2014 Tesla Model S P85+ vs. 2014 BMW i8 Comparison
Flash Forward: Two Flashy Ways to Flaunt Your Forward Thinking
Where is the automobile headed in our gradually warming world? Fully electric like the Chevy Spark, Nissan Leaf, or Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive? Plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, Ford Energi models, or Porsche 918? Flying cars like the Terrafugia Transition? Something else entirely? One thing's for sure: Wherever it's headed, folks buying at the pointy end of the price pyramid will get there first and help field-test the tech for the rest of us. If you have both the means and the inclination to live your automotive life on the green-tech bleeding edge -- or if you need the world to think that's how you roll—allow us to present the two most compelling options available today.
The reigning green-car champ is the surprisingly high-performance, fully electric Tesla Model S P85+. The car world's lone successful Silicon Valley startup earned Motor Trend's 2013 Car of the Year calipers on the strength of its M5-like driving dynamics, giant iPad-esque user interface, innovative optional 5+2 seating, front and rear trunks, and epic 265-mile EPA-rated battery range. And during the year we've spent driving a long-term Model S, the expanding network of Superchargers has made long-distance electric travel (at least in our bottom half of California) a surprising reality.
But the Tesla just looks like a car, so maybe you fear your less auto-inclined peers won't fully appreciate your cutting edginess. To wow them, perhaps the racy/spacey new BMW i8 is just the thing. It boasts abundant visual excitement, from its wide, low stance and A-pillar-hinged scarab beetle-wing doors to jarring surface details such as those carved-out rear side channels exiting above the taillights and the mix of piano black, anodized blue, and the body color of your choice covering various parts of the car. Open those nifty doors and the carbon fiber that constitutes the "Life Module" body structure is prominently displayed. A plug-in port allows you to pump in enough electrons to drive a gingerly 23 miles in near silence before the impressively powerful gas-fueled three-banger turbo kicks in.
We'll grant you that comparing an upright 5-7-seater with a low-slung 2+2 is unconventional, but then so are the cars. And with as-tested prices that fall within 10 percent of each other, these green-tech marvels are aimed at customers with similar demographic and psychographic profiles. Mind you, the base prices are further separated -- $94,570 for the Tesla, $136,650 for the i8. But by the time a Motor Trend-grade car enthusiast runs through the Tesla options list speccing must-haves such as the $8750 performance-tuned air suspension, the $4500 21-inch gray performance-plus wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, $2500 worth of performance seats, and a few more sybaritic options, the price can escalate quickly, as ours did, to $126,520. The i8 comes pretty fully loaded with only three option packages -- Giga World ($2000 -- our test sample), Terra World ($3000), and Pure Impulse World ($10,800). Each package upgrades the width of the staggered-fitment 20-inch wheels and ups the interior opulence.
Which of these electrified futuremobiles should you purchase? There's room in the ultimate Earth First enthusiast's garage for both, as their merits are complementary. But we'll train our critical eyes on each to help you decide which one to buy first.
PerformanceIt's hard to believe that a low-slung, 3378-pound carbon-fiber car with a turbo engine, all-wheel drive, and two electric motors lugging just 9.3 pounds per total system horsepower plus six gears' worth of torque multiplication couldn't just run away and hide from a big, upright, 4633-pound (11.1 pounds per horse), rear-drive electric hatchback with a one-speed transmission -- but in fact it can't. The Tesla's peak torque at 0 rpm makes for a great hole-shot, and it travels just 20 inches farther than the i8 to reach 30 mph. It actually reaches 60 mph 8 inches ahead of the i8, though 0.1 second slower than the i8's 3.8-second time. By the quarter mile, the Tesla is running out of leverage from the one-speed, so its trap speed trails the i8's, but the time is still close: 12.5 seconds at 108.4 mph compared with the i8's 12.4 at 112.1.
