Skip to content

Model 3 vs BMW 3

Reviewed by an owner of both. Most will apply to Sri Lanka as well, although our travel distances are so low compared to the rest of the world.

In fact we drove both on Sri Lankan roads, not only even the Mercedes C200 in different instances. Tesla Model 3 was the winner in our sort of context too, with so undisciplined traffic and curvy roads.

Lets read him………

I posted this over on the UK f30 forum (f30 is the just-recently-replaced 3-series). I thought some of you here might be interested in it too…

I promised over on another thread to give you all a write up on the Model 3 that I’ve just received.

I tried to do the usual quick review, but the problem is that comparing a BMW 3-series to a Tesla Model 3 is not an easy comparison. They are quite different cars and a simple A/B comparison really doesn’t work. The problem is that the BMW is, IMHO, the high water mark of the affordable, quality ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car; whilst the Model 3 is the first, quality EV that gets close to doing what a BMW does for most of us.

So, I’ve ended up writing an epic – sorry. Read on if you want…

My love affair with BMW

I’ve had a BMW since 2006. The list has been: e46 330d coupe, f11 530d estate, f31 330d estate, and f31 335i estate. I’ve been very happy with the brand. The dealerships are excellent overall; the cars are a fantastic blend of price, features, performance, quality and style; the service network is first rate; and I’ve never been let down by any of the cars I’ve owned. I came from a succession of Audis and my wife has a VW Golf that she loves, so I have a soft spot for VAG too. But I never contemplated going back to Audi after the 330Cd. Merc, Volvo, Jag etc never interested me. Their brands don’t match my own “branding” () and their cars never seemed to offer anything over a BMW. I thought I’d never leave BMW.

Tesla Insanity

So, why the Tesla? As anyone who’s even casually looked into how Tesla operate, especially since the launch of the Model 3, the decision might be viewed as a bit insane. For your £50k you get the privilege of self-service on-line ordering only (like buying an iPhone); vague and unrealistic delivery dates; zero communication on order progress; chaotic and rushed handover; minimal PDI; questionable after-sales service based on “service centres” of which there are precisely 10 today in the UK (forget the idea of the local dealership); and to top it all, a service model that disempowers the customer via an app-centric request system that tries its best to prevent you talking to a real human.

And all that’s before you start getting spooked by endless stories of poor paint quality, bad panel alignment, leaking doors and boot lids, lights that fog up, and a long list of other complaints that even a brief scan of the various Tesla forums will reveal. Then if all that isn’t enough there’s range anxiety.

But EVs are the Future

If all that sounds pretty negative, then I concur. I cancelled one order before reversing my decision. But I stuck it out and actually I’m very glad I did.
The essential point is this – EVs are the future. Once you get your head around EVs you realise that the ICE is yesterday’s technology. After my first drive in a Tesla I got back into my 335i and my immediate thought was “wow – all this noise, vibration, fumes, gear-changing, turbo lag, heat, torque converter slip, etc etc is just sooooo clunky”. An electric drivetrain gives instant torque and power, is near silent, is way more efficient, and it’s an order of magnitude less complex mechanically. If you were to invent the car today and had access to current battery and charging technology, deciding to build an ICE car wouldn’t even enter your head. And this is before you look at the environmental benefits.

The Environmental Argument

I’m no eco freak, but I’ve got a science background and am totally convinced by the global warming hypothesis. I’m equally convinced that air quality is a massive hidden health issue in nearly all our towns and cities. If you believe those two points, then it’s hard not to look to EVs. EVs reduce tailpipe emissions to zero and that’s a big deal for air quality. Particulates are a massive contributor to a range of health issues. And beyond the tailpipe, there’s the CO2 emissions. Some people will try to convince you that the life-time CO2 costs of EVs are no better than ICE cars. But actually, every properly-conducted study shows that this is just plain wrong. If you look at total CO2 use over a car’s lifetime – so including the energy needed to produce the raw materials, manufacture the car, produce the car’s fuel, and finally to dispose of it – EVs typically consume a quarter or less of the CO2 compared to ICE cars. That’s a long way from zero emissions, but it’s a massive step nonetheless.

Convinced by the EV Drivetrain

So, I’m now personally convinced by the EV drivetrain – for reasons of driveability, maintenance costs, and environmental impact. It also makes economic sense. BIK from April will be 0% and there’s also a scheme to use a salary sacrifice if you don’t run a company-provided car. In Scotland there’s a £30k interest-free loan and if Jezzer gets into power, we’ll have the same in England and Wales. Then in terms of running costs, an EV beats the pants off an ICE. If you charge at home, fuel costs are as low as a tenth of a car like the 335i. Even with a mix of home and public charging, it’ll still be much, much cheaper than petrol or diesel. And with a much simpler mechanical design service costs are much lower too.

The Tesla Charging Network is as Important as the Cars

Wanting an EV doesn’t immediately lead to wanting to buy a Tesla though – there are, after all, plenty of other EVs out there. That true, but all aside Tesla have a massive disadvantage – a completely dysfunctional public charging network. I can’t even begin to describe the mess we’re in. We’ve got about 50 independent operators out there, many requiring you to have an account and access card, some needing a monthly subscription. Then the reliability is diabolical. It’s fairly common to arrive at a charger and find that it’s not working.

