Tesla owner driving a BMW i3 for 4 days

(No, it's not me in the picture, but my son)

During 2015 Drive Electric week in Hong Kong, I won a BMW i3 for a weekend. This turned out to be 4 days (Thursday to Monday), driving just over 300 km.

My own car is a 2014 right hand drive Tesla Model S (pre-drive assist version). Both of these cars are fully electric - the only way to power them are using a plug (In Hong Kong, the serial hybrid i3 iRex isn’t sold due to registration tax incentives not covering hybrids). We are a family of two adults, as well as a 21 month old boy and 3 month old girl.

    TLDR - Conclusion: The i3 is a really nice car. In some ways, the i3 is better, in other ways, the Tesla Model S is better. Both cars are highly recommended - for details, read on.

You can also check out the photo gallery of 55 photos here: http://is.gd/lpl4S2

… as well as a short time lapse video, showing two kids, two car seats and a tandem Sit’n’Stand stroller being loaded in the i3.


My wife is taking the time lapse video so she is not in the video, but will also fit into the car, obviously.


I could have chosen two hours in a BMW i8 sports car, but chose the i3 “small family car” for a weekend instead. I can’t really see the point of the short range plug-in hybrid i8, other than an expensive toy for a very limited audience, whereas the i3 is a realistic contester in the EV market, with potential for real mass production.

This is not a full test of the i3, just a scratch of the surface to compare these two cars. One could argue that they are different segments of cars entirely, with the Tesla Model S being a long range full size luxury hatchback, and the i3 being a short range 4-seater compact car. Yet for the purpose of being a car for a family of four in a city, both work just fine.

# First impression #

I tried the i3 before briefly, on a closed circuit during an EV exhibition. I remarked how easy this car was to drive. The Tesla wins on the highway, with plenty of excess power and excellent road stability, while the BMW i3 is much easier in tight places like city driving. Especially when parking. The i3 is shorter and has a much tighter turning radius. Despite having very slim tires for increased efficiency, it handles remarkably well. I noticed that using cruise control on a highway with sharper than normal bends (typical Hong Kong), it reduces the speed slightly, automatically, probably as a safety precaution. Very smart indeed!

This was a four day test (Thursday to Monday) where I used this car exclusively for our familys transportation needs. Both kids are in car safety seats, one at the front, one at the back. I know he front isn't supposed to be used for kids, but we can't have both kids unattended at the back. So the 21 month old was my co-driver, while the girls were at the back. Just like in our Model S.

I didn't try any remote functions of the i3. Just didn't have/take the time to look up how to do it, and not sure my loaner car would allow me to do this. One complaint was that we couldn't pre-cool the car remotely, but having said that, the Max Cool function was really effective. I was told by an i3 owner that the remote does work, although it usually takes several minutes for commands to go through. Features includes locking and unlocking, and I believe, also remotely activating the A/C.

# Speedometer and cruise control #

The speedometer on the i3 is digital, where as my Tesla with V6.2 has a conventional dial (on a digital screen though, and newer versions of the Tesla has no dial, just digital). Although I like the dial, I prefer the digital readout on the BMW, when it comes to the cruise control setting. In Hong Kong, the orange camera big brother system is very precise and with little margin, so it’s good to see the exact target. Cruise control saves a lot of money and points in either car! On the Model S, it’s a bit harder to see exactly what the cruise is set to, until it stabilises. Both cars use a small click to change the speed by one unit. A large click on the Tesla gives a 5 km/h change, while the BMW goes to the next whole 10. Some times one is better than the other, I can only say that it’s different and I could get used to both, but prefer the Tesla way - mainly because of these orange “speedometer calibration units” that are so abundant in Hong Kong. I have found the Tesla to be precise to 1 km/h, while the BMW i3 consistently showed 3 km/h faster than the actual speed (as measured by standalone GPS). In Hong Kong, it seems that speeding tickets are given when you exceed 10 km/h over the limits, plus a 3 km/h buffer for measurement inaccuracies. Hence, in a 70 km/h zone, no cameras should flash with 83 km/h in the Tesla or 86 km/h in the i3. The Tesla seems to be more aggressive in holding the exact speed, while the BMW i3 allows to float a few km/h. Being more flexible with the speed is better for the driving economy, but worse for the ticket and point economy (if you go to the limit). Setting the limit as published on the signs, there is plenty of margin on both cars, to avoid points.

# Family of 4? #

One of my most important questions: Is it possible for a family of two adults and two babies (including two car seats) to have their needs covered by the i3?

The answer is YES, it is definitely possible.

