2015's Electric Car Lineup

March 23rd, 2015

Tesla Model X
The Model X is a super-high-performance, utilitarian, luxury SUV with falcon-wing doors. If it only matches the concept vehicle, no other SUV or crossover should be able to compete with it. It does have a downside, in that it will be priced out of the reach of most, and is supposed to hit the market in the second half of 2015.

Tesla Motors introduced a prototype of the 2015 Model X crossover, its third all-electric model behind the Roadster and the Model S sedan. The seven-passenger Model X promises to be more versatile and family-friendly than the Model S, and is scheduled to double the size of Tesla’s current U.S. lineup when it eventually goes on sale sometime this year. The Roadster is based on the Lotus Elise. The Model X, which looks a lot like a Model S, has been stretched vertically. Its grille, headlights, taillights, and general contours are similar to the sedans. Both of the two cars’ dashboards are nearly identical, with the X inheriting the S’s giant, 17-inch central touch screen and reconfigurable gauge cluster. However, the Model X has two key differences: a set of rear “falcon-wing” doors and a forward-facing third row of seats.

The fancy doors don’t exactly jibe with the Model X’s advertised family appeal; they appear ready to interfere with the loading of children, possibly swooping down to snack on your pre-teens. Perhaps that’s why Tesla named its flightless doors after a bird of prey instead of using the “gullwing” term. But of course, that is so Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell. Whatever you call them, the doors aren’t without at least some clever engineering; hinges just above the window allow each door to fold as it swings up, keeping them close to the car in tight spaces.

It’s an Electric Crossover  - The X’s connection to Tesla’s sedan is more than skin deep. The two cars essentially share a platform, but while the Model S is rear-drive-only, the X can be outfitted with crossover-necessary all-wheel drive. Its standard drive configuration mirrors that of the S, with a single, rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels. An additional, front-mounted motor powers the front axle on all-wheel-drive models. As with other on-demand all-wheel-drive systems, the Model X’s detects traction differences between the two axles and apportions power accordingly. Similar to the S sedan, there will be a sporty Performance model; it will be all-wheel-drive-only and is claimed to hit 60 mph in less than five seconds.

Model X buyers will be able to choose between two battery capacities—a 60-kWh pack is standard, and an 85-kWh unit is available. Tesla hasn’t released other technical specifics yet, but it’s safe to assume the X heavier and less aerodynamic than the S. This, plus the additional electric motor on all-wheel-drive models, likely will conspire to give the X a shorter driving range than the S. Tesla says the Model S with the 60-kWh battery can travel up to 230 miles on a single charge, or up to 300 with the beefier 85-kWh unit. The X’s additional pork might also explain why Tesla isn’t offering it with the Model S’s available lower-capacity, 40-kWh battery, which offers the sedan just 160 miles of motoring.
Pricing for the Model X has yet to be announced, but Tesla has said the least-expensive version will start somewhere close to the Model S’s post-$7500 tax credit $49,900 sticker. Expect to dole out a lot more for the additional range afforded by the higher-capacity battery pack, and more still for the Performance version. Tesla plans to begin producing the crossover near the end of next year, and to deliver the first customer cars early in 2015. Given the Model S’s repeated delays—it has yet to go on sale—and that the Model X already suggests taking Tesla’s schedule with a large, winged grain of salt.

MW X5 eDrive
Perhaps the closest competitor to the Model X, the BMW X5 eDrive is a plug-in hybrid electric SUV that will have its fair share of performance, luxury, and high-tech features. It will be able to learn your driving habits and teach you how to drive more efficiently, it will be able to avoid crashes that some drivers would fail to escape from, and it will probably have a bit more “luxury” than the Model X. On the other hand, it won’t have the acceleration, seating capacity, or looks of th Model X. In order to compete, I’d think the X5 eDrive would have to be quite a bit more affordable than the Model X, which might be hard to pull off.

VW Passat GTE Plug-in
The VW Passat GTE Plug-in, unveiled in 2014, is expected to go from 0 to 60 mph in under 8 seconds, which is respectable for an average-priced car. Of course, being electric, that will feel much faster than a gasoline car with the same time. It will also have a very high top speed of 136 mph. It’s all-electric range will be very good for a plug-in hybrid: 31 miles (though, that figure may be for Europe, and the US one would be quite a bit lower than the Europe one due to more rigorous testing). Sporty, sleek, and with decent specs, if the price is right, this one could sell. Unfortunately, the VW Passat GTE Plug-in is just set for release in Europe at the moment.

Audi A3 e-Tron
The Audi A3 e-Tron is already on sale at over 100 German dealerships, but it is on this list because it is expected to make its US debut in 2015. There’s already a US webpage for it, and you can sign up for updates. It’s another plug-in hybrid electric car (this seems to be the theme in 2015, quite different from 2014). The electric-only range is estimated to be 18 miles, which is not spectacular, but is at least better than the Toyota Prius Plug-in. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in a 7.6 seconds. It has also landed a difficult 5 stars in Europe’s safety ratings. I think it’ll be hard for the Audi A3 e-Tron to compete with the Chevy Volt or Ford Energi models on value for the money, but some will prefer the e-Tron’s looks and the Audi brand, and the President of Audi of America, Scott Keogh, contends that this is not going to be a “compliance car.” We’ll see.

Audi Q7 Plug-in
The Audi Q7 is another plug-in hybrid from Audi. This SUV/crossover will reportedly be able to go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.1 seconds — hard to beat in this class. The highly awaited luxury plug-in from Audi has a good shot of lifting Audi out of the doldrums of electric inactivity and toward the top of the list for EV enthusiasts. We’ll see.

Rimac Concept_One
The Rimac Concept_One is not everyman’s car. It is an electric supercar out of Croatia that costs a fortune… as in, $1 million. Needless to say, most of us will be lucky to even see one of these, let alone touch one, let alone ride in one, let alone own one. Still, it’s a beauty worth mentioning, and I’m hopeful it will get produced in 2015. As of now, 88 initial cars are planned for production in 2015. The Rimac Concept_One can reportedly go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, and has a horsepower of 1,088. Yep, that’s a “supercar.” Rimac Automobili recently landed a good bit more investment in order to produce the initial 88 cars.

2016 Chevy Volt
An updated version of the popular Chevy Volt is supposed to be sportier and should benefit from advancements in battery technology. Reportedly taking design cues from the C7 Corvette Stingray and adding a fifth seat.