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...35 Miles: Chevrolet Volt
Range: 38 miles
Mileage: 98 mpge
Who wants one: Early adopters who want an electric car but still take the occasional road trip
Thanks to Volt owners agreeing to beam their data back to GM, Chevy has a fairly complete picture of how they are using their cars. And it appears that Volt drivers go out of their way to avoid the gas pump. They report that the typical Volt owner drives 900 miles between visits to the gas station. And that's not just because the Volt is a smoother, more satisfying drive when it's in electric mode. It's also because the Volt's 98 mpge drops to a mere 37 mpg once the battery goes flat after about 38 miles. And at that point, you may as well be driving a 42-mpg Cruze Eco – a.k.a. a Volt that's not hauling around a 435-pound battery. [Price: $31,645 after federal tax credit; chevrolet.com]