18 best and worst plug-in electric and hybrids

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18 best and worst plug-in electric and hybrids

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It's hard to believe, but the first mainstream plug-in electric vehicles offered for sale to the general public are just barely turning four years old. Model-year 2011 saw the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf, a pure electric vehicle.

Now well into 2014, those two stalwarts continue to battle it out, but now they're part of an 18-car (and counting) field of contestants. New thinking has brought fresh ideas to market, and the head start the pioneers enjoyed is fading fast.

The new plug-in vehicle entries are nearly evenly split between pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. But which are the studs and which are the duds? We run them down from worst to first.

Your List May Vary
There are many competing factors in play, from range to charging time, cargo capacity to performance. And which one is nice to own and drive? Prices are all over the map, and then there's the essential question: pure electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid?

How your list looks depends on your specific needs, your commute and your budget. Do you have a place to install 240-volt charging equipment? Do you live in a state where the vehicle you want is sold and serviced in the first place?

We've attempted to take everything into account in the making of this list, but we know that individual buyers will focus on certain factors and ignore others.

For example: We're not putting much stock in manufacturer claims about rapid charging because there's a Betamax-versus-VHS war going on between CHAdeMO (the world's worst acronym) and the SAE Combo Charger. Neither network is big enough to be useful yet, but maybe you live next door to one or the other.

In our view, EV drivers had best count on 240-volt Level 2 charging with professionally installed charging equipment, preferably at their own home. Plug-in hybrid drivers can get by on Level 1 home charging using the supplied cord unless they buy a Volt or ELR, in which case our advice matches EVs. As for Tesla, charging options abound, and their coast-to-cost Supercharger network is in a league of its own.

Missing in Action
A few cars are missing from our rundown. Honda has cancelled its Fit EV program. You might still see them on the road, but new leases are no longer available.

The 2015 Kia Soul EV and the Audi A3 E-tron plug-in hybrid are just around the corner, but they're not for sale yet and technical details are incomplete. Same goes for the Mercedes-Benz S550 plug-in, the Volvo XC90 plug-in and the Volkswagen E-Golf.

We also left off the outrageous hypercars. Believe it or not, the 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1 are all plug-in hybrids. But they're also limited-run million-dollar machines that are pretty much sold out.

See gallery: 18 best and worst plug-in electric and hybrids

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[Related video: Former IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd drives the Porsche 918 Spyder, the world's fastest plug-in hybrid]