We ungraciously exit the low-slung buckets of the 2014 BMW i8 and are immediately face-to-foot with a stranger before we're even out of the car.
It's hardly a surprise, as BMW's i8 looks like a concept car from a sci-fi-movie. In person, it's astonishing to behold.
Their first question is never about the BMW's new hybrid powertrain or the car's carbon-fiber construction or even about the crazy doors. No, they all ask one thing first: How does the BMW i8 compare to the Tesla Model S?
We've spent significant time in both, so let's take a look.
What Are They?
By now you know everything and then some about the Tesla Model S, but here's a refresher: There are multiple versions of the Tesla available, but for this comparison, we're looking at the big dog. The $94,900 Tesla Model S P85 ($103,770 as tested) is a fully electric sedan that makes 416 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque from its 85 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and 310 kW AC induction motor. Like a proper sport sedan, it's rear-wheel drive, and those wheels get their power through a single-speed direct-drive transmission.
The 2014 BMW i8 starts at $135,700 and is a different animal altogether with a level of complexity that makes the Tesla look as simple as a golf cart.
Let's start with the electric portion of the party. The BMW has a 5.2 (usable) kWh lithium-ion battery pack that powers a 96 kW electric motor and a two-speed transmission turning the front wheels. Backing up that battery pack is a three-cylinder gasoline engine driving the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Are They Real Cars?
Comparing the Tesla against the i8 under the lens of practicality isn't remotely fair. The i8 is a swoopy supercar with two power sources, two transmissions and four driven wheels. The five-passenger Tesla Model S is a marvel of packaging, with one motor and its power source tucked under the floor. It's airy and spacious, with room for people and their stuff. You could fit more people, more comfortably in the front cargo area of the Tesla than in the back of the BMW.
Technically, the i8 seats four and technically they sell skinny jeans for men. Neither is recommended. Up front, the driver and passenger are treated to a snug, well-tailored cabin once they've vaulted over the ultra-wide door sill. Rear passengers are treated more like whatever that stuff is inside of a sausage casing. Kids think cramming themselves back there is a fun adventure. Adults would scorn you for not picking them up in the Tesla.
There's no cargo space, either. BMW quotes a minuscule 4.7 cubic feet of carrying capacity. This space is tucked both behind and directly above the engine, holds approximately one backpack and gets uncomfortably hot. BMW and Louis Vuitton have teamed up to design a set of luggage that will fill not only this space, but one of the rear seats and carry barely enough clothes for a weekend for two. And it'll run you about $20,000.
The front passengers are treated to a landscape that is decidedly BMW and totally hip, with a sprawling, multileveled wrap-around dash. The shifter is normal. iDrive is normal. The lettering on the instrument panel is a little small, but it is otherwise normal. The steering wheel is fat and grippy and round. The seats are comfortable, widely adjustable and offer forward visibility you wouldn't think possible in something this low and sleek. You'd never guess that there was a battery pack sitting between the driver and passenger.
What Kind of Performance Do They Deliver at the Track?
Both cars have the ability to twist the average EV driver's pocket protector into a knot. Numbers like these stack up well against many of the world's best gas-powered sports cars and sedans.
|2014 BMW i8||2013 Tesla Model S P85|
|0-60 mph with rollout||4.2||4.1|
|1/4-mile (sec @ mph)||12.6 @ 111.8||12.6 @ 108.4|
|60-0 braking (feet)||108||113|
|Skid pad (g)||0.93||0.87|
How Do They Drive on the Street?
Pin the throttle on the Tesla and the swell of torque from a standstill launches you toward the horizon. The closest thing to this experience is one of those magnetic roller coasters or being sucked into a rip tide. Your organs realign somewhere in the back of your body cavity as the roar of the tires overwhelms the whine of the electric motor.
The i8 is a wholly different experience. Flicking the shift lever over to Sport cranks on the three-cylinder motor and jacks up the volume on the fake-engine-noise generator. The fake noise sounds obviously fake while the three-cylinder settles into an awkward cadence most similar to that of a helicopter somewhere off in the distance.
With the throttle buried in the carpet, the i8 doesn't feel all that fast. The engine's sound doesn't quite match the load, but there's no internal confusion between the two drivetrains and the various gears as it puts every drop of power straight into the wheels. Just 4.5 seconds later you're at 60 mph and think the speedometer is lying. After 12.6 seconds you're traveling 111.8 mph, crossing the quarter-mile mark and are sure the speedometer is lying. The i8 never shows its hand in a straight line. And then you turn the wheel.
