Test driving the BMW i3 and... it's polar opposite - a 750i

Test driving the BMW i3 and... it's polar opposite - a 750i

So my brother in law was raving about the i3 the other day. Today, I decided to take the afternoon off for some 'me time'. So I called up Fremont BMW and went for an i3 test drive. They were having a 'drive the i3' event which I didn't know about.

Here is an enthusiast's impression:

Exterior styling: 6/10 - looks odd, even cheap. Not BMW luxury, not even corporate BMW look.

Interior styling: 4/10 - the eco friendly fibrous material inside sucks big time. It looks cheap, again. The plastics in many places are the hard, econobox variety. Seats are OK. It does feel spacious.

Steering: 3/10 - steering would be more appropriate in a Prius. It is NUMB. It is THIN. Almost no feedback, really.

Handling: 8/10 - turning circle is very small, nice. Lane changing reveals a fair bit of body roll, since this is a taller vehicle than my Model S, its expected. However, handling in general feels nimbler, as it should for a vehicle that weighs almost half of my Model S. But there is none of that 'BMW - solid, neutral and sporty handling'. It feels like a small SUV, and drives like one. Which is all I can say.

Road noise 5/10: Ever present, louder than my Model S. This is expected too, it's a much cheaper car. However, its very un-BMW like, again. It feels Honda Civic, not BMW. Lot of wind noise too, at any speed > 50.

In conclusion, this is not a well made car. Even the exterior paint choices seem cheap. It's like a step child of BMW.

The salesman tried to badmouth my Tesla at which point I smiled widely, shook his hand, and reminded him that I did not want him talking about my Tesla. He whispered ' I test drove a Tesla, I love it! but... I got a lot of inside info about how Teslas are made and they are NOT eco-friendly'. I thanked him and walked over to a BMW 750i.

Price tag of the 750i: 96K, comparable (even a bit cheaper as they will discount it) than my Tesla. But, boy, was it loaded. Everything under the sun: radar, LED lights, heated and ventilated seats, lane departure and other nannies, everything.

BMW 750i test drive:
Drive: 8.5/10! Great steering, as good as my Tesla.
Handling - 8.5/10 - slightly better (gasp!) than my Tesla, while weighing nearly 400 lbs heavier (750 is at 4800 lbs, my 60kwh is 4460). The big brute feels nimble on it's feet! Shocking. The car did have sport suspension, according to the salesman. Less body roll than my Tesla. Seats are cushy, but my Tesla seats are pretty good. It actually felt great to hear the V8 growl, just like a BMW should.
Road noise: 9/10 slightly quieter than my car, but not by too much. I will never again complain about road noise in my car. This comparison has settled it for me.
Interior: 7/10 - cushy, great quality materials, a smorgasbord of buttons. Not as claustrophobic as some other ICE cars though. The controls are complex. For example, the door unlock button is in the center of the dash, next to the hazards button. Very nice, BMW :-(. Tesla controls are so simple, and so intuitive, it's like a breath of fresh air when I got back into my car.

Anyway, my comment to BMW was: 'bring an all electric 3/5 series, then I will talk'. He said 'it's coming next year'. I will believe it when I drive it, old chap. :-)

carlk | May 9, 2014

I always suspect BMW made sure when they designed the i3 that it will not attract any main stream BMW buyers. It appears they have succeeded tremendously in that sense. | May 9, 2014

Your i3 drive mirrors my own. A few more additions for the i3:

Cargo space 2/10

Passenger space 4/10 (4 max, small in the back for adults, but usable (not a 2+2)

Displays 6/10 (better than most cars, but nothing like the Tesla which I'd rate 10/10)

Safety: unknown, but likely well below Tesla's standards as there is so little crumple-zone in the front and back to help absorb crash forces.

AmpedRealtor | May 9, 2014

I hear wind noise in my Model S at freeway speeds, especially on a windy day. There is no wind penetration whatsoever, but you can still hear it whooshing around and over the car. Are you saying the i3 is worse than this?

