During a wicked busy week in Florida focused around the EV Technology & Transportation Summit, I had the opportunity to test drive 7 electric cars. Four of those were the high-end models in the title: the BMW i8, Cadillac ELR, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Tesla Model S 70D. Below is a mishmash comparison of these four cars, with some comparisons to the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S P85D (cars I had test driven before) sprinkled in. No doubt about it, each of these EVs are awesome cars. Each of them are also quite different and benefit from their own distinct competitive advantages. In alphabetical order, below are my short reviews. Click on the subheadings to be taken to the individual reviews.
Of all the vehicles I test drove, I was perhaps most interested in testing out the BMW i8. The i8 is a stunning vehicle, imho. And knowing how wicked the i3 is to drive, I was drooling at the opportunity for even greater acceleration. At the same time, I knew it was a plug-in hybrid, and I knew my previous experiences driving plug-in hybrids (the Audi A3 e-tron and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV) left me disappointed with that electric car segment.
Again, this car looks stunning. While I like the looks of all 4 of these vehicles in person, the i8 suits my aesthetic tastes the most. And while I thought that would be limited to the external view, the internal view adds to it. Sitting in the car, when you look at the sideview mirrors, you see some wicked cool curves on the back corners of the vehicle that come together in a way I have never seen and never even dreamt. Nothing in another sideview camera I’ve ever used compares to that view. (Unfortunately, I didn’t grab a picture, and I’m not sure how well a picture could capture it anyhow.) Furthermore, BMW does an excellent job sticking your speed and a couple of other stats (iirc) in front of you holographically that makes them look like they are sitting on the road or the horizon several feet in front of the car. That was really impressive, and it made checking my speed much easier than in other vehicles, which is probably good, because…
… the acceleration of the i8 is indeed stupid crazy. Combining the power of the electric drivetrain and gasoline drivetrain, the i8 throws you forward when you step on it. It crushes the acceleration and the exhilaration potential of many a vehicle. However… the other cars on this list and in this price range are not Toyota Corollas. Actually, driving the i8 right after the i3, I was a bit disappointed with off-the-line acceleration. The i3 darts forward so quickly off the line, while the i8 has weaker instant torque from the electric motor and hesitates for a moment before the gasoline engine’s power kicks in. Additionally, once that kicks in, the smoothness of the driving experience goes down and, imho, the quality degrades. That said, there is something awesome about that surge of power, and the way the (fake) engine sounds (a low growl) puts some serious pumping into your heart. In other words, the i8 is a ton of fun in its own right.
Lastly, the regenerative braking of the i8 wasn’t nearly as strong as the i3’s regenerative braking. That super strong regen braking (I think the strongest on the market) is very addictive and makes driving more enjoyable, imho. One-pedal driving to the extreme.
All in all, I wouldn’t mind having both the i3 for more enjoyable daily driving and the i8 for some Sunday runs at higher speed for long stretches and around curves. Speaking of curves, you also sit so low in the i8 that you feel like your butt might scrape on the concrete. A bit of a nervous feeling, but also a lot of fun. Taking curves in the i8 is a blast, and I highly recommend anyone do so if they ever have the chance… with caution, of course.
The back seats of the i8 are not really back seats. You may be able to stick a toddler there, but I’d be impressed to see an adult squashed into one of those spaces. My understanding is that there are basically just regulatory reasons why the i8 has “two back seats.” Not a bad spot for a briefcase, though.
- looks/aesthetic design
- sporty feel
- 2nd burst of acceleration/power
The places where it loses points to most others in this comparison:
- off-the-line acceleration
- smoothness of drive
- Official 0–60 mph acceleration = 4.4 seconds
- Base MSRP = $135,700
- Electric miles = 15
I expected the ELR to be the luxury queen of the bunch. It turned out that the power and acceleration of this stealth beast shocked me so much that I forgot to even take note of the interior luxury. In fact, I even forgot to take a close look at the back seats after the drive.
This is really hard to explain in words, but the Cadillac ELR is superbly powerful and smooth. Surprisingly, I think it may have even beat the Tesla Model S 70D in off-the-line acceleration quality… or maybe I just had low expectations and the surprise was so shocking that my comparison is warped. Of course, it doesn’t beat a P85D (or P90D), but that’s the only car I’ve driven that I think has nicer acceleration (powerful + smooth).
The handling is also excellent, as I observed while pulling a fairly sharp and quick left turn across the highway in Britta Gross’s ELR. I couldn’t tell if she was nervous or eager to see me enjoy the wonderful car, but I was taking the opportunity to test it and just got more impressed with the quick curve.
When it comes to visual aesthetics, I’ve never been really keen on the ELR, but could see the appeal for certain people. In person, however, I thought it looked really good. It had a sportier and less conspicuous look, to my eyes, and I liked that. As with all cars, I think you really have to see it in person to judge it.
Naturally, it’s hard to justify an ELR when you could get a Tesla Model S that offers much more electric range, remarkable safety, access to free Supercharging, a cool touchscreen, a tremendous amount of space, and constantly improving software, but the ELR genuinely shocked me, and that’s hard to do after driving the P85D. There are benefits to the BMW i8 and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid that I could theoretically see pulling me to drop my cash on them rather than the ELR, but at the end of the day, I’m quite sure I’d be more inclined to acquire the wonderful pure electric acceleration of the ELR — nothing with gas infused in the process compares (and that’s speaking purely from a performance aspect… not even considering the environmental, climate, and health benefits).