The good news is that these problems are gradually being shaken out – with new entrants such as Ionity (a JV between BMW, Ford, Merc Benz and VAG) pushing things along. Hopefully, that’ll force some of the current crappy operators like Ecotricity to either measure up or give up.

In the meantime though, Tesla’s charging network remains the only viable solution if you want an EV as a replacement vehicle that does more than potter around within its range from your house. So, as of Oct 2019, the iPace, eTron, Mercedes EQC, etc are marginal at best as ICE car replacements. The range and charging infrastructure just isn’t there yet.

If you want more than a local runabout, it has to be a Tesla

If you’re still with me, you can see that if you want an EV today that can do sensible distances, Tesla is really the only option. But it shouldn’t be viewed as a Hobson’s choice purchase. Any current Tesla has a lot more going for it than just “the only viable EV available today”. The Model 3 in particular is actually a great car in its own right. It’s fast, comfortable, drives well, is loaded with tech, and pretty desirable as a brand and a vehicle.

What’s not to like? Well, there’s all the things I listed at the start. Tesla’s service model is clearly trying to disrupt, but my own view is that they’ve gone too far. I can’t think of anyone who’s bought a Model 3 who is anything but critical of the whole purchase, delivery and after-sales service model. Frankly it stinks and if the established players ever get round to building a competitive car and have the charging network to support it, then they’ll eat Tesla for breakfast. This is clearly a long-term concern if you’re buying into the brand. However, the success of the Model 3 (I reckon it’ll be the UK’s top-selling car in Sept 2019), clearly shows that the right product will attract the buyers. We are at a tipping point in EV sales.

Some BMW 3 / Tesla Model Comparisons

So, to the specifics – how does a Model 3 compare to an f31 BMW 335i? Well, here goes…

– The BMW is better built, has a better quality interior, a better service model from pre-sales to after-sales, and delivers an excellent overall ownership experience. But it’s old tech and once you’ve bitten off the EV tree, you’ll never go back. The current BMW range probably represents the high summit of the ICE art. You could say that it’s its swansong.

– In the areas where BMW excel, the Tesla basically measures up as “good enough” – except for the service model where, frankly, you just need to grit your teeth and hope you don’t need to use it! This sounds overly negative I know, but it’s an honest assessment. It’s an expensive car but it doesn’t feel as premium inside as, say, the new G20. It’s certainly better than a Renault or a Nissan, but it’s not a BMW or an Audi. It’s not far behind, but it’s still behind. Sure there are interior things that the Model 3 delivers that are very nice – things like the huge glass roof and the stunningly-good sound system, so it’s actually a nice place to be – but I keep thinking that BMW would have done it better.

– However, the Tesla excels in areas where the BMW just can’t reach. I’m talking of the EV drivetrain with its refinement, instant torque and power; the tech (autopilot, “full” self-driving, big touch-screen UI, integrated streaming services, first-rate remote app support); and the running costs.

– The Tesla is not a driver’s car in the same way as a well-setup BMW is. It’s too heavy for that and the AWD nowhere near as playful as a nice RWD 3-series. But the track tests show that the Model Performance will best the BMW M3 in all categories – by quite a margin. Faster 0-60. Faster 0-100-0. Faster around a circuit. And it’s cheaper. Personally, I don’t do track days but if I did I think I’d prefer a nice E90 M3 with its delightful V8 engine.

– As a day-to-day car though – the Tesla is way more than good enough and in some areas is superior. The tech is better, it rides better, it’s quieter, the sound system is better and it’s more comfortable. It also pollutes less, is cheaper to run and just brings a few more smiles to the face.

– But what of the claimed Tesla Model 3 build quality issues? Spend more than a minute on the web and you’ll find a lot of complaints about paint and build quality issues. I was personally very concerned but in fact, the car I have is pretty good. The paint in general is fine (but I have pearlescent white which is excellent at hiding surface imperfections). There’s a little missing top-coat on the insides of the front wings in the door jambs, but it doesn’t bother me. Panel alignment is pretty good too. There’s a slight asymmetry in the front bumper fit, but it’s not much and again I can live with it. Maybe others wouldn’t – we all have our own OCD levels. Door and boot alignment is spot on, as is the glazing. There’s certainly nothing on my car that would get most people worked up about. However, as I said above, I’m pretty sure that a BMW would be just that little bit better. Neither would be perfect – they’re both mass-produced cars – but it’s clear to me that BMW have more experience and expertise in the art.

In Summary

In summary – I’m very happy to have made the switch. The car is definitely the first step on the road to the next generation and it makes any ICE car seem dated. I just wish that this was a BMW Model 3 EV – I’d be beating the door of the dealership down to buy it!

And in fact, I think that BMW have, a bit late, realised this. I expect to see a Model 3 competitor from BMW by 2022 by which time the Ionity network will be in place and then we’ll see if Tesla can continue to succeed. They’ll have to up their game significantly on their service offering and build quality to survive. But right now they have 2-3 years lead on any EV competitor.

So, as of Oct 2019, if you want a quality EV car that will replace your 3-series, then get a Tesla Model 3.

And finally, the obligatory pickup shot:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *