10 Best Used Hybrids And EVs Under $30,000
David Collins12-minute read
UPDATED: December 12, 2022
It’s safe to say that there has never been a time in America when interest in cars that run 100% on electric charge (EV) or some kind of electric/gas hybrid engine has been higher. The biggest reason, of course, is a monumental leap in the price of gasoline that has occurred largely since 2021.
As of June 13, 2022, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the U.S. had risen to $5.10, a 1-year increase of 63.7% and the highest ever average price in American history. The previous high was $4.11, set in July 2008, which is $5.25 in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation.
Such a rapid increase has caused a panic among consumers, especially as it has coincided with a rise in overall inflation not seen in 40 years. With images on the news depicting gas rates at well over $7 a gallon, Americans are looking for any way they can to cut down on fuel costs.
Fortunately, there are now more all-electric or hybrid vehicle models available than ever before. These include alternatives for larger gas-hungry vehicles like pickups and three-row SUVs. EVs and hybrids are more expensive than their traditional gas-only counterparts. But with increased demand, intensifying competition and better technology, prices are coming down.
While most high-end EVs remain out-of-budget for lots of buyers, there are plenty of quality budget electric and hybrid cars. Consequently, there are more with low miles priced under $30,000 on the used market.
Electric Vehicles Vs. Hybrids
At the dawn of the 21st century, Toyota released the Prius. It was the first affordable (helped by generous government tax credits), practical hybrid car sold in volume in the United States. The Prius was the result of decades of research to find solutions to stringent fuel economy standards.
While there are now several types of hybrid engines in dozens of models of cars that offer a hybrid option, the basic idea of all hybrids is the same. The engine runs on a combination of electric power generated from a battery and from traditional internal combustion power by burning gasoline.
Also of note, the electricity in a hybrid car is created for free, by the car itself. A regenerative braking system captures the heat energy created from braking to recharge the battery (see below for how a plug-in hybrid vehicle differs). By drawing on freely generated electric power at least part of the time, a hybrid uses less gasoline and saves money over time. While hybrids are typically more expensive than traditional engines, the fuel savings will pay for itself, sometimes in as little as 2 years.
An evolution of the standard hybrid engine is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which has a much larger battery and can go much farther on electric power alone. The larger PHEV battery cannot be recharged by regenerative braking alone. It must be plugged into a standard 120-volt or 240-volt outlet, which is an additional fuel expense.
A 100% electric vehicle (EV) is radically different from a hybrid, and not just for its power source. While a hybrid has an electric motor plus all of the mechanical parts of an internal combustion engine, an EV has far fewer parts at play.
An EV has batteries that store electricity, which powers the motor, which creates electromagnetic energy, which turns the axle, which makes the wheels go round. Electric power is brought to an EV’s batteries by plugging the car into an external power source.
Depending on the vehicle’s batteries and the strength of the power source, batteries can take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes to several hours to take on an 80%-plus charge. And of course, electricity is not free. For now, however, it is significantly less expensive than gasoline.
Electric vs. Hybrid – A Cost Analysis
Powering an electric car is many times cheaper than paying for gas. Though, varying factors do make it difficult to calculate an exact difference. The price of gasoline and electricity are constantly changing and the efficiency of vehicles also fluctuates widely among both gas-powered and electric vehicles. To estimate the difference, we’ll have to use averages.
As of this writing, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the U.S. is $5.10, according to the American Automobile Association. The average price of electric power is 14.47 cents a kilowatt-hour (kWh). So, how much does it cost to drive 250 miles in the average gas-powered car versus the average EV?
A 2019 analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency determined that the average efficiency for all American cars was 24.9 mpg. Such a car would need about 10 gallons of gas to go 250 miles. At $5.10 a gallon, it costs $51 in today’s dollars to go 250 miles.
It's a different calculation to determine how much electricity is required for the average EV to travel 250 miles. Power companies charge your home per kilowatt-hours used. The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt hours to go 100 miles, which means it would need 75 kilowatts to go 250 miles.
If the cost in 2022 is 14.47 cents/kWh, the cost for electricity is about $10.85 to power your EV for 250 miles. That’s five times less than the cost of gasoline and a savings of $40 with every re-charge. For someone who drives 1,000 miles a month, that’s a savings of more than $160 a month and more than $1,900 per year.
These figures have to be a large driver of the more than doubling of U.S. EV registrations in 2021 alone, from about 2.5% to 5.1% of new car sales, according to data from S&P Global Mobility. This data that doesn’t even consider the explosion in gasoline prices in 2022. Demand for electric cars in 2022 is rising quickly.
Top Hybrids Under $30,000
Hybrid engine technology has come so far, and demand is so consistent that nearly all established vehicle lines today offer a hybrid option. Finding an excellent used hybrid vehicle for less than $30,000 is a matter of abundant choice.
Be aware, however, that a recent study found that on average hybrids are $4,650 more expensive when purchased new. Expect that a used hybrid will also cost more than a similar model year car that has a conventional engine.
To simplify our search, we’ll present our choices for best hybrid in the categories of sedan, luxury sedan, SUV, luxury SUV and family vehicle.
