Two Premium Electric Sedans Face Off
If you’re in the market for a premium family car, there are a lot of great choices in the market, no matter what kind of drive system you’re looking at. The best news is that if you’re ready to make the switch to an electric car, a number of auto manufacturers are now offering attractive EVs for premium drivers – and the choices are getting better and more numerous over time.
The Tesla Model 3 has been America’s top-selling electric sedan for the last couple of years, and for good reason. It’s fast, it’s roomy, it’s comfortable, and has one of the longest ranges in the class. Plus, it’s packed with tech and fun to drive. All of those reasons, plus access to Tesla’s excellent Supercharger network, have actually pushed Model 3 sales higher than the premium-sedan benchmark in the USA, the BMW 3 Series.
BMW, however, isn’t resting on its laurels. Early in 2022, it introduced the i4. It’s a sleek electric sedan that combines the fantastic handling and driving feel of the 3 Series with a practical hatchback and a choice of powerful all-electric drivetrains. Intuitive technology and standout styling make the i4 a real contender.
So which one is best for you? Read on to find out.
Design Inside and Out
Both the Model 3 and the i4 are sleek four-door shapes, and great future-looking representatives of their respective brands. The Tesla is an elegant, elongated teardrop, with Tesla’s now-familiar faceless front end, large and tall glass area, and a high rear end that gives you a large, practically-shaped trunk.
The i4 is a futuristic take on BMW’s Gran Coupe style, itself a sleeker and high-tech take on the classic 3 Series sedan. Its large BMW kidneys no longer frame radiators up front, but hold all of the safety systems’ sensors. A long wheelbase, short overhangs, and details such as available laser lights give it a sporty edge.
The Tesla’s interior is shockingly simple. The company, which originated the vertical-format screen with its Model S sedan and Model X SUV, has switched to a horizontal-format screen for the Model 3 and Model Y. It consolidates almost all the controls, including the transmission selector. The menus are intuitive, but switching gears and adjusting other vehicle functions using the screen is more difficult than it should be. The screen floats above a simple dash that features very little beyond the air vents; the console is similarly minimalist. Build quality has improved over the years, and the latest Model 3 feels solid and well-made.
The BMW will feel more familiar, as well as more upscale, if you’re coming out of another gasoline car. The interior shares its architecture with the 3 Series sedan and 4 Series Gran Coupe. That means excellent space up front, fantastic seats, fine materials, and awesome build quality that are a constant reminder you bought a German luxury car.
BMW’s user interface deserves special mention, as the i4 still features a good number of physical controls in addition to what seems like acres of LED screens. The instrument cluster and infotainment/climate control are combined into one giant curved display, which can be operated by touch if you want. But there are still a gear selector and circular iDrive knob on the console, and real buttons for drive mode selection, cruise, and audio controls. BMW was one of the first brands, way back in the early 2000s, to explore the integration of sophisticated IT technology into dashboards, and over 20 years of experience shows – this is simply the best, and easiest-to-use, system out there.
Both the Model 3 and the i4 offer spacious rear seats with adequate legroom for adults, but the Tesla feels roomier in the back. In the i4, rear headroom is compromised by the sleek sloping roof, and access to the rear seat isn’t great because of a tight door opening. On the other hand, the i4’s huge hatchback makes its large cargo area more practical and versatile than the Model 3’s similarly-sized trunk, which is accessed through a relatively small opening.
Costs and Conclusions
The 2023 Tesla Model 3’s starting MSRP is $46,990 before any incentives are applied. For that you get rear-wheel drive and an EPA-estimated range of 267 miles. The entry-level Model Y will get to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, and reach a top speed of 140 mph. The BMW i4 eDrive40 also has a single motor and rear-wheel drive, a starting MSRP of $55,900 before incentives, and an EPA-estimated range of 301 miles. It’s faster than the Model Y, at 5.5 seconds to 60 mph.
Both cars also have higher-performance models as well. The all-wheel drive Model Y Performance has a starting MSRP of $62,990 before incentives, with an EPA-estimated range of 315 miles. It also gets to 60 mph much faster, in just 3.1 seconds. The equivalent BMW is the i4 M50, which has all-wheel drive and can get to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, though the EPA estimates its range at 270 miles. It has a starting MSRP of $67,300.
The Model 3 has an advantage in terms of both range and efficiency, but you won’t notice much of a difference between it and the i4 in real-world driving. Most owners will charge their vehicles overnight and leave home with a full “tank” of electrons every morning, and both cars will still need charging on longer trips. Tesla’s Supercharger network is, however, a key advantage if you will frequently drive long distances. The charging experience is simply seamless. The i4 can access almost any other network, but you may need to download an app or create an account.
Driving Experience and Conclusions
The BMW i4 and Tesla Model S are both wonderful cars to drive, and not just because of their impressive performance, silence, and smoothness – traits they share with all electric cars.
The best thing about the i4 is that it drives like a BMW. The steering has a nice heft, and the i4 bends into corners with perfect feel and feedback. Cornering grip and stability is excellent. And thanks to astute suspension tuning, the ride quality is fantastic. With 335 hp from its single electric motor, the i4 eDrive40 (to give it its full name) is the “slow” version of the i4; why anyone would need the even more powerful 536-hp i4 M50 is anyone’s guess – though that model, thanks to its two electric motors, gives you all-wheel drive.
There’s also what BMW calls “IconicSounds,” a gimmick that pipes fake noise through the speakers to add some emotion with sounds composed by Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. On paper, this sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually great. The sounds aren’t intrusive, and the futuristic whooshes and strings really make the i4 feel special.
While it doesn’t have quite the same level of feel as the BMW, the Tesla Model 3 is also a blast to drive. Thanks to the heavy battery in the floor, just like the BMW, the Tesla has a low center of gravity, which makes it very stable around corners and helps it generate lots of cornering grip. Acceleration is strong, particularly in the super-fast Performance model. You will have to get used to “one-pedal driving,” though. The Tesla’s regenerative braking is very aggressive, much more so than the default setting on the BMW. The i4 lets you adjust the level of regenerative braking, while the Tesla doesn’t.
No matter which trim or performance level you choose, both the Tesla and BMW come comprehensively equipped, especially with active safety features. The BMW in particular comes with active blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and frontal collision warning and pre-collision braking. Adaptive cruise control is fitted to both cars, and for a substantial fee, Tesla will also fit its “full self driving” hardware (a misnomer), which in future will enable more semi-autonomous driving features.
But the Tesla Model 3 and the BMW i4 are so good to drive that you’re unlikely to want them to drive themselves. They’re both examples of how electrification is making driving more exciting as well as more sustainable. No matter which you choose, you’ll have a lot of fun behind the wheel while saving on fuel and reducing your emissions.