SUVs dominate the current American electric market, much in the same way they’ve squeezed out smaller vehicles in the combustion-powered world. Of the 40 or so EV models available in the US today, almost 70% are SUVs, with even more on the way in the coming months and years. Modern automotive design has transformed today’s SUVs from truckish off-roaders into more road-friendly multitaskers, but Americans can’t seem to get enough SUVs, electric or otherwise, with their elevated seating position and spacious family-friendly cabins, and automakers love to sell ’em.
However, there’s a very practical reason why most EVs worth your attention are technically SUVs, from the traditional two-box silhouette of the Rivian R1S to weird tall crossovers like the Polestar 2 or Hyundai Ioniq 5: Taller SUV proportions just happen to leave plenty of room beneath the floor to accommodate the big, flat battery pack required to provide the range American drivers demand. And since most drivers care more about the visibility sitting high in an SUV affords than they do about ground clearance, it’s a win-win for shoppers and automotive engineers alike.
SUVs were already a force to be reckoned with on the automotive landscape and those that plug in are no exception. With so many choices in such a fast growing and highly competitive class, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the options. That’s where I come in with my 15 years of experience evaluating hundreds of SUVs for CNET reviews. I will help you understand what you should look for in a good electric SUV — including some of the best picks — how these battery-powered machines work and where the technology is heading in the future, near and far.
What is the best overall electric SUV?
You had to have seen this one coming. Tesla is probably the most widely recognized and notorious EV manufacturer in America — it’s practically the Xerox of electric cars, for those old enough to still know how to operate a copy machine — and the Model Y is its bread and butter as the best-selling electric car in the US.
That’s not a fluke or simple brand familiarity. The Model Y earns its place at the top with a killer combo of class-topping range and performance that’ll knock the socks off new EV converts, before going for the KO with unmatched value. It’s not a perfect EV for everyone — I have my reservations regarding some of the brand’s more advanced driver aid technologies — but no vehicle is, and the Tesla Model Y’s core performance, specs and value make it an easy and smart pick for most electric SUV shoppers.
Best electric SUVs of 2023
There are several reasons why, for a great many people, the hunt for the perfect electric SUV starts and ends with Tesla’s Model Y. Tesla’s small SUV can roam up to 330 miles per charge, enough to stand head and shoulders above the rest of its class. Like all Tesla, the Model Y boasts native access — no adapters or needed — to the extensive and reliable Supercharger public charging network, which makes it an ideal choice for emissions-free road trips.
Perhaps most importantly, the Model Y is one of the most affordable EVs in its class even before accounting for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit and the energy most efficient SUV on this list at 3.85 miles per kilowatt-hour making it a tough act to follow for frugal shoppers.
Massive range for the money
Access to Tesla Supercharger network
Controversial Enhanced Autopilot and FSD driver aid tech are expensive upgrades
Rivian’s R1S takes everything that’s great about the quirky and adventurous R1T, my personal favorite electric pickup truck, and repackages it in the more practical, family friendly two-box silhouette of an SUV. The R1S retains the whimsical elements that I love about Rivian’s design — the pill-shaped headlamps and instantly recognizable light bars at either end — but makes room for more adventurers onboard — fitting three rows and seven seats atop the automaker’s R1 battery-powered truck platform.
This year, Rivian also launched its new dual-motor electric powertrain option. Yes, this is a step down from the power of the quad-motor setup, but it’s also a big step up in range, efficiency and affordability making the 533-hp, 352-mile R1S Dual Motor with the Large battery pack the sweet spot for all but the most hardcore off-road enthusiasts.
Bold, eye-catching design
New dual-motor powertrain offers more range and efficiency for less money
Even more powerful pPerformance upgrade available
Touchscreen-heavy dashboard may turn off traditional truck and SUV shoppers
Electric utility vehicles don’t get more luxurious — or much more gaudy — than Maybach’s remix of the EQS SUV. The Mercedes-Maybach EQS 680 rides atop a suspension that’s been retuned for maximum comfort and features a top-notch interior with upgraded sound-isolation, uber-luxurious vegetable-tanned Nappa leather upholstery and reclining rear seats that would be at home in the cabin of a private jet. There’s even an optional refrigerator with a champagne flute chiller. The extra luxury and satisfyingly chunky monobloc-style 22-inch wheels add weight to the already hefty SUV, so Mercedes boosted the electric motors to 649 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque to more than compensate.
The exterior design is perhaps a bit too flashy for my liking with dozens of Maybach logos tessellating almost every square inch of the body. Then again, how better to flex your $200K status symbol? Flaunt it, if you’ve got it.
Whisper quiet cabin and luxurious upholstery
The most opulent backseat of any electric SUV
Hypebeast gaudy exterior design
Huge Hyperscreen infotainment suite isn’t for everyone
Range: 280 miles (manufacturer estimate)
Efficiency: 2.38 mi/kWh (unofficial estimate)
Passengers: 4 or 5, Max cargo capacity: 31/74.2 cu. ft., Towing: 3,500 lbs.
