Nissan Leaf vs Volkswagen e-Up! vs BMW i3 (Exclusive EV Reviews)

UPDATE: Full BMW i3 review here.

I was able to test drive about 8 electric vehicles in Barcelona over the past week. I will have longer reviews of many of them in the coming days or weeks… as I have time to write them up, edit the pics & videos, etc. But, real quickly, I thought I’d share a quick comparison between the three in the title above.

Yes, I realize these vehicles are not all in the same vehicle category, but I think the comparisons could be useful for people nonetheless. I’ll get into more of the technical details in the follow-up reviews. Here, I’m focusing on simplistic observations from a common Joe or common Jill kind of perspective.

Nissan Leaf (Quick Review)

I’ll start with the world’s best-selling electric car of all time — the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf, like every EV, has great pickup and is super quiet and smooth. The Leaf has an “Eco” driving option that will make the car drive much more efficiently, saving you some money and extending the range of your vehicle in between charges. The button for this is quite large, green, and prominently located on your steering wheel. This, of course, makes it easier to switch in or out of this greener driving mode, but it also calls out to you and reminds you to be intelligent and drive greener. I’m not sure if that was intended, but if it was, I think it was a clever idea.

However, that’s not the only thing the prominently placed and designed button does. Driving in Eco, the car makes you step on the pedal harder to go faster — it puts more resistance on the pedal — and what that results in is that, when you press the button to move out of Eco mode while you are already driving, you get a big burst of speed. You come to notice this very quickly while driving the car. The point is that, when you need (or simply can’t avoid the urge for) a quick burst of speed, you know that you can very easily slide your right thumb over to the Eco button and release it for that tremendous burst (assuming you’re driving in Eco mode by default). It reminded me of hitting the turbo button in a racing video game.

The Leaf also has a couple braking modes. In B-mode, there is more regenerative braking than in the default or even the Eco mode, so the car starts to brake on its own faster when you release the electricity pedal (what we’d call the gas pedal in a gasmobile). I think having a couple options here is a very nice thing.

The Leaf has a pretty sweet visualization program to help you back into the location you are aiming for when going in reverse. It’s quite intuitive and lets you get into your spot without having to do any in-seat gymnastics/yoga or having to ask someone how much space you have. It seems quite convenient and I imagine it is appreciated by many a Leaf owner.

There are dashboard visualizations for remaining charge, projected range (in the current driving mode), and more. It’s all attractive and very clear.

There’s plenty of space in the car, and the general look of the inside of the car is fairly similar to that of a normal car, which I guess some people may like and some people may want to get away from — I’m not sure where I personally stand on that one. The front interior of the car reminded me of a Toyota Camry.

With quite a low center of gravity (due the the batteries), the Leaf feels good and very stable on turns. This is another one of those benefits that exists in most EVs.

Volkswagen e-Up! (Quick Review)

The VW e-Up! is actually only available in Europe at the moment. Though, it seems likely that it will be brought to the US within a year, following the release of the e-Golf, which is actually not yet available in Europe. (I’m sure there’s method to Volkswagen’s madness.)

The e-Up! drives very similar to the Leaf. I can’t say that I noticed much of a difference between the two there.

The interior was a bit simpler than that of the leaf. The dashboard area also had some interesting visualizations and charge/range information, but it was all a bit simpler than the Leaf. There also seemed to be a bit less space in the front as well as the back seats of the car.

One quite unique thing about the eUp!, however, is the number of braking modes it has. It has 4 regenerative braking options (compared to the Leaf’s 2 to 3 and the BMW i3’s one) — Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level B. It’s very nice to have so much variation here. In my second test drive of the vehicle, I started getting used to the various options a bit, and I definitely appreciated having a lot of options and freedom there for different driving situations and preferences.

BMW i3 (Quick Review)

The BMW i3 clearly comes at a higher price point and quality. The interior was what you’d expect from BMW. Actually, there was a great deal of space in the foot area in the front — more than I recall in any consumer vehicle.

The visualizations and dashboard are very nice and clear. Though, the i3 doesn’t have the reverse driving visualizations that the Leaf or even the e-Up! have.

The BMW i3’s drive was smoother than any car I’ve ever driven (of any type) — though, I’m yet to drive a Tesla.

The i3 has excellent acceleration. It goes from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in around 7 seconds, a few seconds faster than the Nissan Leaf or VW e-Up!, which do so in around 10 seconds.

Overall, the i3 was definitely the nicest of the 3 cars I’m writing about today. But, having a significantly higher price, that would be expected.

Overall Conclusions

As I just stated, the BMW i3 was my favorite of the 3 vehicles. The Leaf and e-Up! each had their own advantages, though. Between those two, I’d having a hard time choosing — I’d need more time with each of them.

All three cars drive much smoother than any gasmobile I’ve ever driven, and of course much quieter (which, naturally, is related). The acceleration of all three was very good. Looking at the numbers just now, I noticed that they aren’t particularly impressive in the 0–100 km/h (0–60 mph) arena, but there’s something about how effortlessly and smoothly these cars accelerate that really makes it stand out. It feels much more natural, and (in my opinion) nicer.

The visualizations and displays where particularly nice in the Leaf. Though, the i3 and the e-Up! each had their own offerings in that arena that were both helpful and interesting. I’d have to use the cars for longer to really say more about all of that, though.

Naturally, price differences, range differences, and other technical details are important and worthy of consideration. I’ll delve into those factors more in the individual reviews.

Final conclusion: electric cars are awesome, so go test drive one (or several)! 😀

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