In the grip department, the Tesla continues to amaze, managing to halt from a 60-mph clip 1 foot shorter than the BMW (102 feet versus 103). Bend them into a turn, however, and the lighter (more evenly weight-balanced) i8 takes the lead, generating 0.94 g of lateral grip to the Tesla's 0.91. That cornering advantage allowed the BMW to carry a bit more speed through the ends of our figure-eight course, while the AWD helped it claw its way out more quickly, carrying a 4-5 mph advantage on the Model S at corner exits. This added up to a scant 0.2-second advantage (24.6 to 24.8) with a tie in overall average lat/long g at 0.80. Again, unimaginably close performance for such disparate vehicle types. Let's give the advantage to BMW, by the slimmest of margins.
Driving DynamicsWriggle down into the i8's thin-shell but supportive driver seat (if you're reading car magazines you're already too big for its rear seats), pull down the door, and buckle the KLM-blue seat belt. The outré cockpit design, low seating position, and the surprisingly sonorous thrum (thanks partly to electronic enhancement) from the turbo-triple behind will have you expecting something special.
Pop the gear lever down into Drive, then left to engage the Sport mode (turning the gauges orange and swapping the power-use meter for a proper tach), and hit the gas. Any fears that this car shares its i3 sibling's lack of driving verve are quickly laid to rest. The i8 is BMW's affordable alternative to the Porsche 918, McLaren P1, or Ferrari LaDitto, returning a considerably higher percentage of those cars' performance than the purchase-price ratio predicts.
Senior editor Lieberman gushed, "I love the effect that super-rigid carbon-fiber tubs have on a car's steering. Think McLaren 650S, Alfa Romeo 4C, and even the super high-miler Volkswagen XL1. Slop is simply reduced. In terms of steering feel and accuracy, the i8 is as good as most sports cars." The low center of gravity, low mass, and near-perfect 49/51 percent front/rear weight distribution give the i8 exotic sports-car handling, with—thanks again to the ultra-rigid chassis -- little or no cost to ride quality. Bumps are absorbed with an uncanny suppleness. In fact, most of us drove the car at length before studying the performance figures and were somewhat shocked to discover what big numbers this calm, cool, collected car puts down.
The Tesla won its 2013 COTY calipers at least as much on the strength of its driving dynamics as it did on its innovation and green cred, and we continue to be impressed by its better-than-BMW-M5 braking, handling, and 0-60 performance. The Model S P85+ equipped with all the Sport kit makes less of a secret of its performance, with its immense launch torque serving as its supersedan bona fides. But when you climb up out of an i8 and slide into the Tesla, it's bound to feel "gigantic. Like a motorhome," as Lieberman put it, adding, "The steering feels relatively numb." Detroit editor Scott Burgess concurred, saying the Model S "feels top heavy" by comparison. Brake feel on the Tesla was judged superior to the i8's, largely because there's no regen from the pedal. (All of that happens when you lift off the accelerator.)
But some of the Tesla's handling prowess is earned by its low-profile 21-inch PS2 tires, which degrade the ride on lumpy surfaces to "rough and rocky," as Lieberman characterized it. Finally -- and not that most folks will ever care -- while the i8 was able to survive two hot laps of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Randy Pobst at the helm before the battery assist (and hence AWD corner-exiting prowess) was gone, a previous Tesla's electrical system overheated before the end of one lap, diminishing power. Here the i8 scores a larger victory.
To Live WithYou can't reach all your destinations via Mulholland Drive or the Tail of the Dragon, and on straight, flat, traffic-choked roads, that rigid carbon-fiber Life Module transmits a whole lotta road noise, making the Model S interior sound like the Vatican library by comparison. The Tesla's $2500 Ultra High Fidelity sound system playing content sourced from your personal devices or directly from the Internet via that gorgeous jumbotron iPad make this the place to be. Make sure to take a long test-sit in those $2500 performance seats, however, as Burgess found them far less comfy than the i8's base chairs. We all found the rear seat cushion to be a bit low. The electric A/C on both cars needs to be set about 5 degrees cooler to achieve the same level of comfort as in a global-warmer mobile, but skipping the $2500 panoramic sunroof will help, as it offers no sunshade of any sort. We also wonder why, with all those electrons onboard, the Tesla offers no 115-volt outlet and no 12-volt or USB ports in the back seat.
