Tesla Model S vs BMW i3 — Chapter 3

Well, I was hoping to get more clarity by test driving the BMW i3 and the Tesla Model S 70D one day after the other last week. Unfortunately, I walked away more undecided than before the test drives. Mixing in test drives of the Nissan LEAF (which we got for my mom), Chevy Volt, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, Cadillac ELR, and BMW i8 probably didn’t help, but I think I’d be in the same situation either way.

Tesla Model S red blue black grey

BMW i3 white and black

The BMW i3 acceleration is really lovely. It is second only to the Tesla Model S, imho. And even so, it has a sporty feel that I like more in some ways. I thought I was a little bit crazy for that, but just read a comment the other night from someone who has an i3 and a Model S and uses the i3 as his daily driver because of that sportier feel. The Model S is reserved primarily for road trips.

Tesla Model S charging

However, the Model S has the i3 beat on a number of important points, and it would be somewhat criminal to not mention those. It’s…

  • much safer
  • much more spacious for passengers and cargo
  • has much longer range
  • has Supercharger access
  • has very cool and useful autopilot features
  • has an awesome infotainment and navigation system
  • is continuously improved via over-the-air software updates.

Just writing out that list, my 50–50 dilemma is now weighing more in favor of the Model S. It’s still hard to justify spending so much money on a car, but those are some strong advantages.

While it can be hard to justify the extra “fun,” arguably unimportant extra space, and potentially unnecessary extra range of the Model S, the thing that keeps coming to mind is how much safer the S is. Florida is one of the most dangerous states in the US for driving (maybe even the most dangerous). One would hope that we’d never be in an accident, but if we were….

Additionally, I was reminded at the Nissan dealer that $1 doesn’t = $1. The price of the LEAF jumped ~50–100% from what we were initially being told before all was said and done. The guy we worked with was nice, and he got us some extra discounts we didn’t really qualify for, but that’s just the way things roll at dealerships. So, I think the next step for me is getting the BMW dealer to give me the real monthly payment estimate and then to compare that to the Model S estimate.

If only Tesla still offered the Model S 40. That would genuinely be ideal for me (I think)… well, it would still be too large for my taste, but I think I could live with that. I don’t need the extra range that sits largely unused on a Model S 70 and up, and it’s certainly not worth a premium to me.

The BMW i3 does still have a few benefits that I hugely value as well. It…

  • is the greenest car on the market
  • is the most efficient car on the market
  • is a compact car (which I like)
  • has the strongest regenerative braking on the market
  • is more economical (clearly).

Yes, I left acceleration off of both lists. While quite different, I think acceleration is comparably enjoyable in these two vehicles. (I reserve the right to change my mind after a back-to-back test drive.)

In the end, I now need to get my wife into both of these vehicles and discuss the cost (or maybe not…) with her.

14 thoughts on “Tesla Model S vs BMW i3 — Chapter 3

  1. Analysis paralysis! Does supercharging play a role in the decision at all? How about brand? Tesla arguably has a stronger eco brand than bmw. The back seat on the BMW would be a deal breaker for me. Try getting a car seat in and out of both a few times per day. ..

    1. Supercharging not so much. Autopilot, **yes**. Eager to try putting a car seat in each. The i3 looks easier to me, but we’ll see.

      Brand is also at play. Though, on the other hand, normal people will recognize BMW and perhaps be more eager to learn about EVs on the street from me. Not sure, but think so. Tesla just looks like a hot supercar that many probably wouldn’t pay attention to. But idk.

      1. People still gawk at Teslas here in cali and we have plenty of them. I think the street appeal is about the same in terms of offline conversations but I think Tesla has the more purist brand. Tough call πŸ™‚ Maybe the i5 will be out soon and fill the sweet spot you’re looking for.

  2. The i3 is very safe, while the Model S is the safest. The difference is relatively small, and unless you drive crazy fast, you probably need to worry which car you drive.

    I actually like the regen setup on the VW e-Golf best. It has free wheel coasting by default when you lift your right foot off the accelerator. It has plenty of regen modes: 4 available on the shifter, and infinitely variable regenerative braking is always on the brake pedal. Which is the perfect place for it!

    The i3 has the best tires available for efficiency, and I will be trying to get better tires for our e-Golf. My brother got ~185wH/mile at 55MPH in his i3 REx, while the best I have achieved in the e-Golf is ~206wH/mile at ~40-45MPH. I have driven the Leaf several times in the mid 190’s – it has really good tires, as well.

    1. 1) Thanks. I hadn’t looked closely into the comparisons, but just received this comment from “No way” confirming the same, or even saying that the i3 is better for passenger safety:

      Regarding the safety the i3 is hardly far behind the Model S. In the Euro NCAP (which is the only test both have done as far as I know) the i3 beats the Tesla in adult protection (inside the car) and child protection (inside the car). The two categories that most people find most important.

      The Tesla beats the i3 in pedestrian safety and driver assist features. Which of course also are important, but more for the people you hit than yourself.


  3. S40 is S60 with software imposed battery restriction. It may have been bit cheaper (very little bit), but not any lighter or sportier.

    i3 is a terriffic car, except for price / range ratio. Considering SparkEV is 7.2sec 0-60 while BMW is 7.0 (I thought i3’s quicker), what you get for i3 seems high priced. But, as Soup Nazi would say, “no SparkEV 4 U!”

    If you have the money, S70/D would be better. If not, umm, your mom’s used Leaf?

    1. That’s a subjective matter than people can judge from the pics and in-person looks. I like the look/design of the i3.

      Also, I talked about this in a previous article in this series….

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