And even when the kids grow, there is still room at the back seats for long legs. The i3 is NOT a “2+2 setup” where the back seats aren’t usable. You can actually fit in. I even tried 3 adults on the back seat, even though there is only seat belts for 2 - and it worked. This was only for testing, but it shows that there is plenty of room at the back. Both sides have ISO fix mounts (Also called LATCH, UAS, Canfix and UCSSS, depending on where you live). The Tesla Model S has the same mounts, while my older version actually allows using the middle seat with ISOFIX. We have the older child in the front passenger seat, airbag deactivated. It might not be legal in Hong Kong, but then, Hong Kong law doesn’t require child car seats at all - in fact, they can crawl around on the back seat, just like Europe and USA up until the 1980s. With a good quality car seat in the front, it doesn’t really concern me a lot. The girls are in the back, and the boys in the front - much better control over the situation. As a driver, the last thing I want is two kids screaming and fighting at the back, and you can’t do a thing - that would surely be a distraction impacting safety.

The main issues when using the rear seats are in the door design. The rear doors can only be opened when the front doors are open. Also, the seat belts for the front seats are mounted on the rear doors (there is no beam dividing the doors). Hence, each rear door cannot open until the front door is open AND the front seat belt is unfastened. Using a car seat at the front, fasteded with the seat belt, makes life a bit more challenging. We managed by only using the rear door in the drivers side. I am not sure how this setup of doors work in a crash situation. Or even in daily life - if a passenger suddenly needs to get out, for whatever reason, they have to wait for the front passenger to open the door and remove the seat belt. Yes, both door and seat belt can be operated from the back, but I still think this design has some flaws. Time to read the manual? I am sure BMW thought about this.

# Luggage space #

With a baby and a toddler, we have a Sit’n’Stand tandem stroller which is a bit on the large side for Hong Kong. But we need a stroller that can carry both kids, and the infant car seat clicks nicely into the stroller as well. Very handy when she is sleeping, we can move her between car and stroller as we like, without changing seat belts (there is an ISO FIX mount pad part for the car, where the seat clicks on to, see the image gallery linked at the top). The baggage compartment is obviously much smaller on the i3 than on the Tesla - and yet we managed to fit the stroller in, despite its size (only need to click a sun cover and a table tray off it). Again, see the picture gallery, as well as the time lapse video. As the motor is under the floor of the baggage compartment, there is a smaller storage space in the front, just like on the Tesla. The i3 “frunk” is very small, though - it only has room for 2 charging cables and a car servicing kit.

I didn’t try it but would think the trunk could fit two medium sized suitcases. Four people with luggage going to the airport isn’t for this car, though. How often do you need that anyway?

# Handling #

With very slim wheels, the i3 looks skimpy as a Citroën 2 CV. Looks can be deceiving, and those wheels really DO work well for the car. Steering is direct and responsive, and curves are no problem at all. At higher speeds, the Tesla wins for sure, both in directional stability and road handling. The i3 seems a little nervous at higher speeds - that’s probably because I am used to the Model S, which is long and heavy, with a very low centre of gravity. Usually, natural stability and manoeuvrability are opposites in a compromise, which can only be countered by active control systems. The shorter BMW i3 isn’t meant for day long road trips anyway, so for any city and urban areas, this is no issue at all. It’s not bad, really, I have just become spoiled by the Tesla being rock solid - until you tickle it.

# Navigation #

Both cars have built in navigation systems. The Tesla combines live Google maps with traffic, to an internal navigation system. Somehow, the Tesla manages to use both for navigation and traffic jam avoidance, as well as displaying the route from the navigation system on the map with live traffic. On the Tesla, finding an address is quite similar to using Google Maps, with an tablet like dropdown touch keyboard. It’s very easy to use, and you can even use voice commands to find an address. I haven’t been much succesful in anything but “navigate home” and “navigate work”, as I keep getting wrong hits. The Model S navigation will search the entire world - so while getting a lot of hits from the USA while I try to find an address in Hong Kong, I gave up for now.

The BMW i3 is opposite in that sense: To find an address, you have to specify country, region, sub-region, then street. But then you can’t enter street number, only crossroads? It seemed I could still go straight to the street name, but failed to find some addresses. Some streets weren’t there at all, and searching for a popular Hong Kong shopping mall (Festival Walk) - I ended up using the map, centring the pointer to go to that location. If I am using the navigation, it could likely be because I don’t know where I am going. So I have to consult Google Maps first, to find the street number, then the nearest intersection, so I can add that to the BMW i3 navigation.

Having said all that - once navigation is set, the BMW is far superior to the Model S, especially on the graphics. It even warns about some of the orange “speed calibration cameras”, which are so generously spread out all over Hong Kong. But only some of them, still need Waze to warn about live traffic hazards.

