Video: Autocar – Is the BMW i3 REx Better Than a Tesla Model S in the Real World?


Autocar has spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S and now it’s testing out the REx version of the BMW i3.

BMW i3 Specs

BMW i3 Specs


Autocar wonders out loud “Could it really be better in the real world than the Tesla Model S?”

The short overall answer is “no,” but there are a few reasons why Autocar thinks the i3 beats the Model S, at least in some regards.

“BMW, along with Tesla, is doing what looked impossible a few years ago. Electric cars are finally becoming desirable.”

Aside from some gripes over road noise, Autocar seems thoroughly impressed with the i3.  Autocar’s conclusion basically breaks down like this:

  • The BMW i3 takes EVs into a new league.  It’s far better than a Nissan LEAF, though it’s still no match for the Tesla Model S.
  • However, priced as it is, the BMW i3 is more affordable than the Model S and thus becomes the EV champ in the semi-affordable category.

Autocar calls the i3 affordable, though we can’t bring ourselves to agree with that statement.  Affordable to us is a vehicle priced under $30,000.  Using that as a guideline, the $42,000-plus i3 is far from affordable.

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31 Comments on "Video: Autocar – Is the BMW i3 REx Better Than a Tesla Model S in the Real World?"

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Yawn… another 4 seat, sub-100 mile range car compared to something way out of its league.

Oh, they share electric power, so there’s that. Please read my upcoming article, the oil burning Toyota Yaris takes on the oil burning Mercedes S600. Yaris wins some categories since they both burn oil.

Haha, the i3 is much better than the Nissan Leaf – except for three teeny things:

1. 4 seats vs. the Leaf’s 5
2. Costs ~70% more than the Leaf
3. It’s all-electric range is 5% shorter than the Leaf’s in the i3’s BEV trim, and >15% shorter in the i3’s (likely more common) EREV trim.

Sorry, but if the i3 wasn’t a BMW its sales would have gone nowhere.

Fortunately, there’s a big sector of society – and it’s definitely the most vocal sector when it comes to car-talk – who worships precisely the kind of cool the BMW brand lives on.

So I am grateful that BMW has decided to join Tesla in helping these car-worshippers discover the EV.

But other than that: No, the Leaf represents drastically better value for real families who need real cars, rather than 4-wheeled shrines to worship.

+1 though they really haven’t that many sales. I think you have see at least 6 months of real sales data (preferably 12) to form any kind of valid conclusion.

Also, the original article saying the i3 being less expensive than the Tesla makes it a competitor is a bit like saying the Honda Fit is competitor to a Lexus.

Great post, Assaf. That sums up a lot of my thinking on the i3 as well.

Could you imagine what people would have said about the i3 if it had a Dodge emblem instead of BMW? It would have been trashed. The composite materials are cool. The tiny range-extender is a very interesting idea but poorly implemented in this car (needs a lower price and either the white sticker or a bigger gas tank). .

The i3 has a battery temperature management system so it should work well in all areas of the country.

Excellent points. In summary, the Leaf is a Nissan and the i3 is a BMW. Compare any Nissan to a similar BMW, and you will have a very similar list 🙂

Good points Assaf.

Other than the i3 is way faster, way safer, way more efficient, has way better ranging, has way more technology/convenince features, is way more sustainable and is WAY better looking, they are virtually identical. I see your point on the value.

You cannot be “way safer” than a car with 5-point safety score and zero fires after about a billion cumulative km driven.

And according to all reports, it’s definitely not “way faster” in EREV mode (which it needs to revert to at a point when the Leaf still has some 15-20% battery).

About sustainability comparisons, the jury is out and the i3 is definitely not a clear winner (surely not in actual-use footprint, not when it uses gas) – although I applaud BMW’s efforts in reducing the production footprint itself.

Besides, sorry if it came across differently: I’m not pitching an anti-i3 line here. It’s a great car and a welcome addition to the growing mainstream plug-in fleet.

It’s just amusing to no end, to witness those car-magazine types try to rank cars according to criteria that make sense only in the echo-chamber (or more precisely, circle-jerk) of car-magazine types.
And then call it a “Real World Comparison” 🙂

I’m sorry, but I have to call out the sustainability arguments. BMW has hired consultants to review the CO2 footprint of their manufacturing, and the results claim that the i3 has a 50% lower footprint than comparable conventionally manufactured vehicles. That’s quite significant, when you realize that the bulk of the CO2 emission an EV causes is directly related to its manufacturing and subsequent recycling.

