avatarby Nick HallSeptember 17, 20160 comments

This is the clash of the environmental titans. It’s a collision of wildly opposing corporate cultures, design philosophy, just about everything. This, then, is the Mixed Martial Arts of green motoring. So who can land a knockout blow in the fight between Tesla Model S and BMW i8?

That’s just one of the things we love about this new tech war raging between the world’s biggest names. For decades the most radical approach you could find was a turbo, but now we have diametrically opposed concepts going head-to-head. It’s like the early days of Formula One and it’s tech freak’s nirvana.

Tesla grabbed the bull by the horns and went full electric, even though the world told them they just couldn’t, but stayed conservative with the design. BMW took the conservative path with a petrol-electric hybrid, but then went absolutely nuts in the styling department.

So when you put the Tesla Model S P100 D Ludicrous and the BMW i9 head-to-head, how do they stack up? Let’s find out.

Tesla Model S P90D vs BMW i8

Tesla Model S P100D vs BMW i8: Design

There’s no getting round the fact that the BMW i8 is an epic looking thing and the Tesla Model S just isn’t.

BMW’s car looks like a concept that nobody put a stop to, because that’s exactly what it is. The Vision EfficientDynamics concept from 2009 basically made it through unscathed. That never, ever happens.

So we’ve got a car from a major manufacturer that looks like it escaped from the set of a science fiction movie. The i8 stops traffic wherever it goes. It doesn’t look right on the road, but it is a beautiful thing.

BMW i8 5

The two-tone colour scheme just accentuates some of the most radical curves and angles in the motoring world. The low-slung front end, sharp cut sides and that rear end are just so brave. It does look like it’s smuggling a Porsche 911 in an inappropriate place at the rear, but even that works. The i8 even has gullwing doors.

BMW i8 14

It also has fiendishly clever Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic and aluminium construction that keeps the weight to 3394lb. That’s still a lot for a sportscar, but not one with batteries.

Now the Tesla Model S looks like a mildly aggressive executive transport. It’s elegant, it’s curvaceous and it does everything right. The signature Fastback design works well with the facelifted and extra smooth front end. It’s muscular, too. Aggressive, flared arches and a Jaguar XK-esque rear give it real menace. It’s a great design.

Tesla Model S store

But in this company the Tesla Model S is the understated Hugo Boss suit, while BMW has gone all Italian. If the two cars swapped badges then the whole thing would make more sense. The i8 is exactly the kind of thing we’d expect from Silicon Valley while the Tesla could have rolled off the line in Munich.

It’s a strange juxtaposition. Both brands have been brave in their own special way, but BMW went for broke. We salute them for that.

Tesla Model S P100D vs BMW i8: Interior

The Tesla Model S interior is a peak into the future. The entire car is controlled from the touchscreen tablet and you can do more or less everything with it. You can trim the suspension settings for a more comfortable ride, you can drop the car into Valet Mode so the keen looking kid at the club can’t wreck your tires. You can even open the sunroof and browse the web.

Tesla Model S interior

It’s amazing really and the simple fact that there’s nothing else of note inside the car shouldn’t really detract from the experience.

But you need to go for a bold finish with the materials and colors. Do that and you’ll love the four proper seats for adults, the panoramic windscreen and everything that makes up the Tesla Model S P100D interior. Don’t and it just won’t feel special enough.

Tesla Model X Interior

The BMW i8 interior is much more like a traditional car, right down to the gear selector. The iDrive system is leagues better than the hot mess that BMW launched in 2001 and the dynamic digital cluster works like a charm.

BMW i8 1

The i8 interior is busier than the Tesla’s and it’s darker in there. You also have to contend with piped in engine noise through the stereo and the fact that the rear seats are just for kids or shopping.

Premium old school

It’s a personal choice but, in the right colorscheme and premium finish, the Tesla feels a step ahead of the i8.

Tesla Model S P100D vs BMW i8: Power

This is where the gloves come off and it’s a battle that’s going to get even more intriguing in the years ahead. BMW will eventually go all-electric with the i8 and use three separate motors spinning at 25,000rpm to produce more than 750bhp. That will be immense, but it’s tomorrow’s technology. Today, we have a clash of styles.

The i8 has two separate powerplants, an electric motor with a 7.1kWh battery linked to an 96kW (129bhp) motor that gives 37 miles of pure electric range up to 75mph. At that point, the 1.5-liter three-cylinder kicks in and gives the car all 357bhp and 420lb/ft of torque. Sounds good doesn’t it?

BMW i8: Everything you need to know

It is, the BMW i8 is a serious sportscar. It just happens to get smashed out of the park by the Tesla.

Yes, it’s all electric, but then the P100D equipped with the additional fuse and the Inconel battery connector squeezes more than 530 bhp out of two electric motors. It could have even more, in fact we kind of think it does. And Tesla claims it has cut the whole affair back in the name of sanity.

Then there’s the small matter of torque. There’s 713lb/ft of that and it’s all available off the line. That’s what has made the Model S P100D Ludicrous Mode 0-60mph time the stuff of legend. In terms of power, the Tesla reigns supreme here.

Tesla Model S vs BMW i8: Performance

Again, the Tesla doesn’t just win. This is a demolition.