Starting price: $181,050
At up to 348 miles in its dual-motor all-wheel drive configuration, the Tesla Model X is the farthest-ranging electric SUV on the road today. (Check a different box and the Model X Plaid becomes one of the quickest with a 2.5 second 0-60 sprint, but that’s a discussion for a different day.)
The Model X’s list of features and specs is largely shared with Tesla’s Model S: A huge infotainment display, access to Tesla’s Supercharger DC fast charging network and available Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies. (As usual, I’m obligated to point out that Tesla’s use of “Full Self-Driving” is a marketing term and not actually fully autonomous driving, but it’s still cutting edge stuff.) The electric SUV then goes beyond with up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, seating for up to seven souls and those wild Falcon doors, making the Model X quite the force to be reckoned with.
Loads of range and access to Supercharger network
Cutting edge cabin tech with near-constant over-the-air updates
Falcon doors are cool, but are they better than traditional hinges?
Enhanced Autopilot and FSD are expensive and confusing tech upgrades
Starting at just $28,795, the 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EUV is one of the most affordable electric cars on the road today. Larger than its sibling, the Bolt EV, this unassuming subcompact crossover rocks more interior volume than its subcompact competitors while still remaining extra city-parkable. The ace up the Bot EUV’s sleeve is available GM Super Cruise — a surprisingly high-tech addition to this basic budget EV — easily the best hands-free highway driving assist technology I’ve ever used, making long commutes significantly more relaxing.
Despite its 247 EPA-estimated miles per charge, relatively slow 55-kW DC fast charging limits the EUV’s usefulness for long road trips, but this little runabout still offers plenty of wiggle room for city and suburban commuting and errands. Unfortunately, you’ll have to act fast to get one of GM’s best and most affordable EV, as the automaker has announced the end of production later this year.
Small, but surprisingly spacious
Can be had with GM Super Cruise hands-free highway assist
Dashboard tech leans heavily on Apple CarPlay, Android Auto for navigation, entertainment and more
Kia’s EV6 is not only one of my personal favorite EVs, but its vehicle-to-load (V2L) feature is perhaps the easiest way for homeowners and active lifestyle types to dip a toe into the world of bidirectional charging. Its V2L adapter allows the parked EV6 to output around 1.6 kilowatts via a standard AC outlet (NEMA 5-15) to power a campsite, a tailgate party or more. With the aid of an extension cord, it can keep your refrigerator and a few appliances running so your food doesn’t spoil. You could even charge another EV — albeit very slowly — in an emergency.
Plus, the EV6 is simply an excellent EV for small families with up to 310 miles of range, one of the fastest DC fast charging rates (making it great for road trips) and, despite not looking at all like an SUV, a surprisingly spacious backseat and cargo area.
Cargo and passenger capacity: The biggest advantage that an electric SUV has over a sedan or hatchback is capacity for people and cargo. Your needs in this respect will dictate how large an SUV you need, how many rows of seats you should look for and — to an extent — whether electric is even right for you in the first place. Of course, some SUVs built from the ground up with electrification in their DNA may also feature a second front trunk (or frunk) under the hood where the gasoline engine traditionally sits, giving them even more cargo flexibility versus their combustion-powered contemporaries.
Range and towing: How far an electric car can go on a single charge is usually the first number that shoppers check when considering an electric vehicle. Longer range means fewer stops on long trips and more peace of mind between charging stations on the road. However, SUV owners are much more likely to also use their vehicles for towing, which can reduce an EV’s advertised range significantly. (The same could be said for towing with combustion cars, but the squeeze is more obvious with EVs given their shorter cruising range and longer refueling times.) When shopping for an electric SUV, consider what and how much you’ll need to tow and leave plenty of wiggle room in your range estimates.
Efficiency: SUVs are heavy and, typically, less fuel efficient than smaller sedans, hatchback and some vans. The same goes for electric SUVs, with their big heavy batteries. The Tesla Model Y is a thrifty eSUV, but it chugs 13% more electricity than the most efficient electric sedan. (At 123 mpge, the Tesla is still miles ahead of a similarly sized combustion or hybrid-powered SUV.) Keep an eye on the EPA estimated efficiency when comparing electric SUVs; with this number and your local energy rates, you can easily calculate how much it costs to operate an EV and how much you could potentially save compared with a conventional combustion car.
Charging: For long road trips, an EV’s DC fast charging experience can have an even larger impact on EV ownership than its range. Electric SUVs tend to have larger batteries to compensate for their large chassis, which means they tend to take longer to fill their bucket of electricity even with very fast charging speeds. Most plug-in SUVs I recommend can DC fast charge to 80% — the recommended capacity to optimize charging speeds — in 20 to 30 minutes, covering at least 200 miles between stops. You’ll also want to consider what EV charging networks (Tesla Superchargers, Electrify America, Rivian’s Adventure Network and others) cover your most-beaten paths.
Features: An electric car is more than just a battery, motors and a charging port. It’s also a car, which means it needs to be a good car that meets your needs for cabin technology, safety and driver aid technologies, and style. For electric SUVs that encourage active lifestyles, features like bidirectional charging may become even more important, allowing owners to draw power from an EV’s battery pack to power accessories, electric bikes and even appliances at a trailhead, work site or tailgate party.
