Tesla Model 3 vs BMW i3 THE EV Showdown


Do you want a luxury electric vehicle between the $15 to $60,000 range? And I mean pure electric, no gas? You have two choices right now, you have the BMW i3 which has been out since 2014 and you have the Tesla Model 3.

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They’re starting to make more of the Model 3’s and they’re easier to obtain, so we obtained a model 3-series rear-wheel-drive long-range car which oddly enough the sticker price of these two cars is within $1,000 of each other. So it does bring up a good comparison test which would you buy for between fifty and sixty thousand dollars?

BMW i3 Overview

BMW has gone about their philosophy for the electric car much differently than Tesla has. The notion that this is a city car, that this is what you want to drive when you’re in town.

Rage

The i3 has an effective range of about 120 miles when it first launched, it had an 80-mile range because they’ve done research that said the average person in Europe and in the United States drive no more than 80 miles in a day.

Subsequently, about a year ago the battery capacities were increased to 96 amp hour and now they have a 33-kilowatt-hour battery pack, which means these can go about 120 miles on a charge. There’s a rumor that’s going to be a farther one but probably not even going to be close to this one.

Tesla, on the other hand, has a much different philosophy when it comes to how they make an electric car. They believe you should be able to drive it as far as you want, they have electric car superchargers that are located within 100 miles of 99 percent of the US population, what that means is that you can drive the Model 3 across the country without any fear of running out of charge.

The i3 has a very futuristic feeling about it, in fact, both the i3 and the Model 3 are futuristic both in looks and the way they drive. Although, I would say that the i3 is a lot easier to get in and just drive.

All the labels on the i3 steering wheel are self-explanatory, they all have markings and I don’t think I realized that they were missing until I drove the Model 3, where the buttons have no labels. They have different functions on the Model 3 so it’s hard to know until you memorize them exactly what they do.

Performance

As far as driving dynamics go I love the instant torque and acceleration of the i3, it may have less horsepower but it has less weight to push. It has a very short wheelbase and it’s extremely responsive when you’re turning and it makes you feel like you’re driving a little go-kart.

It just darts back and forth and it’s a lot of fun to drive around town, in fact, I think around town driving is where it comes into it’s own. And no one can beat the BMW i3 when it comes to a tight turning radius.

Highway Driving

When it comes to highway driving the i3 feels a little bit out of its element. It does fine but the main difference that you will notice especially if it’s a little windy is that the i3 doesn’t have as good of a coefficient of drag as the Model 3.

The i3 has a coefficient drag of 0.32 and Model 3 has 0.23. So huge a difference when you’re going down a freeway, you even notice it on the consumption on the i3.

On the interstate, you’ll notice that your estimated range will start to fall in the i3. In town, my consumption is approximately 250 watts per mile or about 4 miles per kilowatt-hour which is pretty normal for the i3.

Once you get out on the freeway the wind resistance starts getting exponentially higher the faster you drive.

Aerodynamics

At 60 miles per hour in the i3, it’s not too bad, at 65 a little worse and at 70-75 it starts getting a little worse so it’s not as efficient. If you have the first generation i3 and you drove it high winds at any sort of high speed it would feel a little top-heavy.

We had the 2018 i3S and it had a lowered suspension, this gave us stiffer springs, a little wider track and that makes a really big difference when driving on the interstate, it doesn’t get blown around as much.

Active Cruise Control

Another fairly significant difference between the i3 and the Model 3 is how they handle active cruise control. The i3 has got one camera, it is located by the rearview mirror and it’s a lot more conservative.

It does a very good job but it will let a car get away from it, it’s supposed to just pace it. In other words, instead of adjusting the speed to keep the same distance between vehicles it lets the vehicle in front pull away.

The i3 has four car lengths presets you can set, from one to four lengths but every time you stop the car and start moving again it doesn’t remember the preset so you have to set it again.

I found that if I set it to four car lengths other drivers would jump in front of me so I prefer to st the active cruise control to two lengths.

One of the things I like about the i3 over the Tesla is that when you turn active cruise control on it comes on at the speed you are driving at that particular moment not jumping up to the speed limit that you’re in.

The i3 is at it’s best about 20 to 30. The i3S helps the acceleration over 30 miles an hour the car accelerates a lot faster than the base i3. between 0 and 30, you don’t notice the difference you definitely can tell when you’re getting on the on-ramp that it’s quicker 0 to 60 then the other by i3.

Though the i3 looks like a two-door car it has four doors. Two small suicide doors are right behind the front doors and open up and allow easier access to the back-seat. There is seating for a total of four.

Trunk Space

Though the i3 may seem small on the outside the hatchback aspect and the fold-down rear seats make it a very practical car for its size. It does have a front trunk which is not useful for anything other than a gallon of milk, it’s also not weather sealed.

