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Published on November 21st, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

19

BMW i3 vs Nissan Leaf vs Volkswagen e-Up! (Quick Reviews/Comparison)

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November 21st, 2013 by Zachary Shahan 

Originally published on EV Obsession.

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. (Images can be seen larger on the EV Obsession page. Image credits and republishing requirements are listed on the bottom of the post.)


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)! :D

Keep up to date with the latest EV news by subscribing to our free EV newsletter.

I’ll have much more from EVS27 coming your way in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Image Credits:

  • Black Nissan Leaf at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • Black Nissan Leaf at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • Nissan Leaf Interior. Credit: Nissan.
  • Nissan Leafs in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • VW e-Up! interior. Credit: Volkswagen.
  • VW e-Up! steering wheel and shifter. Credit: Volkswagen.
  • VW e-Up! at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • VW e-Up! at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triomf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 black & silver/black at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 + BMW i charging station at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 front interior at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 black at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 front and back interior at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 and me at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 door (made with recycled plastic) at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • Silver and black BMW i3 at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • BMW i3 steering wheel at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • Two black & silver BMW i3s at EXPOtest electric at Arc de Triompf in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)
  • Black & silver BMW i3 at EVS27 in Barcelona, Spain. (This image is available for republishing and even modification under a CC BY-SA license, with the key requirement being that credit be given to Zachary Shahan / EV Obsession / CleanTechnica, and that those links not be removed.)

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • SirSparks

    If these were all Spanish cars why were they right hand drive?

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I think you are just referring to the VW e-Up! interior pics, which I pulled from VW since I didn’t get good shots there.

  • Martin M Thomsen

    In short there are some difference.

    The new Leaf (and Renault ZOE) has a heat pump to hear the cabin in the high trim level. That saves up to 2/3 of the electricity to heat the cabin. This is important in cold climate. I drive the Renault ZOE it uses maxi 2 kW to heat the cabin in cold weather.

    The Renault ZOE, Smart ED3 and Tesla S can charge at 11 and 22 kW (3-phase) in Europe. This is a game changer for EVs: http://elbil.ipublish.no/2013/11/20/thoughts-about-ev-charging/

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks, Martin!

  • Manny

    Was that a 2014 Leaf or 2013?

    • Martin M Thomsen

      A 2014 Leaf

  • dehydratedpaani

    No price comparisons? That’s like the most important factor for most of us.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      ha, will include them in the individual posts. of course, there are many options, so i didn’t want to dwell on that.

      note that the e-Up! isn’t in the States yet, may not even come until 2015.

      • wattleberry

        The only price I’ve seen so far was ‘around £25,000′ UK for the BMW. Can’t help thinking, given the advanced, pioneering technology employed on this car, that this is something of a bargain ?

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          Prices I found were: UK — £29,950; Germany — €34,950; US — $42,275.

          Many more details now available here: http://cleantechnica.com/2013/11/24/review-bmw-i3-videos/

          I do think this is a fine price for the quality of the car.

          • wattleberry

            Were these net after subsidies? The only one I know is

            £5,000 in the UK. Form a queue?

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            before subsidies, iirc

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Actually, that US price is lower: $41,350 before incentives. http://cleantechnica.com/car-answers/

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Prices (much detail there) and much more now here: http://cleantechnica.com/2013/11/24/review-bmw-i3-videos/

      • dehydratedpaani

        Thanks Zach!

  • sault

    While I would REALLY like an EV that had zero regen as long as I wasn’t touching the brake pedal, having different options in this area is very nice. Zero regen allows you to coast a lot easier as you slow down instead of playing around with the “electricity pedal” until you find the narrow “sweet spot” of zero regen and stay there as you coast down to a lower speed. Using rolling and wind resistance to slow you down is a lot more efficient than putting that energy back in your battery through regen braking, but you have to plan way ahead for stops and slowdowns to take advantage of this as any car takes a very long distance to roll to a stop even if it’s only going 20 or 30 mph.
    I guess the level of “engine braking regen” you feel when you’re slowing down and not touching any pedals with the default settings on these vehicles is just the best way to “idiot proof” regen braking and help the average driver maximize their range. However, hypermilers would love to just turn this off and take control of braking themselves. And while there are always surprises out there that force you to use your brake pedal (people cut you off, a light suddenly turns red and you have to stop in a hurry, etc.) “engine braking regen” is one thing that doesn’t really help with safety that I wish you could just turn off.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      the lowest regen brake option on the VW e-Up! was clearly much lower than on the i3 or Leaf. still some regen there, but not a lot compared to those two.

      • Magnus Gillevi

        The lowest regen mode on e-up is D1. But there is also “D” that has no regen at all! :) Perfect for highway use or country road driving..

    • Magnus Gillevi

      Then you should choose the e-up. In the “D” mode there is no regen at all. You can coast all you want. When i tested the mode its incredible how far the car goes without any energy added! :) You can not drive with the D mode only unless you want to make other drivers angry at your driving :) I used D mode combined with D1 and D2 and sometimes B when going down steep hills with roundabouts in the end. FYI the brake light turns only on when you regen in mode D2, D3 and B.

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