The graphics are much better, often giving details of hills, buildings, bridges and such, with detailed guidance as to which lane to choose - and when. See the picture gallery linked at the top. This is immensely critical in Hong Kong, until you eventually memorise all significant road junctions, exits and lanes. Often, you need to be in one specific lane only, followed by change to another lane right after - and if you miss either one, you could be going on a detour of some times 15 minutes, just to get back to where you were.

Hence, I can conclude that Tesla wins on finding the address, while BMW wins on getting you there (once you found the address).

# Driving economy #

Any car, whether powered by electricity of fossil fuel, can be driven more or less economically. When showing an estimated remaining range you can drive before recharging, the car has to be set up for a certain driving style. The Tesla has several different range estimates, rated/ideal/typical or battery percentage, depending on which market the car is sold to. Even the most conservative rating on the Model S takes a very gently foot for both accelerator and brake pedal, if you want to achieve it. The i3, however, is quite conservative. Although the real life range of the car is reported to be 110 to 130 km, I managed to beat the estimate. By far. A factor 3 actually! (see the picture gallery) The day of returning the car, it estimated there was 30 km left. I dialled in the CCS charging stations in the navigation and chose the CLP Centenary building in Kowloon. 18 km must have been line of sight, because now it was 24 km to go, with a 30 km range. I called my i3 friend and asked if this was doable. He said it’s quite conservative, and I could even opt for the ECO PRO+ setting for maximum range. This restricts speed to 90 km/h and avoids the use of A/C. Weather was nice, so I opened the sunroof and took off in ECO PRO+ mode. I was driving very carefully - and arrived with 22 km indicated remaining. So I drove 24 km using 8 km range, which I would conclude is quite ok. Had I done the same trip using normal style driving, A/C and the posted speed limits, it would probably have been closer to the 24 km used.

# Charging #

Tesla has the supercharger network, which in Hong Kong is in 9 locations already (autumn 2015). Furthermore, adapters exist for 220V 13A (BS1363), Type-2 Mennekes (32A/3 phase), ChaDeMo, J1772 and just about any wall plug you can find (if you get the UMC connector with all the ding-dongs). Since the plug in the i3 is the same physical plug as in the Model S, I brought my J1772 to Type-2 cable along. In Maritime square, I used it successfully to charge at 3 times the speed of the 13A charger (which is really only drawing 10A). This is also the fastes AC charging speed, only CCS (DC charging) is faster.

The plug on the i3 has two caps on it - open both of them, and the car is now CCS capable (see photo gallery). So that’s what I did on the last day, on my way to BMW to give the car back. Arriving with 22 km remaining, I plugged the CCS in and noted a pretty constant charging rate of 32.2 kW. The charging station says it’s 50 kW (CCS or ChaDeMo), but I guess the i3 is limited to around 32 or so. As the charging station is showing how much energy is used with a timer, it was a simple calculation to get to the 32.2 kW - about 15 times faster than the standard BS1363 220V / 13A. I realise that the charging rate won’t last to 100%, but since the i3 only has around 22 kWh capacity, it shouldn’t take much more than 30 minutes to charge to 80%, using CCS. As with any other EV I know of, it’s the last 20% that’s painfully slow. Just like when you really don’t want to eat more, but force yourself into having two more “helpings" off the all-you-can-eat buffet.


This was just a scratch of the surface. I am not testing cars for a living, so this is just a jump from one EV to another. Trying out various things, comparing the two. I probably skipped some essential info, even got something wrong. Feel free to correct me.

I really do like the BMW i3. It will be the best solution for many people. Despite working for a family of 4 in a city, I would say it’s optimum for a single person or a couple. Using the back seats as flexi-room for either storage or the occasional extra passengers, the car is quite flexible. Would I buy one myself? I would definitely consider one, especially if I needed to have an extra car. Driving alone, I would probably use the i3 more than the Tesla.

    BMW i3 is best for:

City driving
Sticker price
Navigation (once you find your destination!)
Driving economy

    Tesla Model S is best for:

Range (battery capacity)
Charging options and speed (up to 135 kW on superchargers)
Highway driving (more stable)
Navigation (Finding destination, live traffic map display)
Internal space, and general access to the car.
Value for money (more expensive than the i3, but that for more range, power space and comfort)
Connectivity - much better app, and better communication in the car.



There is a lot more information in the comments to the 55 pictures - do go have a look, maybe even leave a comment or two:


And see the short video time lapse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbYP9he3TrU


lx3h's picture

Very good review

Great review, Core. Most helpful and an interesting perspective.