-tripper. 


2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric 


For 2020, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is improved with a larger battery and more power, enabling the EV to travel an NRCan-estimated 274 kilometres on a single charge—still below average for this group. Hyundai has also added more safety features as standard and extended the warranty for the battery pack. Starting at $41,499 CDN, the Hyundai EV’s price is only beaten by the VW e-Golf. The Ioniq Electric is also cheap to run, with an estimated annual $411 CDN energy cost—the lowest of these contenders. The Hyundai EV’s 100-kilowatt motor produces 134 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque. 


From behind the wheel, the Hyundai EV is refined and comfortable. There’s also a generous 651-litre rear cargo area (second only to the Kia Soul among our contenders) under its hatchback. In day-to-day driving, the Hyundai EV feels like a regular compact car, which is a good thing. 


2020 Hyundai Kona Electric 


The 2020 Kona Electric SUV is similar to the gas-powered Kona in terms of nimbleness, yet stands out in other ways thanks to its fully electric powertrain—essentially the same powertrain found in the Kia Niro and Soul EVs, a 150-kilowatt electric motor making 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque that’s tops in this group of small EVs. Second to the Chevrolet Bolt, the Kona Electric has an estimated 415-kilometre electric range. Annual charging costs are estimated at a below-average $452 CDN. Due to its sloping rear hatch, the $44,999 CDN Kona Electric’s rear cargo space is limited to only 543 litres.  


Like other EVs, the Kona Electric’s acceleration and power are as immediate as a light switch. Nail the accelerator, and you can chirp the front tires. As for stopping, the driver-adjustable regen-braking system can be set to different levels. At its max, it can nearly enable one-pedal driving. 


2020 Kia Niro EV 


Similar to its Hyundai Ioniq platform-mate, the 2020 Kia Niro offers a trio of energy-conscious powertrains: the gas-electric Hybrid; the Plug-In Hybrid (that can travel 42 kilometres on electric power before the gas engine kicks in); and the all-electric EV that can be driven 385 kilometres on a single charge. The Niro EV’s annual electric charging bill is estimated at $484 CDN. Under its hatch, you’ll find an above-average 628 litres of cargo space. 


In town, the $44,995 CDN Niro EV feels right at home, with a tight turning radius and helpful driver assists such as the standard rear-view camera and available rear cross-traffic alert. As an all-electric vehicle, the Niro EV is remarkably quiet. With the battery pack mounted low and between the axles, the Kia EV also feels well-planted. Electric cars are blessed with instant acceleration and torque loads, and these traits are on full display in the Niro EV. 


2020 Kia Soul EV 


One of the first small and affordable EVs to arrive on the market, the second-generation 2020 Kia Soul EV hatchback offers two powertrains. The base $42,595 CDN Premium trim gets a 100-kilowatt electric motor making 134 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque. Its electric range is estimated at 248 kilometres, and annual charge costs are $468 CDN. If you need more range, the $51,595 CDN Limited trim is powered by the larger unit shared with the Kia Niro EV, adding 135 kilometres of range, $16 CDN in annual energy costs, and features like heated and cooled front seats, heads-up display and upgraded sound system. 


Whatever trim you choose, the 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive Soul EV has the quiet operation desirable of EVs. Plus, the inherent qualities of non-electric Souls. The Kia hatchback’s boxy, upright design results in the most rear cargo space among these contenders, with up to 685 litres of space. 


2020 Nissan Leaf 


On sale since the 2010 model year, 2020 Nissan Leaf hatchback pioneered the small and affordable EV segment. The base $44,298 CDN Leaf comes with a 110-kilowatt electric motor producing 147 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, with an estimated 240-kilometre range. Annual charging costs are estimated at $491 CDN. A more potent, 160-kilowatt motor (the highest rating in this group) with a range of 363 kilometres, an estimated $507 CDN annual charging cost, and 214 horsepower and 250 pound-feet of torque is available, starting with the $46,898 CDN Leaf S Plus trim. 


Unlike the first generation to bear the name, the 2020 Leaf feels more substantial. The steering is light, which is in keeping with the Nissan EV’s primary mission of urban and freeway commuting, and there’s up to 668 litres of rear cargo space. The Leaf S Plus feels much the same, but with added power. Its larger battery is heavier, contributing to a low centre of gravity that translates to driver confidence. 


2020 Volkswagen e-Golf 


To buyers seeking a German-engineered small and affordable EV, if you can’t wait until the all-new iD4 compact SUV EV that is scheduled to arrive in 2022, the 2020 e-Golf is here. Unlike VW’s iD range that will use a dedicated EV platform, the e-Golf is based on the latest Golf hatchback platform. Starting at $37,895 CDN, the e-Golf is the least expensive among our small EV contenders. The electric VW’s annual NRCan annual charging cost estimate is $484 CDN. 


With a 100-kilowatt electric motor, making 115 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, the VW EV also comes with the least power. As a result, the e-Golf’s range of only 198 kilometres is the shortest of our small EV contenders. However, it brings the standard Golf’s taut manners and nimble handling. The e-Golf has the same amount of cargo space as the standard ICE model, a below-average 341 litres. 


Our Choice 


Despite its seniority in the small EV segment, the 2020 Nissan Leaf is arguably the least competitive offering if you are looking to replace your small gas-powered car. The Nissan EV’s cost-to-range ratio is the poorest here, and the premium price of the longer-range model is of questionable value.  


While the 2020 Volkswagen e-Golf offers all the German-engineered characteristics enthusiasts love about the gas-Golf, we can only recommend it if your driving range between charges falls under 200 kilometres. 


The 2020 versions of the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV and Soul EV are similar in price, power and range. Of this trio, we think the Niro is the best overall pick. 


If you are looking for a small EV with the longest range, go for the 2020 Bolt.  


But if you are looking for the best overall replacement for your existing gas-powered compact vehicle, based on practicality, cargo room, amount of electric driving range, and purchase price, our choice would be the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric. 


If you’re in the market for a new vehicle and have a unique buying request, please contact KBB.ca at KBBSupport@coxautoinc.com.  



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