Interior

The interior of the i3 is futuristic as they are not bound by the constraints of transmission tunnels for the driveshaft and other things that a gas car has that an EV doesn’t.

The dashboard is Eucalyptus which looks really nice. The seat leather is dyed with olive leaf extract which gives it a nice looking brown leather.

Seating

The i3 has heated seats in the front but there are no heated seats in the back and unfortunately, there’s no heated steering wheel either.

People call the all-electric i3 the i3 BEV which stands for a battery-electric vehicle. It has a heat pump which is used for heating and cooling the car incredibly efficiently, I’ve driven this car in temperatures of about five degrees Fahrenheit and this is a second BMW i3 of my own.

Easy To Charge

It’s a wonderful daily used vehicle, you can come home, plug it in like your cell phone, wake up and leave with a full charge. With the increased battery pack of the 33 kilowatt-hour you can get around 120 miles of range which is about what you can expect from it, I rarely go over that in a single day.

One of the cool things about the BMW i3 is the interior lighting at night. When you come up and you unlock it there’s a blue light showering the interior of the cabin.

Instrument Display

In 2018 BMW updated the head unit to have the latest iteration of I-Drive in apple car play which is a $300 option. I find that the BMW is much better at the integration with the cell phone in terms of being able to play playlists or find music.

As opposed to the Model 3 where you have to grab the phone and then physically start the playlist on the phone.

Engine Performance Modes

There is a button on the center console which you use to change the car engine performance from sport to comfort, to Eco Pro and to Eco Pro Plus mode. I tend to leave it in comfort as changing these doesn’t change the amount of horsepower the car has or the amount of energy that’s in the battery.

The sport option, however, is unique to the i3S, it does make it more eager to take off when you step on the throttle, however, it doesn’t add any horsepower to the car.

Tesla Model 3 Overview

The first time you get to drive a Model 3 I guarantee you you’re not going to forget it. You’re handed what looks like a small credit card which you use to enter the car. You tap the card just below the camera in the b-pillar to unlock the car.

You can then place the same card just behind the cupholders right in front of the armrest and then step on the brake, that’s all there is to it. The alternative is to use the Tesla app and pair the app to the car, then you don’t need the card.

Driving Dynamics

As far as driving dynamics go this reminds me a lot of the i3-series sedan from at least one generation ago the e90 chassis. You can feel that this car is rear-engined and that it has just power to the rear wheels so it kind of sits down as you accelerate. It feels like it has a really good weight balance.

On the freeway, I think the Model 3 handles better and both the BMW i3S and the model 3 handle extremely well at low speed.

Model 3 Autopilot

To engage the autopilot just double-tap down on the right hand stork behind the steering wheel and then it will set the speed that you want. Initially, it will go with the speed limit in the area that you’re in, most of the speed limits that it reads are quite accurate.

When the autopilot and model 3 first came out I didn’t like it much because on the Model S you just tap a stock on the side and you start pulling the speed limit down.

Shortly after the model three came out Tesla pushed an over-the-air update to the car that allowed that same feature now accessed through the thumb wheel.

Using the thumbwheel scroll it down one little click one mile an hour rapidly scroll it down knocks five miles an hour off at a time similar to the Model S and X.

Driving for a while with the autopilot on and I don’t have to do anything, now and then the top of the display screen will turn blue and ask you to put your hands on the wheel.

I find if I just rest my hand on the side of the steering wheel it then senses that I’m slightly tugging on the wheel and it will not freak out. If you just disregard the system and you’re not paying attention it will progressively scream at you and then eventually shut off.

You can tell it’s on when you have the blue light surround the speed indicator on the central display screen. Unless you apply a light force the top portion of the screen will turn blue if you continue to ignore it then if you’ll hear an auditory alarm. To keep it happy just tug on the wheel now and again.

Build Quality

Electric cars by their very nature are extremely quiet and the Model 3 is no exception. What impressed me about the model 3 is that when it’s extremely windy outside the car there’s very little wind noise inside the cabin.

Aerodynamics

The Model 3 is an extremely aerodynamic car, in fact, the Model 3 we tested we was getting 214 watts per mile. In BMW speak they’re used to how many miles you can get per kilowatt, I wish there was an agreement between the truth and there was only one.

If you do the math this is almost but four and a half to five miles per kilowatt-hour, which is about what the BMW will do in the city with stop and go 30 miles per hour traffic.

The Tesla is very efficient at highway speeds and I think that’s how they’re able to get the ridiculous range they get out of the Model 3. The one we tested was a rear-wheel drive version which is rated for 310 miles.

Auto Pilot

Overall with this car, there’s a lot less meandering back and forth on the steering wheel, the steering wheel is just dead nuts on. When I hit the automatic lane change it changes lanes on its own and then speeds up to overtake, feels very strange at first but you get used to it.

