- May 23, 2013
I've put a few miles now on my new-to-me 2016 F80 BMW M3, including a 400 mile trip, and have had my Model 3 for nearly a year--so I thought I'd write down some thoughts.
2016 BMW M3 6M, M Adaptive suspension, 425 hp
2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance dual motor, 475ish hp (incl. 5 percent OTA boost at some point)
The BMW is an extrovert's car. I've thought of them as sort of extra, as my kid would say, particularly in the way the rear fenders flare over the back wheels, and in the front bumper that just barely escapes looking like catfish whiskers. But the look of the car has grown on me. The proportions on the M3 are nice, old-school BMW--long hood, relatively upright passenger cabin, L-shaped taillights. It works better than the E90, to my eyes, which I always thought seemed a bit narrow. The details on my car, including a blacked out grille, dark wheels, and a carbon fiber roof, are a nice contrast to the Sakhir Orange paint, which is a dramatic, fun color.
The Tesla is...well, from some angles it's pretty good, especially with 20 inch wheels. There are details you can appreciate, like the multiple curves and angles on the nose that seem far racier than a sedan has any right to have. But from other angles (esp. from the rear), it's just awkward. The proportions are nowhere near as good as the dead-sexy Model S. But it blends in better than the M3, especially because it doesn't make any noise (more on that in a minute).
The Tesla gets a lot of *sugar* for it's spare, Spartan interior design, and for materials that some say are sub-par.
But it takes living with the car, and comparing it to something like the BMW, to really appreciate how goddamn good the Tesla is inside.
The lack of instruments in front of you is off-putting at first, but you quickly get used to the panoramic view out the front, which helps you not only in daily driving but also lets you place the car better when you start to drive fast. The center screen has its disadvantages, mostly in the lack of tactile feedback category, but the interface is so clean and intuitive that anyone can get in and make the car work immediately. The Tesla also has noticeably more space inside than the BMW, particularly for cargo--it has a bigger trunk AND a frunk AND a compartment below the trunk. Taking two kids and their gear to camp in the Tesla? Easy. Not so much in the BMW.
Notably, the things that people complain about (lack of air vents, lack of buttons, etc) are, for me at least, non-issues. The automatic climate on the Tesla is essentially set it and forget it. The steering wheel buttons control the audio functions I need them to and nothing else. The nav in the Tesla is easy to use because the large touch screen makes entering a destination simple. I do wish there were separate mirror controls, but beyond that? I really have no complaints.
Compared to the Tesla, the BMW feels like you're sitting in a hollowed-out WWII torpedo. The hood bulges up in front of you, forcing you to look around it, and the gauges and instrument panel dominate your field of view. There are buttons all over the place, but they operate in inscrutable ways that requires study to master. iDrive is better than its ever been, but it's still hard to learn, and 9 times out of 10 you'll just not bother using the nav rather than try to wrestle with destination entry. I should note that BMW actually has a nice app that works with the car, and entering nav info on that works well, but the whole setup is far kludgier than the one in the Tesla.
The seats in the BMW seem nicer at first. They're real leather, and firmer than the Tesla's, which are sort of hyperneoprene and squishy. But the BMW's seats are made for someone broader of beam than me, so I kind of rattle around in them, and after 400 miles my ass hurts in a way it doesn't driving the Tesla.
Does the BMW feel nicer inside? I guess--there are certainly more types of materials, and they're probably more expensive. But ultimately, the Tesla gets out of your way, while the BMW demands constant attention.
Speaking of driving, what about that?
I'd like to sugarcoat this, but I can't. It's in the driving that the Tesla reveals itself to be the better car. And it's not a close thing. The BMW is near the apex of what an internal combustion engine performance car can be, but the Tesla exists in a different league, a vision of the future, a quantum leap. It's like comparing a P-51 to an Me 262.
Around town, you expect this to be true. With no clutch and instant torque, the Tesla is faster than the BMW everywhere, all the time. It's always ready to go, to jump in front of someone at a light, to nail a gap in traffic, whatever you need. It's "throttle" response is otherworldly, but it also has traction to spare--it digs and GOES, right now, no wheelspin, nothing to worry about.
The BMW requires thought, deliberation--point it straight ahead, and lay on the throttle, and it will go fast, as soon you slip the clutch just right and let the revs build a little and the turbos spool and manage the shift points. Get any of that wrong and even the Kia Forte in the next lane will beat you to 20 or 30 mph, forget about the Tesla.
And the Tesla will do it silently. The BMW's active muffler sounds like its got holes bored through it in sport and sport+. It's a pretty OK sound, though not great, but what it lacks in sonorous character it makes up for in volume. When you go fast in the BMW, people know it. Pedestrians, your passengers, people a few blocks over, everyone. When you go fast in the Tesla, people don't even notice, although your passengers might wonder why they suddenly have whiplash.
OK, so around town the Tesla is the winner. Sure. That makes sense.
But living with the two cars what surprised me is how much better the Tesla is for long-distance travel. The BMW is geared crazy-short. At highway speeds, it's turning 3000 RPM. Great because the turbos are on boost, but terrible for relaxing. The suspension is a bit jittery and overall the car just feels like work to drive at high speeds. Given its size and weight, it's a little surprising just how much of a GT the BMW isn't.
The Tesla, OTOH, doesn't vibrate. It doesn't roar, or boom. It just goes. There's tire and wind noise, of course, but not too much of either, and mostly there's just calm.
It's really remarkable how tired I was today after 400 miles in the BMW; way more than I would have been in the Tesla.
And I will say this, too--people bitch about EV charging, but after you get used to using the Tesla network, going back to getting gas feels like a huge step backward.
Isn't it faster to get gas, you ask? Well, sure--but you have to make two stops if you also need food, which I do on a 200 or 400 mile drive. First you stop for gas, and you stand there while it pumps, and then you drive off to find a place to eat. With the Tesla, you stop, plug in, go get your food, come back, unplug, and you're on your way. It's legitimately better.
Of course, if you're driving more than 400 miles or so, and have to do multiple charging stops, the Tesla might start to feel constraining. But on a 6 hour trip like I did today, it wouldn't have, at all.
And that doesn't even get into the whole buying gas for daily driving thing, which is something you don't realize you hate until you don't have to do it.
The Tesla’s phone key thing is great, as long as it works, which for me it does, but for others in my house it doesn’t reliably, and that’s the source of immense frustration. Why can’t this car just have a normal key?
For the BMW, it has the world’s most sensitive passenger detection weight sensor in the passenger seat—seriously, it’s triggered by things like a sandwich or your phone + glasses case. This would probably also drive you nuts if you regularly carried a bag; you’d have to put it on the floor.
Neither car has much steering feel. The BMW’s wheel is too big, and the Tesla’s is too small. I’d say the Tesla’s steering is better if only because it’s sharper, but driving the Porsche after either is a revelation.
I like the BMW. I really do. It's fun to shift your own gears, and you won't find a better manual transmission sedan of recent vintage than this one. And the BMW has sounds and feelings that give their own satisfaction. I'd hate to lose cars like this forever.
But if the question is "which is the better car," the answer isn't hard. It's not remotely close. The Tesla performs all of the functions you're looking for in a performance car better than the BMW, by a lot. Plus it's more practical and easier to live with.
If you could have only one, my recommendation would be: Buy American.