Cars

Published on June 4th, 2017 | by Zachary Shahan

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Tesla Model 3 vs BMW 2 Series, 3 Series, 4 Series, 5 Series, & i3

June 4th, 2017 by  

BMW is perhaps the automaker most under threat from Tesla Motors. Its brand is about innovation, sporty design, and stellar performance — all in a sophisticated, premium-class package. Hmm, that sounds like Tesla too, doesn’t it?

Special Red Tesla Model 3 by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

The problem for BMW is not just that Tesla’s brand is also innovation, sporty design, stellar performance, sophistication, and premium tech … but that Tesla brings many of these to another level.

Clearly, Tesla has innovated itself into a leadership role in the emerging battery-based, software-based car market — Autopilot, glass roofs, low-cost batteries, over-the-air software updates, and even simply selling the car online put Tesla a head above the competition for many buyers.

Design is a subjective matter, but Tesla’s vehicles have received broad acclaim for their sleek and sporty design — something new enough to attract eyeballs, but simple enough that they lend themselves to a timeless appeal.

Performance — duh.

Sophistication is brought to a whole nother level, including an intelligent zero-emissions level, roping in the intellectual class as well as Hollywood.

And premium tech is to be expected, with Tesla well known for Autopilot, a giant navigation screen, self-opening doors, etc.

BMW 3 Series Sedan

When I was a teenager, the brands to desire with a hopeful eye and ambitious work plan were BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. I was an Audi and BMW guy, but looking back on it, society had basically fed me just a few compelling options. (I ended up losing interest in cars altogether while I was in college and discovered that walkable cities and bicycling for transportation were so much better than the car-obsessed Florida norm I was raised into, but that’s a story for another day.)

The question on the broad car market — in the “lower-end” premium sedan class — is how the Tesla Model 3 will perform against the high-selling BMW 2 Series, 3 Series, and 4 Series in consumer eyes (and in their buying/leasing decisions). Also, does the Model 3 compete against the BMW 5 Series as well, and if so, how well?

Furthermore, one would assume the Model 3 is competing with the BMW i3, right? Will the i3 get wiped off the sales sheet, or will it maintain its appeal for certain reasons?

Let’s dive into some more numbers for this 3rd (or 4th) story in our Countdown to Model 3 Month series.

First, let’s take a quick glance at BMW USA sales numbers*, which I noted just yesterday have not been looking good in 2017. With a 9.5% decrease in BMW USA sales in 2016, this is how things broke out for the year as a whole for the models we’re examining:

2016 USA Sales
BMW 2 Series 15,519
BMW 3 Series 70,458
BMW 4 Series 35,763
BMW 5 Series 32,408
BMW i3 7,625

Together, those models added up to 161,773 sales in 2016. Combined with the 119,369 sales of the Lexus models we examined and the 74,579 sales of the Audi models we examined, that brings us up to 355,721 sales of premium-class models that the Model 3 may well be competing against. As we rope in Mercedes, Acura, and Jaguar models in the coming days, I’m thinking we’ll land around the 500,000 mark (for the US alone). We’ll see.

Of course, comparing to each of these BMW models is a bit tough since there are various trims for each of them that can quite significantly change the pros and cons of the cars. BMW doesn’t just change the interior/tech options — body styles vary a great deal as well. So, to clarify, for each of these, I’m comparing the base Tesla Model 3 to the coupe or sedan base options — not the wagons, convertibles, or “gran” trims.

BMW 2 Series (230i Coupe) BMW 3 Series (320i Sedan) BMW 4 Series (430i Coupe) BMW 5 Series (530i Sedan) BMW i3 Tesla Model 3
Base Price $33,150 $33,450 $42,400 $51,200 $42,400 $35,000
Base Price After $7500 Tax Credit $33,150 $33,450 $42,400 $51,200 $34,900 $27,750
0–60 mph 5.3 7.1 5.5 6 7.2 5.6
Trunk+Frunk Space 14 13 16 19 15 14
Length 175 179 183 195 157 185
Width 70 71.5 72 73.5 70 74

→ Related: BMW USA Sales Down Dramatically — Tesla Model 3 Hitting Already?

