Will the BMW i8 Rival the Tesla S?

Luxury alternative fuel cars such as the Tesla S are rapidly gaining in popularity. As a matter of fact, Tesla is setting the standard for electric luxury cars. Any new entrants to the category are instantly judged against the popular Tesla S – and the new BMW i8 is no exception. The problem with such a comparison is that these two vehicles aren’t exactly in the same category, so why compare them?

Why the BMW i8 and Tesla S aren’t the same car

Mechanical differences in Tesla S and BMW i8

The biggest difference is that the Tesla Model S is an all-electric car. It doesn’t have a combustion engine. The BMW i8, however, uses a battery to power the electrically-driven front wheels while a supercharged inline 3-cylinder gas engine powers the rear wheels. The car can be driven in all electric mode at a top speed of 75 mph for up to 22 miles. The BMW i8 also brings with it the advanced engineering we’ve come to expect from BMW. As far as features, it’s too early to say on the i8 since it isn’t due to hit the US market until 2015, but judging from the production prototype, it will be far from sparse on features.

Two confused carsbmi i8 test drive

The available features of each of the two cars is the second point at which we expect the Tesla Model S to differ from the BMW i8. While the Tesla is currently outselling Land Rovers and Porches in California, it’s home state and home of its main production facility, it isn’t as extravagantly equipped as high end luxury vehicles such as BMW or Mercedes.  This is potentially a defining point of contrast since the Tesla S, which is being hailed as an electric luxury car, may actually be an electric sports car.

Even crazier, the BMW i8 has been claiming to be in the supercar category which is generally reserved for sports cars like Lamborghinis or Ferraris. The BMW is closer to a luxury car than the Tesla S is. Don’t believe us? The Tesla S has 416 horsepower compared to the i8’s 362 horsepower.  The i8 is, however, hits 0 to 60 1.1 seconds faster than the Tesla S. As a final point of confusion, the BMW is a two-door roadster while the Tesla S is a four-door sedan, which means we have a luxury roadster that thinks it’s a supercar and a sport sedan that everyone thinks is a luxury car.

Compare Tesla SThe bottom line on competition

What all of the confusion amounts to is that the BMW i8 and the Tesla Model S aren’t going to be competing with each other. They are two different cars designed for two different (but similar) demographics and two different driving purposes – but that’s not what the media would have you believe. This appears to underline a widespread misconception that high-end electric (or alternative fuel) cars all belong to a single category, which isn’t exactly the case. A more efficient way of comparing and grouping these new vehicles would be to continue the trend of treating them as a subset of the regular models. For example, an all-electric Ford Focus would belong to the same category as the gas-powered Ford Focus, but would be treated as a different trim level. It’s the best way to create a real apples-to-apples comparison.

Speaking of comparisons

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