- quick and powerful acceleration
The place where it loses points to most others in this comparison:
- Official 0–60 mph acceleration = 7.8 seconds
- Base MSRP = $65,000
- Electric miles = 37 (and these are real electric miles)
The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid was the third high-end, high-performance electric car I drove in Florida last week. I drove the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid almost immediately after the Tesla Model S 70D, a day after the BMW i8, and two days before the Cadillac ELR. Being a Porsche, expectations were high. Being a PHEV, they weren’t that high. Unfortunately, I didn’t have quite the opportunity to play in the Panamera S E-Hybrid as I did in the i8, ELR, or P85D, but I did test the acceleration and handling a bit. It was worthy of the Porsche name, and made it a genuine contender with these other high-end, high-performance vehicles.
Like the i8, the pure electric acceleration is muted, which is disappointing compared to the Model S or ELR, but the kick of power it receives from the ICE seems smoother than in the i8. The i8 offered a sportier feel, while the Panamera S E-Hybrid offered a more elegant and distinguished feel… but yeah, not what a pure electric offers.
The seating in the Panamera S E-Hybrid was second to none, though. The super comfortable and luxurious seats were the nicest I think I’ve ever sat in. They don’t look like much in the images below, but they were amazing. And they were super plush in the back seat as well as the front seat. While the i8 could barely hold a briefcase (slight exaggeration) and the ELR’s back seats probably aren’t very comfortable for a kid, let alone a full-grown human, the back seats of the Panamera S E-Hybrid seemed worthy of a king. As if pure comfort wasn’t enough, the back seats could be automatically adjusted in various directions by the passenger, each passenger’s air conditioning could be individually controlled, and the back seat passengers could even control the seat of of the person in front of them. (Now that I think about it, that doesn’t seem safe in the case of the driver’s seat, and I didn’t check the controls of the passenger behind the driver, but this is certainly true of the passenger in the back-right spot.)
In other words, if you care much about the quality of the seating for people who will be sitting in the back, this Porsche PHEV is hard to pass up. Add in the smooth and powerful electric acceleration for the driver, and you can make plenty of people happy.
Externally, the Panamera S E-Hybrid is a Porsche, and I think it’s nearly impossible to not admire the design of this vehicle. It is sleek, smooth, and athletic. While the i8 has a rather outlandish and futuristic look (that I love), the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid has an elegance that I think more people would appreciate.
The places where it loses points to most others in this comparison:
- acceleration power
- sportiness (ironically)
- Official 0–60 mph acceleration = 5.2 seconds
- Base MSRP = $96,100
- Electric miles = 22
I’m really eager to test the Model S 70, 70D, 85, 85D, P85D, 90, 90D, and P90D back to back in one day… but that is clearly a fantasy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if not a single individual has ever done that. With so many variations, I’m sure my senses would turn to mush anyway… and the ludicrous torque wouldn’t help. At the least, it was nice to compare the 70D to the P85D, even with several months in between the test drives.
Most of the things that are wonderful about the P85D/P90D are also present in the 70D. You’ve got world-shattering safety, incomparable electric range, an industry-leading touchscreen for navigation and controls, excellent autopilot capabilities (side collision avoidance, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and automatic parking), a ton of space, beautiful design inside and outside, super-fast charging (both “Level 4” Supercharging and much quicker Level 2 charging), and, of course… power.
No doubt about it, you can tell the difference between the 70D and the P85D. If you couldn’t, I imagine a lot more people would be buying the 70D. But the 70D is still out of this world in that category. As I stated before, the Cadillac ELR may actually have the 70D beat off the line (even though it’s 0–60 mph time is considerably lower) — it is a smaller vehicle, after all. Maybe my judgement was way off, but it felt like it might be quicker. I’d really need to test drive them back to back to provide more insight on that (two days, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, the Chevy Volt, and a gasmobile in between leaves a lot of room for poor comparison). Nonetheless, nothing else I’ve driven (and I think nothing else on the market) offers such smooth, powerful, and stable acceleration as the Model S and the ELR.
All of that said, I think it’s worth bringing up the i3 again. Similar to the ELR, due to the i3’s smaller size and much lighter weight, combined with a healthy serving of fully electric instant torque, the i3 provides a very fun and exhilarating feeling when stepping on the pedal. Again, I would need to test these out back to back, but I venture to say that the i3 actually felt more fun in some ways. But it certainly didn’t compare with the smoothness, stability, and overall power of the 70D… not to mention the space, range, supercharging capability, interior tech and comfort, and safety. The i3 did have stronger (preferable) regenerative braking, but the Model S had stronger regen braking than all the other high-end, high-performance cars I tested.
- overall acceleration
- fuel costs
- energy independence
- electric range
- environmental cleanliness and stability (air + climate)
- infotainment & navigation
- regenerative braking
The places where it loses points to most others in this comparison:
- absolute range and convenience of charging on long-distance trips
- Official 0–60 mph acceleration = 5.5 seconds
- Base MSRP = $75,000
- Electric miles = 230
The Tesla Model S P85D wasn’t really supposed to be included in this comparison, but how could it not? As you may have noted by now, I did save the best for last. The P85D is in another league from all of the vehicles above. While the junior varsity 70D probably still beats all the others on the whole, the P85D is the MVP of last year’s varsity team (the P90D is this year’s MVP, of course). If you haven’t yet test driven a P85D, stepping down on the pedal completely from a full stop, do yourself a favor and schedule that in. At the very least, put it on your bucket list.
- Official 0–60 mph acceleration = 3.1 seconds
- Base MSRP = $105,000
- Electric miles = 253
But if you are looking for superb acceleration combined with the benefits of electric driving, the sporty BMW i8, sleek Cadillac ELR, luxurious Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, “economical” Tesla Model S 70D, and even compact BMW i3 are each good options in their own right. As with all cars, a lot comes down to personal taste and ideological preference.
If I were a billionaire, I think I’d have all of these models in my garage, and I’m sure I’d have occasions where I’d want to use each of them. Though, more likely than not, I’d be driving the Tesla Model S the majority of the time.