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BMW i3 vs Tesla Model S — The Dilemma Continues

Originally published on EV Obsession.

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 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 subcompact car (which I like)
  • has stronger regenerative braking (which I love)
  • 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.


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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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