Nissan LEAF vs BMW i3 vs Tesla Model S — Your Responses

About a month ago, I wrote a long article about my challenge deciding between a Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, or Tesla Model S. I buried a short poll on the bottom of the article and, honestly, didn’t think many of you would see or respond to it. Surprisingly, 1,651 people have responded to the poll!

For a few days, the three options were super close — basically split ⅓-⅓-⅓ — and I think each of them were #1 at some point or another. That matched my mindset pretty well.

However, I got more and more solid on a preference for the BMW i3, and the poll actually turned in that direction as well. Based on responses from EV Obsession and CleanTechnica readers, this is were it stands now:

Nissan LEAF vs BMW i3 vs Tesla Model S

That’s 699 (42%) voting that I’ll choose the BMW i3, 551 (33%) the Nissan LEAF, and 401 (24%) the Tesla Model S.

We’ll see, and despite heavily leaning toward the i3, I’m still not sure and intend to do two more test drives each (1 on my own while I’m in Florida to present at the EV Transportation & Technology Summit and 1 with my wife later on).

I’ve all but ruled out the LEAF since it can’t make a few trips I want to take and since, I think more importantly, the drive quality of the i3 and Model S is just stunning. So as a quick update, these are the strengths of the two models relative to each other (not any other cars) that are pulling me to them:

BMW i3

  • Compact but feels spacious.
  • Greenest car on the market.
  • ~50% cheaper.
  • Doesn’t have excess battery capacity I won’t need ~99% of the time, but still has the ability to make the road trips I want to take (with the REx, but primarily using electricity).
  • Will theoretically help to pull more people over to EVs since it’s more affordable and also similar to much more affordable models people could choose if the i3 was still too much for them.
  • Awesome regenerative braking package.
  • Looks cool.

Tesla Model S

  • Amazing acceleration and handling.
  • Safest car on the planet.
  • Produced by a company that is 100% for electric transport.
  • Produced by a company I’ve invested in.
  • Supercharger access that allows me to never touch a drop of gas again (in the US, at least).
  • Awesome tech/infotainment.
  • Looks super slick.

It’s a tough decision. I’m eager to get behind the wheel of these again. And, yes, I’m still going to test out the LEAF and probably some other EVs as well before making the decision.

19 thoughts on “Nissan LEAF vs BMW i3 vs Tesla Model S — Your Responses

  1. If you have the money, go for Tesla. If not, Leaf might be better. Leaf SV/SL has 110 miles range. Chademo is far more wide spread than CCS in FL; does FL have any CCS charger? Of course, if you’re in CA where CCS is somewhat available, i3 might be a contender since range doesn’t become as big an issue.

    1. I’m advocating for a used EV. I think EV’s really need an advocate for the used market. It actually has me a bit worried.

      Leaf aren’t worth crap used, and they are likely to get a new pack under warranty “around year 6” (Jack Rickard) which will bump their value.

      It is also likely that a used market will develop, mfrs help or no. Another bump.

      I think total 5 year cost of ownership of a used Leaf will be around $100 month.

      New will be $3-400, and BMW will be $500+.

      1. Very clever. If he can live with shorter range of used Leaf with degrading battery that’ll fail before warranty, that’ll be best. That’s if he can live with 50-60 miles range, although Chademo should help. It’s also a gamble; if the battery doesn’t fail, oops. I think Leaf battery is currently $6000, a price not many would pay to repair a 8 year old car..

        1. Well that is pretty negative point of view. The range 50 – 60, yes spot on and it is annoying, but the batteries are ok. THey will fail only if they will be overheating. In UK I dont even know about any failed pack. If you are pushing it to the limits it can get overheated as I did with mine few times, but all within norms. If you live in hot areas then you have to adjust the driving but mostly the way you park your car. The battery pack is well insulated and therefore avoid parking the car directly on sun as only then it will heat up the battery pack. So by knowing what to avoid you should be ok.

        2. From what I’ve read in my research to buy a 2016 Leaf, the 2011-2012 models had huge problems with battery degrading if parked in the sun in hot climates like Phoenix and San Diego. They improved the chemistry in 2013 and later so that shouldn’t be such a factor, though I think you’ll still extend your battery life somewhat by keeping the car cooler.

          A lot of people are still upset about the problem from 2011-2012 which was not admitted by Nissan till far too late to stop the damage. Originally, there was no warranty against capacity loss on 2011-12, but Nissan issued a retroactive warranty that capacity would not drop over 70% in 5 years or 60k miles. Of course some people still got screwed with packs that lost almost as much capacity as the warranty but not quite enough to get replaced for free before they hit 60k. There’s also the problem that the warranty was written to say the packs would simply be repaired back to at least 70% capacity rather than replaced. I’m not sure how that panned out though I know some people did get new packs.

          There was a class action lawsuit hinged around the complaint that “before purchase or lease, Nissan failed to disclose its own recommendations that owners avoid charging the battery beyond 80% in order to mitigate battery damage and failed to disclose that Nissan’s estimated 100 mile range was based on a full charge battery, which is contrary to Nissan’s own recommendation for battery charging.” People won that suit but I’m not sure what the benefits were exactly. There was recently an amendment that said law suit winners would receive new batteries with the latest battery tech rather than simply refurbishing the batteries to 70%.

          As of the 2016 Leaf, Nissan has extended the warranty to 8 years or 100k miles with under 30% loss, so I think the heat problem has been resolved. The longer range also means less discharge/charge cycles and fewer occasions you’ll need to charge to 100%.