→ Related: Tesla Model 3 vs Audi A3, Audi A4, Audi A5, Audi S3

BMW 4 Series Coupe

Cash money: In terms of price, the Tesla Model 3 is the clear winner if you have half-decent financial incentives on the table (as you should due to the societal benefits of the zero-emissions Model 3). Without any financial incentives, the BMW 2 Series and 3 Series can inch below the Model 3. However, if you take into account the cost of fuel vs electricity, the Model 3 surely wins even without any incentives from the federal government, your state government, or others.

Silver Tesla Model 3 by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

Acceleration: As with the Audi and Lexus models, even in the cases where BMW inches out a win in 0–60 mph times, you can be sure that the Tesla Model 3 is winning during much of that stretch before the BMW (230i and 430i) catch up at the end. As I’ve noted in previous articles, electric cars offer instant torque that make them quicker in shorter sprints and just make them feel much quicker off the line. One example of that was an experience I had from BMW itself. I test drove the BMW i8 right after test driving the BMW i3 and was actually surprised to discover that the BMW i3 felt quicker and much more fun off the line than the objectively much quicker BMW i8 (which smokes the i3 going from 0 to 60 mph).

Even if you don’t take that tremendous instant torque into account, it seems (based on Tesla’s and BMW’s stated numbers) that the Model 3 is spunkier than most of these BMW options and would beat them to 60 mph. Kudos to Tesla, and that must strike fear in BMW’s knees.

[This section was updated after it was discovered that I had BMW’s best times rather than base times. Thanks to Marc Kessler for the catch.]

BMW 2 Series Coupes

On this topic of instant torque, below is a graph I like that shows the acceleration profile of the Nissan LEAF (which takes 10.2 seconds to reach 60 mph) versus a typical gasoline car. It’s basically what you’d get looking at any EV compared to any gas car, with a bit of variation when comparing a Model S P100D to a LEAF or a Toyota Corolla to a Ferrari, of course.

→ Related: Tesla Model 3 vs Lexus ES (& ES Hybrid), Lexus IS, Lexus GS (& GS Hybrid), & Lexus CT Hybrid

Cargo Space: On the sometimes critical issue of cargo space, the Tesla Model 3 seems to fare well against the BMW 230i Coupe and BMW 320i Sedan (they all have basically the same amount of cargo space), and fine enough against the 430i Coupe.

Predictably, the 530i Sedan — much longer than any of the other models considered here — wallops the competition, with 19 cu. ft. of cargo space (with the back seat up). Given its much larger size and higher price, you may wondering why it’s even included here. My thinking is that there may be a decent number of BMW 5 Series drivers who weren’t willing to stretch for the higher-priced Tesla Model S but will happily shrink to bring a Tesla home to their garage. We’ll see, but that’s the hypothesis.

BMW 5 Series Sedan

Size Matters (in Cities): Clearly, there’s great variation on the auto market regarding vehicle size and what consumers prefer. The Model S is certainly too big for my taste, while the BMW i3 is great as a driver or front passenger but could use more room in the back seat. The Tesla Model 3 offers great draw for other people like me who, aside from not wanting to put so much money into a car, just want a smaller footprint. But the skateboard battery under the car seems to demand that the Model 3 still sit wider and a bit longer than its BMW competition. This could push some buyers toward a BMW 230i Coupe, BMW 320i Sedan, BMW 330e, or even BMW i3. I am certainly nervous to see if I can squeeze the Model 3 into my narrow European parking space (which is surrounded by 3 walls). It’s hard enough getting the Nissan LEAF in there and it is 175 x 70 inches (compared to the Model 3’s 185 x 74 inches).