The i8's suspension and chassis are much, much more capable than the relatively skinny tires BMW has fitted here. This means that the i8 needs you to be on the ball quite a bit more than the Tesla and its big, fat tires. The BMW's steering is heavy, responsive and precise but not terribly communicative. Still, it's easy to feel when you've gone in too hot and washed out the front end — a frequent occurrence. While this under-tired approach to driving doesn't return the best numbers, it does make for a car that is engaging and rewarding to drive quickly. You're not handed speed through corners like you are in some hyper-sticky supercars. To go fast in the i8, you've got to earn it.
Comparatively, the Tesla feels like a small building. Though the Tesla's battery pack keeps the center of gravity low, it's still roughly 1,300 pounds heavier than the BMW. Where the BMW begs the driver to find the perfect balance through a bend, the Tesla digs a wheel into the pavement, hunkers down and relies on brute force to get the job done.
All of that road-crushing weight lends itself to a very smooth ride, the kind you'd expect from a full-size luxury sedan regardless of power source. The BMW's carbon-fiber chassis and sport-tuned suspension rides stiffly over nearly every surface and road noise echoes through the cabin.
OK They're Fast, but What About Range?
BMW took the conservative route and made the i8 a plug-in hybrid instead of a fully electric vehicle. U.S. specifications aren't fully vetted at this point, but the i8 is expected to squeeze about 20 miles out of its battery before the engine kicks in. Plugging it in is a snap, too. With a Level 2, 220-volt charger, the i8 needs only 90 minutes for a full charge. Plan your driving correctly and you could make do with a wall plug where it'll take 3.5 hours for full juice.
But if you don't want to do any nonsense planning there's that handy internal combustion motor and 11-gallon fuel tank sitting in the middle. No need for a special app to find a way to fill that; gas stations are everywhere. When skipping the plug-in aspect, we averaged a darned-good-for-a-supercar 29 mpg.
The Tesla, on the other hand, requires the kind of care and planning that road trips used to require. Even on the P85 version with around 250 miles of range, you need to think ahead, look at a map and hope you meet the range expectations. Tesla's doing all it can to assuage these fears by installing a Supercharger network that'll get you from coast to coast. Or to lovely stopover points like Gilroy, California, or Billings, Montana.
Who Should Consider These Cars?
If you want a head-turning sports car that also happens to be remarkably efficient, the BMW i8 is in a class of its own. No other car on the road gets as much attention or packs as much technology into such a compact, easy-to-drive package.
The Tesla Model S is much closer to a typical luxury sedan. It's big, fast and comfortable enough to drive every day. There's enough range for anything short of a road trip and it'll get you there in style.
Who Should Avoid These Cars?
Enthusiasts looking for an exotic performance car that makes exotic sounds won't be satisfied by the BMW i8. It's not explosively fast and its artificial noises don't have much punch.
Luxury sedan buyers who want all the latest features and a variety of options might not like the Tesla Model S as much as some traditional luxury cars. You'll have to wait to get a Model S at this point, and it doesn't offer things like adaptive cruise control and high-end sound systems.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds the BMW i8 for the purposes of evaluation. Edmunds purchased the Tesla Model S for the purpose of evaluation.
|Year Make Model||2014 BMW i8 2dr Coupe (gas-electric hybrid 6A)|
|Vehicle Type||All-wheel-drive 2dr four-passenger sports car|
|Options on test vehicle||Giga World Package ($2,000)|
|Assembly location||Leipzig, Germany|
|Configuration||Transverse front-mounted front-drive electric motor and transverse midengine rear-drive gasoline engine|
|Engine type||Turbocharged, direct-injected, inline-3, gasoline with auto stop-start|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, variable intake + exhaust-valve timing, variable intake-valve lift|
|Compression ratio (x:1)||9.5|
|Redline, indicated (rpm)||6,500|
|Fuel cutoff/rev limiter (rpm)||6,200|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm)||228 @ 5,800|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)||236 @ 3,700|
|Fuel type||Electricity and 91-octane gasoline (89-octane minimum)|
|Hybrid type||Series-parallel plug-in with coordinated front-axle electric and rear-axle gasoline powertrains|
|Electric motor rating (kW)||129 hp (96 kW)|
|Combined horsepower (hp @ rpm)||357|
|Combined torque (lb-ft @ rpm)||420|
|Battery capacity, rated (kW-hr)||7.1|
|Battery capacity, usable (kW-hr)||5.2|
|Plug-in type (110v/220v)||SAE J1772 Level 1 (120-volt) or Level 2 (240-volt)|
|Charge time (hours @ 110v/220v)||3.5/1.5|
|Plug-in driving range, mfr. claim (mi.)||22 (estimated)|
|Transmission type||Gasoline engine: six-speed automatic with console shifter and steering-mounted paddles; Electric motor: two-speed automatic|