The Tesla Model S P100D Ludicrous Mode 0-60mph time is 2.5s, the fastest of any car in production. It has also hit 100mph in under 7 seconds and powered through the quarter-mile under 10.8s, with a top speed of 155 mph.

A Ferrari 488 GTB is literally fractions faster the whole way through the low-down range and the Model S Ludicrous has famously left Italian supercars standing at the start of drag races. They tend to catch up and a rolling start gives a different result, but most street disputes are settled within seconds and the Tesla was almost made for the traffic light Grand Prix.

It tops out at 155mph, for no other reason than that is the socially responsible number that Tesla settled on. Without a limiter, it could go further.

The i8 is a fast car, but it just doesn’t stand a chance here. They’re playing a different game. The BMW i8 0-60mph time of 4.2s is perfectly respectable, good even, as is the quarter-mile time and speed of 12.1s and 116mph respectively in the hands of independent testers. But it’s just not in this game.

The Tesla blows the doors off the BMW here.

Tesla Model S vs BW i8: Economy and range

We’re wilfully comparing apples with oranges now, because a hybrid and an electric car just don’t really compare. Unless you cover less than 22 miles to work and back at a speed of less than 75mph, in Eco mode, which is just about feasible.

BMW i8 instruments

Keep within those strict limits and you never need to touch the internal combustion engine in the i8, you’ll glide on that electric motor. Drive like a real human being and BMW claims you’ll get 134.5mpg, although it only posts 76mpge figures. If you drive like a nun until you run out of juice and gas then you’ll get 370 miles down the road in Eco Pro mode.

Testers have generally achieved 40-60mph, which is still good for a performance car. But in this company it’s not even close…

The Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous Mode range is 270 miles, which should cover most commuters for a working week. It’s enough to get between Supercharger stations, or Destination chargers, in most parts of the developed world, too. Get there and your charge is free.

Tesla instruments

The infrastructure was the main thing holding Tesla back in the early days. That and range anxiety. Both have faded into insignificance.

Elon Musk has had to produce supercharger stations at an insane rate to keep the Tesla dream alive and plans to increase the number to 1200 stations and 7000 chargers across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region by the end of 2017. 15,000 Destination chargers should be in action by then.

So the Tesla storms the economy war, while the BMW edges the range. We’re going to throw BMW a bone here and give this one to the i8.

Tesla Model S vs BMW i8: Practicality

There’s still no getting away from the fact that Tesla owners have to think about recharging and it’s more complex than just pulling in for gas. With the range increasing and the number of charging stations going through the roof, though, that thought has become increasingly fleeting.

BMW has already started work on a full-electric i8 that should give a much better account for itself in the next head-to-head. That’s as close as we’ll get to a tacit admission that we’ve hit the tipping point and an electric car works in the real world.

The i8 holds the edge because you’ll find gas stations wherever you go and with no Supercharger station you could be forced to hole up for the night while your Tesla recharges at a Destination charger. But that just doesn’t happen as much anymore and the advantage is diminishing by the day.

Tesla Model S vs BMW i8: Self driving tech

Maybe it’s a little cruel putting this one in here, but these are both examples of bleeding edge technology and it would be equally unfair on the Tesla to leave it out. Autopilot is far from perfect, but it is a major bonus. It will hold your lane on the highway, take over the controls in stop-start traffic and park for you.

BMW revealed a self-driving i8 at CES 2016, but that’s a world away from reality. It has the cars, it can do it and it already has test cars on the Autobahn taking care of business. But BMW doesn’t have Tesla’s gung-ho attitude and it just won’t let you have the car until it’s perfect. Parking Assist is here, but that’s it.

It may be the right way to do things, especially for a giant corporation like BMW. But the Tesla Model S Autopilot is pretty slick and you can have it today. That counts.

Tesla Model S P90D

Tesla Model S vs BMW i8: Price

In this company, the BMW looks plain overpriced at $141, 695. The Tesla with the full Ludicrous Mode costs $134,500, but you could easily match the BMW’s performance with the much cheaper Tesla Model S 100D.

BMW i8 profile

Then you have to factor fuel into the equation and the whole comparison gets horribly lopsided.

The Tesla runs away with this one.

Conclusion

The BMW i8 is an incredible car and it’s one we’d be happy to find on our driveway. It’s modern, it’s fresh and it offers a unique solution to the dual problems of rising gas prices and an incomplete electric infrastructure. It renders a good number of sportscars utterly obsolete, it looks like a million bucks and it has been lauded by the motoring press. Rightly so.

But then you put it next to the Model S P90D Ludicrous Mode. The Tesla shines a light on the BMW and exposes it as a halfway house. BMW has virtually admitted as much by starting work on an all-electric i8 replacement that won’t get here until 2021. The Tesla is here right now.

Elon Musk took the mother of all gambles by developing a car before the infrastructure was even close and Tesla has had to produce the charging stations to make sure his product didn’t die on the vine. It’s an incredible achievement and Tesla’s own work is the only reason that BMW’s bleeding edge tech just doesn’t seem so impressive anymore.

The BMW looks like it’s from the future, but the technology under the skin simply does not live up to the promise. That’s a sign of how fast the EV world is moving and it’s also a clear indication of just how far Tesla moved the goalposts.

The BMW was a leap into the future. By the time it landed, it was already in second place.

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