*A note on fuel economy figures below: When stated hybrid mpg figures are actually better for city driving over highway driving, you are not seeing a typo. The reason many hybrids get better mileage in the city is because their engine relies more on electric power at lower speeds and on shorter trips typical of city driving.
Best Used Hybrid Sedan
2018 Honda Accord Hybrid
Mpg: 47 City / 47 Highway
This is about as down the middle pick as possible – for good reason. Honda Accord has been one of the best-selling, most reliable sedans on American roads since its debut in 1989. The 212-hp hybrid engine and front-wheel drive powertrain provides plenty of power while still achieving an incredible 47 mpg. Pretty refreshing to anyone suddenly paying more than $5/gallon.
The base model is an excellent car with most of the essential safety features. Upgrade to the EX and get an upgraded touch screen and stereo, the EX-L (leather seats, 10-speaker premium stereo), or the Touring (ventilated front seats, adaptive suspension dampers). This is a stylish, roomy midsize sedan that has stood the test of time amid fierce competition.
Best Hybrid Luxury Sedan
2016 BMW 330e
Mpg: 28 City / 36 Highway
With its plug-in hybrid version of the 3 Series, BMW answered the question of whether a hybrid can deliver premium performance. Answer: Yes.
This car can perform the way a 3 Series should. It has a combined 180-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4 and 87-hp electric motor fully engaged with the push of the Max eDrive button on the console.
Where fuel is conserved is at lower speeds in the default Auto eDrive setting. The car can run on electric power for 14 miles when fully charged, with the gas engine automatically kicking in at 50 mph. Great for driving a stylish, high-performing car in the city while also saving fuel.
Best Used Hybrid SUV
2020 Ford Escape Hybrid
Mpg: 44 City / 37 Highway
For about 20 years, the Ford Escape has been the stalwart American-made small SUV, battling the imposing Japanese trio at the top of this class — the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue.
In 2020 Ford re-introduced a hybrid engine to the Escape line. Better all-electric range than the previous Escape hybrid while generating a combined gas/electric 198 hp. With 200 fewer pounds than the gas-only Escape, the hybrid has great pickup from 0 mph and gets 44 mpg in the city – better than the hybrid versions of RAV4 and CR-V.
Best Used Luxury Hybrid SUV
2015 Lexus RX 450h
Mpg: 32 City / 28 Highway
In many ways the Lexus RX 450h invented the luxury SUV hybrid class, toppling ideas that such cars must be gas-guzzlers. While many luxury SUVs were compelled to establish a hybrid version of their own, the RX 450 has remained the standard and a top choice.
There’s always a lot to like about a luxury SUV: a blend of practicality and storage with the amenities and smooth, quiet ride of a luxury car. The Lexus RX 450h tops its hybrid competitors with an enticing 32 mpg in city driving. While its 3.5-liter V6 engine and combined electric motors can’t achieve the power of the car’s gas-only counterpart, it’s sufficient.
There are hybrids in this class that have more room or more power, but none match the fuel economy or affordability. A 2015 model with relatively low miles will meet your need for luxury while matching the fuel economy of some compact cars.
Best Used Hybrid Vehicle For Families
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Mpg: 32 Combined City/Highway
No vehicle class in America is maligned as much as the minivan. Long gone are its glory years, when families built their lives around the minivan, from the first-born’s car seat until the youngest had reached high school – when they would no longer be caught dead letting their friends see them in it.
While the minivan has been replaced as a family vehicle by massive battleships like the Lincoln Navigator or GMC Denali, this humble troop-carrier still has its fans. Several models have fallen away over the years, but the Chrysler Pacifica has endured.
In 2017, Chrysler unveiled a hybrid model that outdid the competition in fuel economy by 10 mpg. As a plug-in hybrid, it holds enough battery charge to run on all-electric power for 33 miles, which accounts for trips to soccer practice and the grocery store.
This Pacifica Hybrid has plenty of modern amenities and safety features expected of a family car. But let’s face it – it’s a minivan, designed to absorb all the abuse that three kids under 10 can dish out.
Best Used EVs Under $30,000
As gas prices rise and advances in technology produce batteries with greater range and lower pricing, the barriers to EVs are falling. But the opinion here is that the death of the internal-combustion engine is being greatly exaggerated. Even as more drivers see the benefits of an all-electric car, there’s likely to be strong demand for gas-powered engines into the future. Here’s why.
First, the price of gasoline fluctuates. One study states that the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.24 just over 2 years ago. While there’s no worldwide shortage of oil to be refined into gasoline, there are massive and conflicting economic and political forces that determine how much it costs to get it into your car. So, just as it has taken little time for gas to more than double in cost, it can return to 2020 numbers, and if/when it does it will likely reduce demand for more costly electric cars.
Second, the cost of electric cars, too, will be subject to global economic and political forces. How will the global push to more climate-friendly energy policies affect the prices of precious metals and other resources used in battery manufacturing? Demand for batteries is exploding in other industries as well. Simple economics says that this demand and limited supply will lead to price hikes for batteries.
