Several reports in general news media recently have touted the new 2014 BMW i3 electric car as a serious challenger to the Tesla Model S.
One writer even went so far as to label the i3 a "Tesla killer."
2014 Tesla Model S
There's no way a frumpy-looking little 2+2 city car is going to challenge the mighty Tesla. I can't imagine anyone seriously cross-shopping the i3 and the Model S once the differences between the two cars become apparent.
But as the owner of a Tesla Model S (and a Chevy Volt), I was naturally intrigued by the new electric BMW.
The i3 is truly a landmark car: a serious mass-production offering (not just a "compliance car"), designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle, from one of the world's most highly regarded automobile companies.
2014 BMW i3 REx owned by Tom Moloughney
But how does the i3 stack up from the point of view of a Model S veteran who's already accustomed to instant torque, regenerative braking, daily plugging-in, and all the other routines of e-car driving?
I took two test drives in new BMW i3 cars, totaling about 25 miles. Not enough for a thorough evaluation, of course, but enough to provide the following thoughts.
My first impression of the car is that it's really ugly. It sure doesn't look like a BMW.
As Nissan did with its Leaf, BMW apparently went out of its way to style the i3 as an oddball alternative car. "I'm different!" it screams.
But ugliness, like beauty, is only skin-deep. What's the i3 like under the skin?
2014 BMW i3 electric cars waiting at East Coast shipping port for distribution, May 2014
*The i3 is quite peppy off the line.
The official 0-to-60-mph time is 7.1 seconds, and a BMW factory rep told me that, from 0 to 30 mph, the i3 was the quickest car the company makes. (He even talked a little trash to the driver of an M5 who happened to pull up during our discussion.)
But the i3's acceleration isn't in the same ballpark as the Model S. It can't touch the Tesla's effortless ear-flattening surge, which has been measured at just a hair above 4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph by several car magazines.
Yes, I know I've been terribly spoiled. When the Model S is your benchmark for acceleration, every other car is bound to disappoint. And the i3 does.
I'd rate the i3's acceleration feel as roughly comparable to my Chevy Volt in Sport mode. It's spritely, but hardly overwhelming.
*Regenerative braking is quite powerful.
It's noticeably stronger than than that of the Tesla Model S, which is saying something. I liked it.
But BMW should offer a choice of regen settings. The Tesla has a choice of "normal" or "low" regen, and the i3 should have at least that--if not more options.
*The i3 lacks a "creep mode."
That's the car's ability to move slowly forward when the driver's foot lifts off the brake, mimicking the behavior of a gasoline car with an automatic transmission.
The Tesla has a creep mode that can be turned on and off, and I've always kept mine on. But I found I liked the i3's complete-stop mode. It's inspired me to turn off the creep mode in the Tesla for a few days. We'll see how I like it.
Still, the i3 should offer drivers a choice of creep mode--as the Tesla does.
*The ride is a little jittery compared to the Model S.
Since the little BMW weighs fully a ton less than the Tesla (2600 pounds versus 4600 pounds), I didn't expect it to have a ride as smooth as the bigger car. And it doesn't.