The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a plug-in version of the much-lauded new minivan, won our Green Car Reports Best Car To Buy 2018 award because it brings a partially zero-emission vehicle into an entirely new market segment.
The Pacifica is our favorite among minivans, though we'll be curious to drive the redesigned Toyota Sienna expected soon.
After the $7,500 federal income-tax credit—assuming it survives—the plug-in hybrid Pacifica is essentially competitive on price with its gasoline-only counterpart, but delivers 32 mpg combined against the gas version's 22 mpg combined.
That leaves two award finalists that didn't win: the 2018 Nissan Leaf electric car, and the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq lineup, which this year adds a plug-in hybrid version to the existing Ioniq Hybrid and Ioniq Electric models.
We liked the idea of the Ioniq range when we first heard it, and our various drives in hybrid and electric models just confirmed that pretty much every new Hyundai these days is a good car, a good value, and often new competition to established winners.
The Ioniq has two challenges, however. First, it's yet another five-door compact hatchback—and of our seven previous Best Car To Buy winners, five were models or ranges in that segment.
2018 Hyundai Ioniq
The Ioniq Hybrid beats the larger Toyota Prius on combined fuel economy both for the highest-efficiency version and the rest of the range, though the two-motor powertrain of the Prius is smoother than the Ioniq's single motor and dual-clutch automated manual gearbox.
It's fun to drive and, importantly, looks pretty much like a normal car inside and out—against what journalists usually call the "polarizing" design of the Prius.
The electric model is the best of the lineup, being smoothest and quietest, with an EPA-rated range of 124 miles. That was within 1 mile of the highest range of any car that wasn't a Tesla or a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV; the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf came in at 125 miles.
But the Bolt EV is the car that really prevented the Ioniq from winning the laurels this year. We gave Chevy's capacious, all-electric, 238-mile hatchback the award last year for offering Tesla range at prices close to mass-market levels.
Without the Bolt EV on the market, the Ioniq may well have won this year.
But even a Hyundai executive has admitted the Ioniq Electric needs more range, and will get it "soon."
2018 Nissan Leaf
Finally, there's the 2018 Nissan Leaf, the comprehensively redesigned second-generation version of the world's highest-selling battery-electric car.
It was the top (eligible) choice among participants in last week's Twitter poll on which finalist should win, following the Tesla Model 3 which won't be eligible until next year's award (because we couldn't get two editors into Model 3s to test them).
In fact, it beat the Ioniq range and the winning Pacifica Hybrid by a healthy margin.
The 2018 Leaf clearly represents a major advance over its aged 2017 predecessor. It has a more mainstream design, more range (a projected 140 miles vs the 107 miles of the 2017 model), and more power, especially in highway use.
It's quieter inside, and pioneers Nissan's first steps toward limited self-driving capabilities. Those are all good things.
Our reaction to the 2018 Leaf, though, is that it was an incremental improvement rather than a game-changing vehicle.
2018 Nissan Leaf
Nissan may well be doing a smart thing in offering a vehicle with 140 miles of range at a starting price just above $30,000. That's more range than any other electric car except a Chevy Bolt EV or any Tesla, at a price almost $7,000 lower than the Bolt EV.
But in the end, we came away from driving the 2018 Nissan Leaf with the feeling that it should have been the 2016 model. That would have given Nissan a higher-range car one year before the Bolt EV launched last December.
As it is, the new Leaf is a good effort and represents value for money—but it's an update, rather than a car that resets buyer expectations.