BMW i3 by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica


Overall, due to a few BMW 2 Series, 3 Series, and 4 Series advantages on paper (cargo space, smaller footprints, and slightly better 0–60 times for the 230i Coupe and 430i Coupe), I think a good number of consumers will choose one of these BMW models over a Model 3, but I certainly would never make that decision myself. I think the Model 3 will feel quicker, feel nicer inside, have cooler tech, and still come in at a lower price. Furthermore, of course, I’m in the crowd that sees the following advantages as huge ones that these non-i3 BMW gas cars can’t compete with:

◊ Zero emissions: The value of a zero-emissions vehicle is priceless for many people. The existential threat global heating poses for humanity isn’t worth gambling on. The trillions of dollars in health costs and hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution are not moral or sensible options when we have alternatives like electric cars and solar power. That said, some people prioritize small personal preferences over all of that, and some people have even been so brainwashed by the pollution industry and all their minions that they think pollution is somehow good, and turning the planet into a fireplace is somehow sane.

I am leaving the climate and health benefits of the Model 3 out of the equation in the comparisons above, but I could never leave them out in my own personal purchasing decisions.

◊ National security: The societal benefit of buying a national security bulldog is priceless as well, imho. There’s again no point in fueling oil wars and funding dictatorships when we can avoid doing so.

◊ Self-driving tech & perhaps my own robotaxi: The Tesla Model 3 will come with hardware that could one day allow for fully autonomous transport. It’s unclear when the software will arrive, what it will cost, or what default semi-autonomous features will do, but the self-driving tech is still a highly compelling attraction for me. I assume the Tesla Autopilot features will outperform what any competitors offer for a long time to come, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has clearly indicated that we should expect our Model 3s will get invites into a Tesla robotaxi service down the road, allowing us to easily make money on our cars.

Survey results from our new EV report. Responses came from over 2,000 EV drivers across 26 European countries, 49 of 50 US states, and 9 Canadian provinces. Responses were segmented according to region — North America vs Europe — and type of electric car — plug-in hybrid vs Tesla vs non-Tesla fully electric car.

Obviously, once we have some real time with the Model 3 (not just standing on the test track for 2 hours filming and photographing it), we’ll have much more to say about the Model 3 versus these BMW competitors … and you know we will.

However, before leaving, I want to come back to one more factor we could bring into the discussion right now based on what we’ve seen. Styling is a subjective matter, so I left it out of the more objective model-by-model discussions above. However, everyone I talked to who was at the Model 3 unveiling thought the Model 3 was stunning, and I certainly thought so as well. As much as I like the look of a small BMW, I think the Model 3 looks a whole podium better — and I honestly wasn’t expecting that before the unveiling. It’s going to be a beautiful thing to see these cars roaming the streets in cities across the world, and I’m confident the design alone will pull many people to the brand who’d otherwise buy a BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Acura, Lexus, or Jaguar … not to mention a Toyota Prius.

Related:

30 Reasons Your Next Car Should Be Electric

20 Minutes of Tesla Model 3 & Tesla Model X External Video Footage, & 5 Things I Love About The Model 3 (Exclusive Video)

Tesla Model 3 Test Track Video (#CleanTechnica Exclusive From Unveiling Night, Abridged)

Tesla Model 3 Review From EV Annex (Exclusive Video Interview & Review)

Tesla Model 3 — Exclusive Test Track Photos

National Security Bulldogs — Electric Cars


*I’m not confident that looking at non-US sales makes any point at this stage in relation to the Model 3 since the Model 3 will first go to US customers and people have by and large been assuming production will be delayed. Everyone I talk to here in Europe doesn’t expect the first Model 3 will arrive this year, or even till well into 2018. Some are pessimistic about it arriving in 2018 here at all. Thus, I don’t think the Model 3 is dramatically affecting BMW, Mercedes, or Audi sales in Europe, China, or elsewhere at this point.


Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.



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