When you’re researching your next new car it’s likely that you research not one but many different cars, comparing them on everything from fuel economy and features to reliability and interior space.

Electric and plug-in hybrid cars are no different -- but the practicalities of cargo space are often overlooked in favor of range, price and performance. 

So which electric car offers the most cargo space, and which ones should you avoid if you want to carry a lot of luggage?  Here’s just five plug-in hatchbacks you’ll see in 2012 along with their vital statistics. 

2012 Ford Focus Electric

  • Load bay volume: N/A
  • Rear seats down: N/A

Even though Ford’s 2012 Focus Electric is weeks away from launch, Ford hasn’t released any official figures pertaining to its cargo-capacity. 

2012 Ford Focus Electric launch, New York City, January 2011 - battery pack in load bay

2012 Ford Focus Electric launch, New York City, January 2011 - battery pack in load bay

Given the 2012 Ford Focus Electric prototypes we’ve seen at various auto shows used  part of the load-bay to store its 23 kilowatt-hour electric battery, we’re pretty sure the production version will offer less than the 23.8 cubic feet offered by its gasoline sibling.

2012 Mitsubishi i.

  • Load bay volume: 13.2 cubic feet
  • Rear seats down: 50.4 cubic feet

Although the 2012 Mitsubishi  is the smallest of all of the plug-in hatchbacks we’re examining, its dome-like shape means that it wins hands down on cargo space when its rear seats are folded down. 

But powered by a rear-mounted electric motor, the Mitsubishi doesn’t have a particularly deep load bay, meaning taller items may not fit in the load-bay with both rows of seats occupied.

2012 Nissan Leaf

  • Load bay volume: 14.5 cubic feet
  • Rear seats down: 24.0 cubic feet

Nissan’s all-electric, five-seat family hatchback has its lithium-ion battery pack mounted underneath the main floor of the car, meaning it retains plenty of interior cargo space.

With no spare wheel or gasoline tank either, the Leaf’s load bay is extremely deep, offering the best seat-up cargo capacity of any purely electric car on the market. 

Fold the seats down, and the Leaf will take a surprisingly large amount of cargo -- although the lack of completely flat load-bay can sometimes prove challenging when accommodating longer or more fragile loads. 

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

  • Load bay volume: 10.6 cubic feet
  • Rear seats down: 18 cubic feet

While the 2012 Chevrolet Volt has more than ample room for three passengers plus a driver, it has to also accommodate a gasoline fuel tank and engine in addition to its electric drivetrain. 

As a result, the load bay floor in the Chevrolet Volt is particularly high. Combined with a long, sweeping hatch, and it fares poorly on cargo space. 

It does however, have one redeeming feature: Thanks to its centrally-mounted T-shaped battery pack it is possible to load long, thin items into the car without sacrificing its rear seats. 

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

  • Load bay volume: 15.6 cubic feet
  • Rear seats down: 21.5 cubic feet (approx.)

While it may offer the worst-all-electric range of any of the plug-in cars currently expected in 2012, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid beats it closest rival -- the 2012 Chevrolet Volt -- on luggage space. 

Thanks to clever engineering it offers almost the same cargo capacity as its non plug-in sibling -- while retaining seating for four passengers plus driver. 

The winners

For those wanting a pure electric car, the 2012 Nissan Leaf offers the best -- and most practical -- cargo space of any electric car on the market. 

But sacrifice your rear seats in attempt to gain more cargo carrying capabilities, and the 2012 Mitsubishi i becomes the unexpected winner thanks to a much taller roofline.

As for plug-in hybrids, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid proves hard to beat for now -- but with Volvo promising a gasoline V60 Plug-in Hybrid Station Wagon in the next few years that will undoubtedly change. 

We should also note that when the 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV launches we’d expect it have the largest cargo capacity of any electric car yet. 


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.