There is, of course, no contest between these cars on the utility front. While the Model S could do with some door cubbies or console bins (there are none), it boasts almost 33 cubic-feet of combined front and rear luggage capacity, whereas the i8 struggles to accommodate a single roll-aboard suitcase in its piping hot 4.7-cubic-foot trunk. Then again, filling the 26.2-cubic-foot rear seat with duffel bags might even the score if you only ever transport one co-pilot. While we were topping off the Tesla at the Supercharger in Gilroy, California, the gathered Teslaphiles laughed at the i8's minuscule trunk. Tesla takes this category running away.
Green CredStyle and dynamics will undoubtedly sell some of these cars, but their greenness will be a prime motivator for many buyers. There can be no argument that the Tesla, rated at 88/90/89 mpg-equivalent by the EPA, with a 265-mile electric range, still trumps all comers -- especially for the majority of owners who can use the growing Supercharger network to assuage their range anxiety. By comparison, the i8 looks to be about half as efficient. Yes, the estimated European combined mpg-e rating is 94 mpg, but the far more realistic EPA ratings are still pending, and our preliminary Real MPG results point to a 41.9/49.6/45.0 for city/highway/combined. Also note that the claimed 23-mile plug-in range only holds up for very gentle driving, as the engine fires if you probe the bottom half of the accelerator's travel. Hoon it around in Sport mode and the computer's average mpg readout will be in the teens, and you'll probably be stopping to fill the 11.1-gallon tank before the Tesla needs to plug in. Then again, using Europe's NEDC fuel economy test regimen as a basis, Britain's Next Green Car ranks the Tesla ahead of the i8 on its overall Green Car Rating, at 36 to 40 (0 is perfect). Tesla decisively wins this category.
Bottom LineForward thinkers living near a Tesla retailer and near the existing or proposed Supercharger network should buy the Tesla first. Pass on the sport seats and pano-roof, banking the savings as seed money for your delayed i8 purchase. The BMW is more fun to drive; it'll turn more heads, and you can drive it from Prudhoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego. But Lieberman summarized our findings this way: "Do I like the i8 better than the Model S? Yes. Am I as blown away by it as I was by the Model S? No. As nifty as the i8 is, the real revolution is the Tesla Model S."
1st Place: Tesla Model S P85+Still an outta-the-park, green-car home-run capable of wowing 4-6 passengers at a time.
2nd Place: BMW I8The Earth-firster's guilty electric pleasure -- a ball to drive, if you can ignore the trip computer's low mpg rating.
Cadillac ELR: The Cheaper (Kinda) Electric OptionThere's another option in the electrified luxury coupe segment, and it's half the price of the Bimmer. Yes, yes, Cadillac's ELR is at heart a luxurious, two-door version of the Chevrolet Volt. I ask you, so what? Obviously, the market agrees with you, as the fine-driving ELR is simply not selling. As of mid-June, Cadillac had moved 578 units. To which I say, pity. The svelte Caddy is a very nice alternative to the BMW i8 and a loaded Tesla Model S, at just over half the price.
Price. Right. Cadillac is asking $75,995 for the ELR. For that not insignificant amount of scratch you get 37 miles of electric range, and a gasoline-powered range extender good for another 300 miles, give or take. (Though of course above 70 mph with an empty battery the ELR -- like the Volt -- becomes a hybrid, as does the i8.) The i8 gives you less than half that range -- BMW claims 23 miles of no-gas driving, but lead-foot the accelerator and the engine lights, unlike with the ELR).