|Transmission ratios (x:1)||With gasoline engine: I = 4.459, II = 2.508, III = 1.556, IV = 1.142, V = 0.851, VI = 0.672; w/electric motor: I = 11.3; II = 5.85|
|Final-drive ratio (x:1)||3.68 (rear axle)|
|Suspension, front||Independent double wishbones with high-mount upper arm, dual-link lower arm, coil springs, driver-adjustable 2-mode dampers, lightweight hollow stabilizer bar|
|Suspension, rear||Independent multilink, coil springs, driver-adjustable two-mode dampers, stabilizer bar|
|Steering type||Electric-assist, speed-proportional, rack-and-pinion steering|
|Steering ratio (x:1)||16.0|
|Tire make and model||Bridgestone Potenza S001|
|Tire type||Asymmetrical summer high-performance, low rolling resistance|
|Tire size, front||215/45R20 95W|
|Tire size, rear||245/40R20 99W|
|Wheel size, front||20-by-7.5 inches|
|Wheel size, rear||20-by-8.5 inches|
|Wheel material||Forged aluminum|
|Brakes, front||13.4-by-1.1-inch ventilated and cross-drilled cast-iron discs with four-piston fixed calipers|
|Brakes, rear||13-by-0.8-inch ventilated and cross-drilled cast-iron discs with single-piston sliding calipers|
|Track Test Results|
|Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)||2.0|
|0-45 mph (sec.)||3.1|
|0-60 mph (sec.)||4.5|
|0-75 mph (sec.)||6.3|
|1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)||12.6 @ 111.8|
|0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)||4.2|
|0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)||2.3|
|0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)||3.5|
|0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)||4.9|
|0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)||6.6|
|1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)||12.9 @ 112.6|
|0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)||4.6|
|Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)||27|
|60-0 mph (ft.)||108|
|Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)||66.5|
|Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON||67.0|
|Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)||0.93|
|Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON||0.91|
|Sound level @ idle (dB)||38.3|
|@ Full throttle (dB)||86.0|
|@ 70 mph cruise (dB)||66.8|
|Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)||2,000|
|Test Driver Ratings & Comments|
|Acceleration comments||Acceleration in any mode (Sport, Comfort, EV) is essentially the same when the throttle is pinned to the floor as we do at the test track. I believe the slight variations we observed (esp. in EV mode) came from the car's powertrain realizing, "Oh, you want to go really fast? In that case, I'll also run the gasoline engine..." Very smooth power delivery and quick upshifts in each mode. There's no sense whatsoever of dual power sources or blending in any way. It just goes and shifts like a typical car. Interesting, sporty soundtrack with a frisky sound like a six-cylinder engine.|
|Braking comments||Minimal nosedive and excellent directional stability, with a firm pedal from first stop to last. Consistent stopping distances and no measurable brake fade.|
|Handling comments||The rear wheels must be much farther apart than the fronts because I kept kicking slalom cones just out of their boxes without knowing I had done that. Once I made the adjustment, I found the front of the car lost grip before the rear at the limit -- a safe way to remind the driver that the limit has been reached. There was more body lean and less tire grip than I had hoped (or imagined) from this racy-looking car. Electronic stability control (ESC) is quite lenient, first cutting power, then subtly redirecting the car with individual brakes, but most drivers would likely never know that had happened. The steering is best described as friction-free, but not what an enthusiast would call "talkative" in terms of feeling the road. Steering response is good, ratio is good, precision is excellent. I wasn't able to discern a difference between "Sport" mode and Comfort in terms of actual capability or even feel. The only difference was that Comfort didn't want to stay in a manually selected gear from the beginning of a run to the end and would self-default to Drive.|
|Relative humidity (%)||20|
|Barometric pressure (in. Hg)||28.80|
|Wind (mph, direction)||1.7. head- and crosswind|
|Fuel used for test||Electricity and 91-octane gasoline|
|As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)||30/33|
|Edmunds observed (mpg)||29|
|Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)||11.1|
|Dimensions & Capacities|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)||3,455 (U.S.-spec car)|
|Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)||3,382 (Euro-spec car)|
|Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)||49/51|
|Track, front (in.)||64.7|
|Track, rear (in.)||67.8|
|Turning circle (ft.)||40.4|
|Legroom, front (in.)||43.1|
|Legroom, rear (in.)||28.2|
|Headroom, front (in.)||38.7|
|Headroom, rear (in.)||32.4|
|Shoulder room, front (in.)||56.7|
|Shoulder room, rear (in.)||49.6|
|Step-in height, measured (in.)||19.9|
|Trunk volume (cu-ft)||4.7|
|Cargo loading height, measured (in.)||37.0|