Another thing I like about the autopilot is it will let you set the distance between cars. So if I want the distance between the car in front of me to be closer I click the roller on the top right of the steering wheel, if I want it to be farther I click it farther away.

You can set it to go between one and seven-car lengths, the only problem with putting seven car lengths in front of you is people start serially jumping in front of you and so I usually leave it between one and two.

The autopilot is good at following traffic, even if you set the speed at 60 it will adjust its speed to keep that car distance you set. Even if you come to a curve in the road the car will automatically slow down to adjust its speed for the corner.

Blind Spot Detection

The Tesla does have blind spot detection that is displayed on the center console screen. I wish it was in the mirrors on the side but it’s not so you just have to get used to it. If you hit lane change while on autopilot the car actually will look and it won’t change lanes until the lane is clear.

Overall Speed

The model 3 feels a lot faster and has a lot more punch to it, especially 0 to 60 and on the freeway. In fact in pretty much in all power bands, this car has more power.

As far as creature comforts go it has automatic air conditioning with a single air vent. It has heated seats front and rear, the only surprising omission is the steering wheel is not heated.

I’m just a little surprised because a lot of people try to save energy in the winter with electric cars and part of how you do that is by not running the cabin heat and if you have a heated seat in a heated steering wheel you need less ambient air temperature. For reference, the i3 does not have a heated steering wheel either.

Charging Rates

The Tesla superchargers for the Model 3 are capable of charging the model 3 at rates of up to 120 kilowatts. This crushes the i3 DC charging rate which peaks out at about 50. The Tesla supercharging network is within approximately 150 miles of 99 percent of the U.S. population.

Trunk Space

The model 3 is a very practical car and seats five. It has a front and rear trunk, the front trunk in the Model 3 is much more usable than the i3 one-gallon size. The rear trunk has fold-down seats but it does lack the hatchback aspect of the i3 and the Model S.

Instrument Display

The cabin is very futuristic with the big instrument display in the center of the dashboard. The design polarizes some people, some people like it and some people don’t, it takes a little bit to get used to.

The dash is extremely sleek and modern. There’s just one large air vent where you can change the direction of flows through some buttons on the central screen.

You can drag the airflow around, you can split it, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an automobile and you can say that quite a bit about this car.

The one large display does take some getting used to. Most people are used to having an odometer but if you’ve driven a BMW MINI Cooper, that the odometer is in the center.

Other cars have in the past had their gauge cluster in the center of the dashboard so it’s not that far out of it come to not have a gauge cluster right in front of the steering wheel.

What is different though is this steering wheel and the two buttons on top of the steering wheel. The two buttons do a lot of different things, it takes a little bit of time to learn exactly what they do and that can depend on what menu you’re in as well.

I would suggest that you wouldn’t want to change any settings while you are driving as it can get a little complicated. To change the mirrors you have to hit the little car icon on the central screen and then from the car icon you select the mirror icon and then you touch the button and it’ll let you move the mirrors left to right.

Interior Fit And Finish

As far as fit and finish go the interior quality of this car has been great. I haven’t heard any squeaks or rattles and all the doors shut with a nice solid thunk.

When you’re driving an electric car if there are issues you’re going to hear them because it’s so quiet, you would hear rattles in a car and I haven’t heard any in this one.

One of the things I like about the Model 3 over the Model S and X is that you have a door pocket to store things like sunglasses or a bottle of water.

The stereo is good quality, oddly enough I think the stereo sounds a lot better in the model 3 than the Model S. I’m not sure what it is but it sounds like you’re in a concert hall.

Aerodynamics

As you can imagine the Model 3 is fairly aerodynamic and if that’s what you would imagine you would not be disappointed. This car has one of the smoothest underbodies of any car I have seen.

The underside of the BMW i3 is very similar to the Tesla in terms of the large panel that covers the battery pack, the only difference is that BMW i3 has a version where you can cram a two-cylinder gasoline motor into the available space.

The airflow for the Tesla underneath the body of the car is much better than the i3, although the i3 is not bad. This is certainly way better than any kind of internal combustion engine.

In Conclusion

As time moves on EV’s continue to progress and in 2014 the BMW i3 was cutting edge and over the years BMW has incrementally improved it. They had a big update at the beginning of this year and last year they increased the battery capacity but they haven’t done much to improve the vehicle.

Tesla vehicles, especially vehicles like the Model 3, are the future of the EV’s. A car that you can drive across the country, you tell it where you want to start, where you want to go and it tells you how to get there and where you need to charge.

When you buy the Tesla Model 3 you are not only buying the car but you’re also buying into the network and the whole functionality that Tesla provides.

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