The ELR is high on design. Good, solid, luxurious design. From the outside, the electrified Cadillac offers a handsome take on the third go-'round of the brand's Art & Science styling. Like the also handsome and also FWD-based XTS, the ELR is severely cab-forward, though much more like the glory days of Tom Gale's stewardship of Chrysler design than, say, the current Toyota Corolla. It's a striking coupe. It's also quite lavish on the inside, with a nice mix of leather, wood, and hi-tech. If you haven't been paying attention, Cadillac's interiors have made leaps and bounds lately. Too bad about CUE…
What you certainly do not get is performance. Though of course that's the reason it's so "cheap." (At least compared to the Model S and the i8.) Zero to 60 mph happens in a leisurely (and Volt-like) 7.8 seconds and the quarter mile takes (yawn) 16.2 seconds at a ho-hum 87.0 mph. The ELR's big battery (16.5 kW-hr, more than twice the size of the i8's) weighs it down to the tune of 4036 pounds. Sixty-one percent of that weight is over the front wheels, so it doesn't handle all that well (especially comparatively), either.
Still, thrilling back-road performance was nowhere in the engineers' thoughts when they laid down the ELR. Efficiency, style, and luxury were, however. On the strength of those three attributes, the Cadillac ELR scores. -- Jonny Lieberman
|2014 Cadillac ELR|
|Price as Tested||$80,680|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|Engine||1.4L/84-hp /92-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 , plus 217-hp/295-lb-ft front electric motors|
|Transmission||Cont. variable auto|
|Curb Weight (f/r dist)||4036 lb (61/39%)|
|Length xWidth x Height||186.0 x 72.7 x 55.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|Quarter Mile||16.2 sec @ 87.0 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||111 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||27.1 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ||31/35/33 mpg, 82 mpg-e|
|Energy Cons., City/Hwy||109/96 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 Emissions||0.59 lb/mile|
|Tesla Model S P85+||BMW i8|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Rear-motor, RWD||Mid-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||-||Turbocharged I-3, alum block/head plus AC electric motors|
|VALVETRAIN||-||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||-||91.4 cu in/1497cc|
|MOTOR TYPE||AC induction||AC induction|
|BATTERY TYPE||85 kW-hr Lithium-ion||7.1 kW-hr Lithium-ion|
|POWER (SAE NET)||416 hp @ 5000 rpm||228 (gas)/129 (elec)/362 (comb) hp|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||443 lb-ft @ 0 rpm||236 (gas)/184 (elec) lb-ft|
|REDLINE||16,000 rpm||6500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||11.1 lb/hp||9.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||1-speed automatic||6-sp auto (gas, rr wheels), 2-sp auto (elec, fr wheels)|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, air springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, air springs, anti-roll bar||Multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||14.0-in vented disc; 14.4-in vented disc, ABS||13.4-in vented, drilled disc; 13.0-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 21-in, cast aluminum||7.0 x 20-in; 7.5 x 20, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/35R21 96Y; 265/35R21 101Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2||215/45R20 95W; 245/45R20 99W Bridgestone Potenza S001|
|WHEELBASE||116.5 in||110.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||65.4/66.9 in||64.7/67.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||196.0 x 77.3 x 56.5 in||184.9 x 76.5 x 50.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.0 ft||40.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4633 lb||3378 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||47/53%||49/51%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.8/35.3 in||38.7/32.4 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.7/35.4 in||43.1/28.2 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.7/55.0 in||56.7/49.6 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, F/R||5.3/26.3 cu ft||-/4.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.6 sec||1.5 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.8||1.8|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 108.4 mph||12.4 sec @ 112.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||102 ft||103 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.91 g (avg)||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.8 sec @ 0.80 g (avg)||24.6 sec @ 0.80 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||8400 rpm||1900 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$126,520||$138,650|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||-||11.1 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||88/90/89 mpg-e||Not yet rated|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||38/37 kW-hrs/100 miles||-|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile (at vehicle)||-|
|REAL MPG CITY/HWY/COMB||-||41.9/49.6/45.0 mpg (preliminary)|
|CHARGE TIME, 240 V/80 AMPS||4 hrs (std range)/ 6 hrs (extended)||Less than 1 hour (est)|
|RANGE, EV/COMBINED||265/- mi (extended charge)||-/500 mi (est)|
|RECOMMENDED POWER SOURCE||240-volt electricity||Unleaded premium, 240-volt electricity|