|Payload, mfr. max claim (lbs.)||620|
|Ground clearance (in.)||4.6|
|Year Make Model||2013 Tesla Model S Performance 4dr sedan (electric DD)|
|Vehicle Type||RWD 4dr 5-passenger sedan|
|Assembly location||Fremont, CA|
|Configuration||Transverse, rear-mounted electric motor, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor|
|Fuel cutoff/rev limiter (rpm)||16,000|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm)||416 @ 5,000-8,600|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)||443 @ 0-5,100|
|Electric motor rating (kW)||310|
|Battery type||Liquid-cooled, lithium-ion|
|Battery capacity, rated (kW-hr)||85|
|Transmission type||Single-speed direct drive|
|Final-drive ratio (x:1)||9.73|
|Suspension, front||Independent high-mount upper wishbone with dual-pivot lower links, pneumatic spring, monotube damper, stabilizer bar|
|Suspension, rear||Independent multilink with lower wishbone, pneumatic spring, monotube damper, stabilizer bar|
|Steering type||Electric-assist, speed-proportional rack-and-pinion steering|
|Steering ratio (x:1)||13.0|
|Tire make and model||Continental Extreme Contact DW Tuned|
|Tire type||Asymmetrical summer performance|
|Tire size||245/35ZR21 96Y|
|Brakes, front||13.2-inch ventilated disc with 4-piston fixed calipers|
|Brakes, rear||14.4-inch ventilated disc with 4-piston fixed calipers|
|Track Test Results|
|Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)||2.4|
|0-45 mph (sec.)||3.6|
|0-60 mph (sec.)||5.2|
|0-75 mph (sec.)||7.4|
|1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)||13.7 @ 98.7|
|0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)||4.9|
|0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)||2.1|
|0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)||3.1|
|0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)||4.4|
|0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)||6.1|
|1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)||12.6 @ 108.4|
|0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)||4.1|
|Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)||28|
|60-0 mph (ft.)||113|
|Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON||63.6|
|Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)||0.87|
|Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON||0.85|
|Sound level @ idle (dB)||36.4|
|@ Full throttle (dB)||62.5|
|@ 70 mph cruise (dB)||61.7|
|Test Driver Ratings & Comments|
|Acceleration comments||This car's ability to dump all that torque from a stop and supply it continuously throughout the quarter-mile is what makes it so unique. The hackneyed saying, "Accelerates like an electric bullet train" finally applies without allegory. Still, I believe the powertrain might be surrendering the power prudently, however, as when I shut off the traction control, I did manage some glorious wheelspin complete with a white cloud of tire smoke. Of course, the times only suffered for it. This car is deceptively quick and fast.|
|Braking comments||Minimal dive, arrow-straight and nearly silent scrubbing the speed with all that weight behind it. Zero distance creep indicates plenty of built-in thermal absorption/dissipation and the pedal remained steady. Brakes felt "normal" in this test.|
|Handling comments||Slalom: As we said before, the "Standard" steering setting felt most appropriate here. Crisp and ultra-precise turn-in, tracks true, is amazingly well balanced. It manages its 2-ton weight extremely. At its limit, either/both under- and oversteer appear depending on what the driver tells it to do. ESC was a little abrupt, but short lived. Best technique was to "pedal it" between cones (lift to tuck nose, squeeze to rotate), which was surprisingly easy and kept the ESC from intervening. Skid pad: Again, immediately noticeable excellent balance here, especially with traction control shut off. I love the immediate throttle response and used it to coax a slight rear slide all the way around the circle without ESC intrusion. Steering weight (still in Standard) was entirely appropriate and shockingly informative. Overall, I'd say this car's setup, feel and abilities (discounting the 4,700-pound weight) rival those of the Porsche Panamera.|
|Relative humidity (%)||52.69|
|Barometric pressure (in. Hg)||28.79|
|Wind (mph, direction)||1.7 headwind|
|As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)||42/42|
|EPA fuel economy (mpg)||89 combined/88 city/90 highway|
|Driving range (mi.)||265|
|Dimensions & Capacities|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)||4,647|
|Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)||4,721|
|Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)||53.4|
|Track, front (in.)||65.4|
|Track, rear (in.)||66.9|
|Turning circle (ft.)||37.0|
|Legroom, front (in.)||42.7|
|Legroom, rear (in.)||35.4|
|Headroom, front (in.)||38.8|
|Headroom, rear (in.)||35.3|
|Shoulder room, front (in.)||57.7|
|Shoulder room, rear (in.)||55.0|
|Trunk volume (cu-ft)||5.3 (front trunk)|
|Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)||58.1|
|behind 2nd row (cu-ft)||26.3|
|Ground clearance (in.)||6.0|
|Bumper-to-bumper||4 years / 50,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||4 years / 50,000 miles|