For a hundred years or so, our major car-shopping considerations remained static. Whether the year was 1935 or 2005, a guy might choose a car based on its space, or speed, or curve of the fender. But since the arrival of electrics and plug-in hybrids, an important factor has come into play: destination. How well one of these cars works for you (or whether it works at all) depends on where you want to go. Will you drive it to work every day? How far is that? Can you charge once you're there?
And just because you drive 50 miles each way to work doesn't mean that an electric car is out of the question, but you'll need to choose wisely. Basically, you want to tailor your battery to your lifestyle. Plug-in hybrids, for instance, seem like a brilliant solution to the range problem (you're carrying your own backup generator, after all), but plug-ins only make sense to the extent that you can use them as electric cars, because once that gas motor fires up, you're just driving an underpowered normal car. The challenge is maximizing miles in electric mode – or, in the case of full electrics, maximizing time in your LEAF instead of the Armada next to it in the garage. But if you can afford a Tesla Model S Performance, then skip straight to option number four.
If You Commute...20 Miles: Ford C-Max Energi
Electric range: 21 miles
Mileage: 100 mpge
Who wants one: A suburbanite with a short commute
In electric mode, the Ford C-Max Energi is a silent, silky, gas-shunning ninja, but once you're running on the gas motor, the situation changes drastically, dropping from 100 mpge to 43 mpg, far shy of what you'd get from a Prius. And unlike a Volt, the C-Max reserves the right to fire up its gas motor when you floor it. But with a light throttle foot, it's easy to stay in electric mode till the battery's flat – the electric top speed is an entirely sufficient 85 mph. And if you don't dig the egglike Euro hatchback body, the same mechanicals are available in the sexier Fusion Energi. Creepy fact: The C-Max will learn your usual destinations and try to tailor its power management to get you there in electric mode, when possible. Then it'll park outside and stare at you. [$29,995 after federal tax credit; ford.com]