How we test electric SUVs
Simply put, I test electric SUVs the same way I’ve tested nearly every EV model sold in the US over the last 15 years: I drive them. The process always starts behind the wheel in real-world conditions on public roads. For each SUV I test, I cover over 200 miles behind the wheel on a mixed driving route that includes dense urban streets (complete with potholes), long stretches of highway and twisty mountain roads. Most electric SUVs aren’t really built for serious off-roading, but I make sure that the ones that are — such as the Rivian R1S — tackle a trail or two along the way.
My long test route allows me to also check the DC fast charging speed and to compare my first-hand tested range and efficiency with estimates reported by the US EPA, both to double-check the official numbers against the real world and to make sure my experiences represent those of the typical American driver. As always, of course, your mileage may vary.
Along the way, I also check each SUV’s cabin comfort, dashboard tech and driver aid features to get a feel for where each vehicle stacks up against the hundreds of combustion-, hybrid-, hydrogen- and battery-powered SUVs I’ve reviewed during my tenure with for CNET reviews.
How We Test Products and Services
Other electric SUVs we tested
Volkswagen’s ID.4 is an unflashy but solid alternative to the Tesla Model Y. It boasts a good amount of range for running errands and daily driving; it’s got good and peppy performance and is more spacious than many other electric SUVs in its class. Its exterior design doesn’t draw a whole lot of attention to its “EV-ness,” which is nice. However, awkward dashboard touch controls and strange ergonomic design decisions — such as the omission of rear window switches on the back doors — kept it from clicking with me.
Mercedes-Benz’s EQE SUV checks a whole lot of the right boxes. Luxurious and spacious without being too large and loud? Check. Healthy reservoir of range? At around 270 miles, check. Its clever electric all-wheel drive system is even reasonably efficient. About the only con I can think of is that US models don’t seem to be available with Benz’s triple-display, full-width Hyperscreen, but that may actually be a good thing. (The Hyperscreen makes a splashy first impression, but I don’t think it adds much in terms of actual useful functionality over the standard and still massive screen.)
Audi’s Q8 E-Tron and BMW’s iX are also excellent electric SUVs in their own right with premium cabin materials and solid electric performance, range and charging speeds. There’s a bit of a learning curve to BMW’s iDrive infotainment, but once set up, it’s one of the best and most flexible cabin tech suites in its class. Meanwhile, the Audi is noteworthy for being one of the only EVs I’ve seen available with two charging ports (one on each front fender), so you’ll almost never run into a too-short-charging-cable situation.
How much range should I look for in an electric SUV?
How much range you’ll need from an EV will vary depending on your individual needs and driving habits. For most drivers with an average American commute — around 55.2 miles according to the most recent US Census Bureau data — an EV SUV in the 200- to 300-mile ballpark should provide adequate range for daily driving, unexpected errands and the occasional road trip. Keep in mind that towing, icy and snowy weather or extreme heat can sap as much as 41% of EV’s stated range in the most extreme cases, so consider a more generous estimate if these conditions apply to you. Check these tips to decide how much range you should target when buying an electric car.
How long does it take to charge an electric SUV?
The amount of time it takes to charge an electric car will depend on the power output by the charging hardware and the size of the EV’s battery pack. And because the largest electric SUVs tend to have larger batteries, they could take longer to charge than smaller, lighter EVs. Broadly, there are three levels of EV charging that you need to know: DC fast charging is the fastest charging method used by public charging networks, getting you from 10% to 80% on average in 30 to 60 minutes. Level 2 (240-volt) home or public stations recharge a day’s worth of driving with an overnight session. Level 1 chargers — which plug into the familiar NEMA 5-15 home outlet, the same one your TV or laptop uses — and can take well over 24 hours to trickle charge an SUV, making this method a last expedient when there are no other options.
Are electric SUVs more expensive than gas-powered SUVs?
Within the same class, yes, electric SUVs tend to be more expensive than their combustion-powered cousins due to the rare and costly materials that make up their large battery packs. For now, prospective buyers will want to look to any available federal and state tax incentives or rebates to offset the cost, while also weighing potential operating cost benefits of going electric. Today’s most efficient gas-powered SUV, Toyota’s Venza, sips fuel at 39 mpg thanks to hybridization, but most electric SUVs average well over 100 mpge while using less expensive electricity. That can make them less expensive to operate, potentially saving money over the long term.
Are electric cars as safe as gas-powered cars?
Are electric SUVs better for the environment than gas-powered cars?
Weighed against the elevated consumption of gas and diesel powered SUVs, an electric SUV’s lack of tailpipe emissions and drastically lower energy requirements have even greater potential to improve local air quality. However, in areas where electricity is generated with fossil or carbon-based fuels, electric SUVs still have a macro environmental impact. Factor in the mining of rare battery and motor materials used in EV manufacturing and the answer becomes less clear.
Moving regional electricity generation to renewable sources and individual homes to rooftop solar can make the EVs plugging into these macro and micro grids more eco-friendly over time, an advantage not shared by combustion cars. And many major automakers have pledged to build carbon neutral supply chains, factories and manufacturing processes, which could further reduce EV’s global environmental impact.