RedShift | May 9, 2014

AR: much worse.

TeslaTap: agreed with you on the passenger space, cargo space etc

AmpedRealtor | May 9, 2014

From a Model S owner's perspective the i3 seems like crap, but I wonder how a move-up Leaf owner might look at it? Or even a Prius or Volt owner who wants to take the EV plunge. Is it at least better than the Volt and Leaf, it's primary competition?

I sat inside a Volt once and remembered feeling cramped, claustrophobic, and surrounded by cheap plastic. The interior felt like a Nintendo Wii, for lack of a better description. Not impressed at all. I've never even looked at the inside of a Leaf because I have no interest in a car that can only drive 50 miles on a charge.

Rheumboy | May 9, 2014

BMW forum: 3/10

Tesla forum: 9/10

RedShift | May 9, 2014


I did look at it from that point of view. I even remarked that I might choose the i3 over a Leaf.
However, my expectation from BMW is for a better driving experience and higher quality interior.

What's worse was that I was in the top model on offer. | May 10, 2014

Like a lot of cars today, the i3 has some good points but feels like it was a fight between engineering and finance. Some materials are nice, some are downright awful. Some choices make sense, while others have you asking what were they thinking (the front trunk which holds a lunchbox comes to mind).

While every car has some compromises for price vs function and style, the MS seems to have very few compromises when stacked up against other cars, and a lot of well thought out advantages. Clearly engineering has control at Tesla (a very good thing).

oildeathspiral | May 10, 2014

The i3's dirty little range secret that the BMW salesman may have neglected to mention:

"At the UK motorway speed limit of 70 mph, it appeared to offer added range of only 40 to 50 miles--for a combined range of no more than 115 total miles on that particular test.

Push it longer--to the point where battery capacity really declines--and performance starts to suffer in an alarming way.

According to the reviewer, the car slowed to just 44 mph or so heading up an incline, proving an impediment to even heavy commercial trucks that are limited to 56 mph in the UK.

Once it return to flat roads, the car crept slowly back up to motorway speeds."

"What the journalist should have done, says BMW, is engage the range-extender when there's still 30 to 40 percent of the charge left in the battery. That way, it's always kept topped-up and consistent performance is maintained for longer.

That's all very well, but what you end up with is a zero-emission electric car whose electric range is compromised by the need to use the range extender much earlier if the i3's performance is to stay consistent."

Full story:

Jonathan D | May 10, 2014

I was raised a BMW person, I'm coming from a modified M3 that was a fantastic car from a performance standpoint. I don't think the i3 is not a car that BMW wanted to make, it's a car they felt they had to make, but it's obviously flawed (as is the i8, in my opinion). As a "car guy" I would never buy a hybrid. Ever. All of the drawbacks of a two powertrains with limited benefit. I don't like the Prius, I don't like the Volt, I don't like the Fisker Karma. I don't like hybrids. If I was just interested in good gas mileage I'd buy a diesel VW. No offense to anyone that feels otherwise.

What initially turned me on to Tesla was the combination of solid performance with the engineering simplicity of pure electric. I like it. It makes sense.

I saw a video of the ELR where they opened up the hood and it's like omg, what a complicated mess. I don't like that approach, and I don't think it's sustainable. I'm a big fan of simplicity. Even with my Model S I didn't add many options, mainly for price but also because with a relatively new product I don't want to go out of my way to complicate things.

Red Sage ca us | May 10, 2014

I did see a couple of reviews of the BMW i3 where people actually liked it... I'm pretty sure that they only used it 'about town' though. There were no highway runs during their coverage.

Jamie Hoang: BMW i3 Review (5:23)

Sandal BMW (UK): Living with the BMW i3 (11:46)

RedShift | May 11, 2014


Same here. Big fan of BMW, coming from a sport pack 325i ( E46). Which is what I was comparing the i3 against.

If you compare the i3 against a plug-in Prius, it starts to look good. Not against other offerings from BMW.