2016 BMW i8 vs. 2016 Tesla Model S: Compare Cars

October 17, 2016
2016 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition

2016 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition

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The Tesla Model S and BMW i8 both plug in to recharge their battery packs, and they can both carry six-figure price tags. They're also from two of the most forward-looking and technology-focused brands in the world.

Beyond those factors, the all-electric luxury sedan and the plug-in hybrid sport coupe are hugely different. One can carry up to seven people (if two of them are age 10 or younger), the other holds just a pair of passengers and not a whole lot of luggage. So which is right for you?

MORE: Read our reviews of the 2016 BMW i8 and the 2016 Tesla Model S

In the end, while the BMW i8 is by far the more striking car—we counted 15 separate people taking photos of it simultaneously on Rodeo Drive when we opened the winged doors—the Tesla Model S is smoother, quieter, more capacious, and somehow more impressive. Either will get you noticed, but the Tesla Model S wins the comparison for being the most practical electric car the world has yet seen.

2016 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition

2016 BMW i8 Protonic Red Edition

Enlarge Photo
2016 BMW i8

2016 BMW i8

Enlarge Photo
2016 BMW i8

2016 BMW i8

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2016 BMW i8 with BMW Home Charger Connect charging station

2016 BMW i8 with BMW Home Charger Connect charging station

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Design and comfort

Both are good-looking vehicles. The much larger Tesla Model S is sometimes mistaken for the large Jaguar XJ sedan in its low, sleek, fastback shape. It got its first styling update in spring 2016, with a blunt front nose replacing the former black oval shape where a grille would normally sit. Though widely referred to as a luxury sedan, the Model S is actually a hatchback, with a rear liftgate that opens into a cargo compartment. Parents can fit the load bay with two rear-facing child seats—complete with four-point safety harnesses—to expand its passenger count to seven, as long as the two final occupants are under 10 or so.

But the BMW i8 is a jaw-dropping exercise in futurism. Its bird-wing doors pivot up from the windshield pillars to open the cockpit, so a pair of occupants can drop as gracefully as possible into low form-fitting seats. The characteristic BMW twin-kidney grille is actually filled with blanking plates, and the silver and blue accent color scheme denotes that it's a member of the BMW 'i' family of plug-in electric cars.

Powertrain and performance

As for powertrains, the Tesla is purely a battery-electric car, with a flat, high-capacity lithium-ion battery pack under the floor stretching from axle to axle, doorsill to doorsill. Over the five-year life of the Model S, it's had a dizzying array of battery options, including 60-, 75-, 85-, 90-, and 100-kilowatt-hour capacities. Those batteries come with EPA-rated ranges of 240 to 315 miles. The ranges for each battery vary further depending on whether the car has all-wheel drive, using a larger motor on the rear axle and a smaller one between the front wheels. The presence of AWD, unlike gasoline cars, makes the Model S more, not less, efficient. The latest hot rod of the range is the Model S P100D, with a "Ludicrous" mode that gives acceleration times from 0 to 60 mph of well below 3.0 seconds—which has produced dozens of videos of stunned passengers.

The BMW's two separate and sometimes-independent powertrains make the i8 more complicated. At the back, a high-output turbocharged three-cylinder drives the rear wheels, while an electric motor up front powers the front wheels. As a result, the i8 can run on electricity alone, as a sporty hybrid, or with both operating together for maximum performance—when it becomes what engineers call a "through-the-road hybrid." The two modes of propulsion are coordinated by control software, not a mechanical connection, when they are used together for all-wheel drive and maximum performance.

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