Another barrier to consumers has been battery range. An EV with a 280-mile range can work fine for city driving where shorter trips are common and access to electrical charging stations is easy. But consumers get itchy at the idea of taking a long trip in an EV due to the chance of running out of power in a remote area with no charging stations in sight. For the foreseeable future, it’s likely that a two-car family that wants an EV will have at least one traditional gas-powered car or hybrid for longer trips.
For the hybrid section above, we were able to look at vehicles across some of the most popular vehicle segments. For EVs we will simply look at some of the best used EVs available now on the used car market for less than $30,000, regardless of segment. The reason is that the larger all-electric SUVs and trucks are still very new, rare in the used-car market and well above our price point.
The Top Five Used EVs For Less Than $30,000
5. 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf
Range: 125 miles
Perhaps the best thing the e-Golf has going for it is that it does not stray far from its gas-powered big brother, the VW Golf. The Golf’s a sporty, compact hatchback that has delighted consumers worldwide for decades.
The e-Golf maintains a relatively large, attractive cabin and zips around on 134 horsepower off pure electric charge. With DC fast charging standard, the e-Golf can achieve 80% charge in just one hour at a DC fast-charging station.
Off a standard 120-volt home charger, however, it takes 26 hours to fully charge. The biggest drawback to this EV is the 125-mile range, which falls far short of several competitors.
4. 2020 Hyundai Ioniq
Range: 170 miles
There’s a lot to like about the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq, but when it was new it was only available for purchase in a handful of states. With a limited production run, Hyundai chose to sell this car first in states with the toughest emissions standards in order to enhance the fuel efficiency of their overall fleet sales in those particular states. Now two years on the road, Ioniq has great value on the used car market for less than $30,000.
As a small, unassuming hatchback from a respected manufacturer, Ioniq accomplishes what it’s supposed to as an EV. Its 38.3 kWh lithium-ion battery can get from 0% to 80% charge in 45 minutes on a DC fast-charging station.
Ioniq’s 170-mile range is better than most competitors, though still lagging behind Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. And its 134 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque are more than enough for daily use in the city.
3. 2018 BMW i3
Range: 114 miles
If anyone was going to reject the notion that an EV has to be a stodgy and pedestrian little car, it would be BMW. With the 2018 BMW i3, the EV market gets a funky design and quick motor that brings the fun. Carbon fiber and aluminum materials in the car’s structure save weight, adding acceleration and performance.
The powertrain consists of a 33-kWh battery pack that powers a rear-mounted electric motor with170-hp, 184 lb-ft of torque. This motor can be upgraded to 184 hp in the i3s.
Range is somewhat disappointing at an estimated 114 miles. But an i3 with the range extender option employs a two-cylinder gas engine that recharges the battery en route to boost driving distance on a single charge.
2. 2020 Chevy Bolt
Range: 259 miles
In EVs, if range is your thing, then the Chevy Bolt is king. 259 miles can cover most people’s week of commuting, with plenty of time to charge it back up on the weekend. The Bolt is also spacious, nimble and has good acceleration, all of which helps cover for inferior materials and finishes in the cabin.
The Bolt was already the most powerful EV in its price class by a longshot, but in 2020 the battery was upgraded to 66 kWh, which produces an impressive 200 hp and 266 ft-lb of torque. All of which makes this among the most powerful electric cars not named Tesla.
When shopping for a used Bolt, pay attention to the advanced features section of the specs. Many features are only available in the Premier trim or as options. For loyal Bolt drivers, however, it’s mostly about that impressive range.
1. Nissan Leaf
Range: 151 miles
As one of the oldest EVs on the world market (debut 2012), the Nissan Leaf has built an loyal following that has benefited from the car’s steady refinement over 10+ model years. Hard lessons were learned as Leaf has gone from clunky upstart to a mainstream vehicle that can hold its own in terms of styling, amenities, and performance.
The less-than-staggering 151-mile range is still plenty for this car’s intended use as a commuter or town-runner. The Leaf Plus upgrade gets you a 62-kWh battery that extends range to 226 miles.
The 2020 Leaf includes many of today’s driver-assistance features and the Nissan Safety Shield 360 as standard on all Leaf models. Outside of its all-electric powerplant, the 2020 Leaf holds its own with any gas-powered compact on the world market.
The Bottom Line: Hybrids And EVs Can Fit In Your Budget
If there was ever a time to consider buying a gasoline-saving hybrid or all-electric car, it’s now. It’s been 25 years since the first modern hybrid car, the Toyota Prius, was launched in Japan in 1997. Today, there are dozens of hybrid models from every major automotive manufacturer. At a time when historically high gas prices are happening alongside inflation , the estimated 20% – 35% fuel savings a hybrid provides can be a big help.
Likewise, the cost of operating an all-electric car is at an all-time low in relation to traditional gas-powered vehicles, with savings of up to 80% at current gasoline prices. But EVs are still more expensive, so it takes some time for them to recoup their value in fuel savings. The best EVs that can be had for less than $30,000 are 2 –4-year-old used cars that still have plenty of battery life and warranty coverage.
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