It appears the Leaf tops out about 25k pounds and the i3 starts at 30k pounds. The Leaf is much cheaper for a private sale, but the Brits love BMWs and company paid cars are the norm. I expect to see a lot more of them there than Leafs in the same way the BMW 3 series is way more popular than any Nissan, Ford, Vauxhall midsize sedan.

How can Brits love BMW? Have they already forgotten, that BMW bought britains last carmaker Rover and ruined it?

And the Leaf uses a charging standard, that has already a decent number of installed charging stations.

Assaf, I would be curious to know how you calculated 70% higher cost than the LEAF.

However, the i3 Rex can potentially drive further than a Tesla Model-S, depending on which direction you are going and if there are any superchargers available there or not.

No it can’t. Well . . . it can if you are willing to stop for gas every 70 miles or so and have weak power that struggles up hills. Ignoring costs, I’d much rather go with the Tesla and superchargers.

You could always carry an extra gas can in the cargo area. Even a small 2 gallon can of gas would add another 60-70 miles of range. So I could leave my house with a full charge and an extra gas can and travel over 200 miles without looking for a gas station. And if I did stop at a gas station I could always refill the gas can too.

Good point!

Still, AFAIK the i3 hasn’t done the more rigorous and realistic EPA tests yet. When all is said and done, we might well discover something along the lines of:

i3 EREV mode EPA range – 70 miles from 100% charge, 145 miles with range extender.

This means that even with that extra gas can (and all the associated incovenience and the extra stop to pour that can in while avoiding getting spilled on), the EREV i3 is barely equal in its range to the Tesla BEV base model, and resoundingly beaten by the 85 KWh model.

No, this is again incorrect. The BEV EPA range is projected to be 86 miles, and the total EV and REx range will be close to 160 miles EPA.

Road tripping in limp home mode while filling up from gas cans? I think I’ll pass.


Do the safety rating crash tests get done with a gas can in the vehicle? Are gasoline fumes carcinogenic?

While everyone wants to drive electric all the time, having a gasoline backup, which can be refilled in a matter of minutes and virtually anywhere is not such a bad idea. That said, the i3 is no Volt or C-MAX Energi. It will charge significantly faster on level 2, it has optional DC quick charging, which no other range-extended competitor has, and it’s going to be one of the most efficient plugins on the market. All strong points in its favor. You can absolutely use it and run it as a full electric, until you can’t, because of an emergency or an unexpected situation. The REx will then provide relief. Don’t forget, your EV has a rage extender too. It’s called the tow truck, and it consumes fossil fuel. Lots of it.

Yes, and when the Rex i3 with 2 gallons of gas in the cargo area gets in a bad accident the Tesla fires will be quickly forgotten.

Did you forget about the Tesla being able to charge
on J1772 or ChadeMo with adaptors? Model S can go
anywhere an i3 can go. I’d love to see a long-distance
competition and BMW could choose the route.

and when the hell are you going to be driving over 200 miles in one day?

thats a one time occurrence only once a year for me

Last week I did 1,650 miles in 6 days in my Model S.
Superchargers are amazing.

using gas

The gubbins: The Brits have such cute words for things.
Seems like a reasonable review mostly good with a few caveats.
Seems like, with the Rex it could be a reasonable car for those with intermediate
travel needs, while the Leaf is just a city car, and the Tesla is a luxury car with sc network,
for extensive driving potential.
Seems to me that they went for something mid-ranged price wise and something that had not been done yet. Comparable to the Volt except it’s more electric car with a dinky range extender, while the Volt is more of traditional ice car with and electric motor than can power the vehicle for short trips or at low speeds. Essentially creating their own niche, for those who want the cache of a electric Bmw, but abhor the Leaf, and can’t afford a Tesla.

I should say power itself electrically without engaging the gas engine. I know the Volt propulsive force is an electric motor, than when the battery is down it is run by the gasoline engine.

Good recovery. I was going to jump on the “at low speeds” statement. The Volt will run in EV mode all the way to 103 MPH. That is why it is an EV and the Energi series and the piP is not.

It’s amazing how fanbois of each car bristle at comparisons between them.

Seriously, it’s almost amusing. Particularly when facts are cast aside in favor of opinions. We must defend our car choices, lest we admitted that our purchase decision might have been less than perfect. In reality, choices on the plugin market are still limited, and full of compromises of one kind or another.