Published on July 20th, 2019 | by Zachary Shahan0
Tesla Model 3 vs. BMW 230i, 330i, 440i, & i3s
July 20th, 2019 by Zachary Shahan
I’ve been thoroughly digging through our archives lately and ran across a series of articles published in the middle of 2017 that seemed to be worth a refresh and rerun. These are simple comparisons I conducted between the Tesla Model 3 and other premium-class cars in its general price range and size. Let’s revisit how current BMW options compare to the Model 3. This time around, I’ll also add in some 5 year cost of ownership scenarios.
In the initial article, before jumping into comparisons of the cars, I offered a snapshot of BMW USA sales numbers for 2016 (and also noted they were not 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 as well as the BMW 5 Series:
Together, those models added up to 161,773 sales in 2016.
Jumping to 2018 figures, we can see that BMW car sales continued to drop in the following two years. Though, unlike 2016, 2018 saw overall BMW brand sales go slightly up, thanks to higher SUV/CUV sales. That said, overall 2018 sales were a bit lower than overall 2016 sales, which means BMW never rebounded from the 9.5% drop in overall BMW brand sales in 2016, and even dropped a little further.
Looking at the same car models as above, here’s the 2018 breakdown:
The total there was 135,219, down 26,554 from 2016 sales.
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, as well as the prices. BMW doesn’t just change the interior/tech options for different trims. Body styles vary as well. So, to clarify, for each of these models I’m using coupe or sedan options — not the wagons, convertibles, or “gran” body styles. For the Model 3, I’m using the Standard Range Plus (SR+).
Of course, some of these BMW models are very similar to the Model 3 when it comes to certain specs and others are in an entirely different class. Nonetheless, since Tesla doesn’t offer a smaller car and the Model S is much more expensive as well as very long (I call it a land boat), I wanted to look at any potentially cross-shopped models.
Cash money: In terms of cost over 5 years, the Tesla Model 3 is the clear winner if you take into account fuel and maintenance costs. That said, there are a bunch of variables in this analysis, no one has a crystal ball, and you are free to copy this spreadsheet and create your own forecast — I encourage you to do so. For sure, many people will need to change the average annual miles driven, expected average charging costs versus fueling costs over 5 years (mine would be ~$0 thanks to abundant free charging in my city and no home charging), and financial interest expectations. You may also want to change the estimates for resale value (some people expect the Model 3 to do much better than KBB forecasted, some expected it to do much worse) and maintenance (some people claim the Edmunds estimates are too pessimistic and some claim Paul Fosse’s estimates for the Model 3 are too generous).
Acceleration: 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 the entire stretch of track before the BMW (230i or 330i) catch up at the very end. As I’ve noted in previous articles, electric cars offer instant torque that makes them quicker in short sprints and makes them feel much quicker off the line. One example of that was actually a BMW experience I had. 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, despite the fact that the BMW i8 is objectively much quicker going from 0 to 60 mph.
Cargo Space: On the sometimes critical issue of cargo space, the Tesla Model 3 seems to fare well against the BMW competitors. They’re all in the same vicinity.
Overall Drive Quality: It seems everyone and their mother has been praising the Model 3 is the best driving machine for a reasonable price. Whether it’s Motor Trend, Auto Express, CAR Magazine, or CleanTechnica, the praise has been flowing in and everyone seems to put the Model 3 on another level from BMW’s traditional winners in this class. Take a few test drives yourself and see which one floats your boat.
All of that said, a good number of consumers have still been choosing one of these BMW models over a Model 3. I think the #1 reason for the sustained BMW sales is general lack of awareness or lack of experience with Tesla vehicles. The Model 3 feels much quicker, feels nicer inside (for my tastes, at least), has cooler tech, and still comes in at a much lower cost. Oh yeah, and the Model 3 topped safety scores in the US and Europe. But Tesla still isn’t a household name for the average American family.
Aside from other benefits highlighted above, I’m in the crowd that sees the following advantages as huge ones that the 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. 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.
However, these are obscure or fringe issues for many buyers. The real selling points for normal buyers are going to come from a little bit of experience with a Model 3.
What are your thoughts? Any other points to highlight when comparing the Model 3 to these BMW options?