Change comes, but not always in the ways you expect it.
That’s a lesson that burbles up from the depths of the mainstream vehicle market when we look at the types of green cars we expected by the end of the decade, and what we actually got.
With each model year, despite the faster-than-expected gains in the affordability of lithium-ion battery technology, affordable EVs don’t seem to be getting any closer. Meanwhile, years after the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt, who thought that there might be so many plug-in hybrid models that struggle to reach even 20 miles of rated electric range?
As we underscored on Monday with our list of contenders for Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy 2020, we required any nominees this year—like last year—to offer a tailpipe-emissions-free mode good for 32 miles or more if a plug-in hybrid or 100 miles or more if an electric vehicle.
Regular readers of Green Car Reports, the editors suspect, may find the list of vehicles that didn’t make the cut this year—and the drama over why—to be more interesting than the list of vehicles that made the finals.
The Kia Soul EV and Mercedes-Benz EQC were both bound to meet our criteria but then were delayed by their respective parent companies by a year or more. Based on the latest timing released for both of these models, neither of them will be contenders next year either.
Refreshed plug-in hybrids from Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, and Porsche, even if they would have been on sale soon enough, would not have met out 32-mile cutoff for plug-in hybrids. That’s also the case for revamped versions of the Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid and Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid, which still won’t likely meet our 32-mile cutoff for plug-in hybrids.
The BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV offered more range this year, but both weren’t significantly different in other areas to meet our criteria. Likewise, the Nissan Leaf Plus built on the redesigned Leaf introduced for 2018 and wasn’t significantly changed in other ways—although we do see it as meeting a wider range of needs.
The Hyundai Ioniq Electric, with its longer 170-mile range and refresh, will likely be on our list next year. But the Mini Cooper S E won’t make our cut if its actual EPA range comes in near the anticipated 114 miles.
And then there were the hybrids. Five new hybrid models met our requirements for availability and manage fuel-efficiency ratings at or near the top of their respective classes:
2020 Ford Escape Hybrid
Ford Escape Hybrid. After Ford tried to follow the Prius and cast a wider net to green-car shoppers with its C-Max, the automaker is returning back to its roots this year instead—with a new version of the Escape Hybrid. This one, for the time being, manages the best EPA combined rating in its class, at up to 41 mpg in front-wheel drive. The Escape Plug-In Hybrid, due next year, is expected to drive up to 30 miles, so it might not quite meet 32-mile our cutoff for PHEVs.
2020 Ford Explorer hybrid
Ford Explorer Hybrid. The Ford Explorer has been completely redesigned for 2020, and for the first time it’s offered in a hybrid version. Ford goes about this hybrid system in a way that’s completely different than in the Escape Hybrid. Here, there’s a V-6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission, with a 44-hp electric motor, and the engine can be clutched in or out of the mix. Ford’s system, earning 28 mpg combined, was designed for towing and hauling needs, so it’s the pick for those who want to use the Explorer as a truck or serious family road-trip machine.
2019 Lexus UX (UX250h E-Four hybrid)
Lexus UX250h. The UX250h, which is the hybrid version of the UX compact crossover—a hatchback with slightly higher riding height, essentially—is the more luxurious alternative to the Prius and, for the U.S. lineup, effectively takes the place of the CT hatchback. Its EPA combined rating isn’t nearly as good at 42 mpg, but its cabin emulates that of larger Lexus models.
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Toyota Corolla Hybrid. The best-selling (cumulative) nameplate in the world at last gets a hybrid version for the U.S. in 2020. With the latest version of Toyota’s hybrid system from the Prius (amounting to a 52-mpg rating), and the much-improved design, interior, handling, and ride quality of the redesigned 2020 Toyota Corolla, the Corolla isn’t just the Corolla to get, but it questions why we’d want or need a Prius.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – Best Car To Buy 2020
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The RAV4 Hybrid is the no-compromises way to get an economical crossover good both for daily family duty and trudging through deep winter snowfalls. Toyota’s hybrid system in the all-wheel-drive RAV4 is an over-the-road system, meaning there’s no mechanical connection to the rear wheels but a powerful motor/generator instead. At 40 mpg combined, it’s tied with the Escape Hybrid for the highest-mileage all-wheel drive SUV without a charge port.
Check back over the next couple of weeks as we bring you an up-close look at each of the finalists