          1. Debunked. Check out the EVTV episode I referenced earlier, it goes into all of this in detail.

      2. I’m on my second LEAF, a 2015. About 18 months to go on the lease, I expect Nissan will offer to sell me the car for $10k at the end. My first lease was for commuting 45 miles a day roundtrip and the LEAF was perfect.

        Now, I’m retired. I don’t typically charge more than twice a week. It’s perfect for my needs. I agree there WILL BE USED EV MARKET — we don’t know exactly what it will look like, but it’s inevitable.

        Obviously, what makes these used “First Generation” EV’s cheap is the new, better technology coming every year. When the new, longer range LEAF is introduced, it will push prices of earlier models even lower. That’s good, IMHO. But these dependable EV’s with much simpler and low cost maintenance may hit a low point and never go below it. (If the body and interior are well-maintained.)

        I think it will still cost more than $100/mo to own a used LEAF. Insurance, taxes (Georgia just announced a $200 annual licensing fee to make up for lost gasoline taxes.) Having said that, Georgia also enabled me to get a $5,000 tax rebate…it would take 50 years for that to hit “break even.” That incentive has expired.

        Batteries have been shown to lose available power more to miles driven rather than simply the number of years. True, at some point those batteries are going down…but a low mileage one may outperform in range for quite a while.

        Several major questions loom because the oldest first generation LEAF’s are just now turning 5.

        – What are maintenance costs for a brake job, etc.?
        – Will any issues arise with onboard chargers or other electrics?
        – How well will the bodywork endure?

        The current LEAF on the market will, without a doubt, look pretty dated alongside newer models coming along. But it’s still a dependable, cost-effective mode of urban transport. Students, retirees and others may keep them on the road much longer than we think…particularly if the vehicle in question is Chademo-equipped, and those charging stations continue to grow in numbers.

        1. When after 3 years the market value of a $35,000 car is less than the value of a $15,000 car of same vintage (Nissan Versa), this is a problem.

          I think much of this depressed value is due to uncertainty/risk premium placed on batteries by the marketplace. When there is little track record markets tend to grossly overprice risk.

          Look at VW Diesel Carmax offers for an example.

          Sure the 2012 cars are outdated tech, but does that justify a $10k swing in 3 years? I think this is a function of market fear of the “major” looming questions you mention creating major value depression. The cars have too many question marks, and a very small market. These are early adopter cars, and most early adopters opt for new.

          Tesla removed these looming fears with their CPO warranty program. I think this has significant responsibility for the fact those cars have crazy good resale values.

          I think these other companies really screwed up by NOT creating a similar protected option for used buyers. Taking emotion out of the equation, these cars used are a crazy good deal.

          Low lease rates is a significant part of these cars success (my Smart is $150 a month). I worry about the math. A severely handicapped EV is much more attractive at $150-250 a month than at $500.

          With residuals so far off projected values, will compliance car mfrs be able to continue to offer reasonable lease rates or will they have to refactor the lower residual values into the monthly price?

      3. “I think EV’s really need an advocate for the used market. It actually has me a bit worried.”
        –Hmm, that is a strong line pulling me in. I get it, and if I’m anything, I’m an advocate,

  2. GO with Tesla. Its better value, incredible fun to drive and you will lose as much as on the other ones in resale value meaning that percent to percent you will actually save.

    Only if you really cannot afford it then go for BMW i3 BUT ONLY THE REX version. You’ll be using it as EV 99% of the time anyway, but trust me that 1% does matter.

    And if you want to do the smart decision, go with Leaf, but buy used one. With less than 10k mileage you can buy one easily for less than £10. And as I have one I can tell you these cars will last and last land last. And the handling and pleasure to drive one is still much better than average cars and if you are taking every corner in full speed then also much better than the BMW in terms of handling.

    But again I’m waiting for Model X as I prefer to leave compromises to others and go with the best 🙂

    1. Thanks. I’ve been swinging back toward Tesla a bit this week. Man, getting tough. And thanks for the nudge on the REx. Probably just 0.1%, but think it’s worth it, and think BMW made a genius move there… despite all the critics.

      The X is tantalizing. If it were available when we plan to get there, I think I’d go for it.

  3. I’m not sure I’d agree with the i3 being the greenest. Carbon Fiber is not easily recyclable, unlike metal car bodies.

  4. Recently tested the leaf, i3 and e-golf… the Golf was the nicest to
    drive, sharp steering and very exact accelerator pedal. Also, the e-golf was
    the most efficient and the regen settings were the best so I could drive with
    one pedal even on a steep downhill. The other two don’t have the gear stick that allows you to access 4 regen settings in by moving it like an actual shifter.

    Ergonomics were also much better with the germans and the golf in
    particular. Better instrument cluster than the other two, much clearer and more
    exact. Better nav and sound. The i3’s speed screen is particularly deceiving,
    it’s a small low res screen that’s not very readable. Expected better from bmw.
    Interior space is a lot more in the e-golf especially compared to the i3.

    More importantly, with one hour of driving around town and highway,
    uphill and downhill, the golf blew away the competition in terms of actual
    range. Again, the i3 was quite deceiving and had 50 km less range in real world
    use. With the scandal, you could probably negotiate a better price, at least
    the local dealer hinted about that possibility. As they say “a bon entendeur,

  5. BMW i3 is 50% cheaper than a Tesla? Where did you find this deal? Base price of the i3 REX is 46,250.00 (good luck finding a base model though) Base price on a Tesla model 70D is 75,000.00. And it can actually be ordered that way directly from Tesla- without paying extortion to some dealer for ‘dealer installed options’ and option packages you don’t want or dealer markup. Doesn’t look like a 50% savings to me.

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