Whether you want to help the environment, or you’re sick of weekly stops at the gas station, an electric vehicle could be the solution. Electric cars are more available than ever thanks to technology advancements from innovative car makers and global demand for efficient options. Let’s take a look at the BMW i3 vs Nissan Leaf, two of the most efficient vehicles available in the US, to see which one comes out on top.
BMW i3 Overview (base)
Battery: 22 kWh 360 V Lithium-Ion
Range: Approx. 80-100 miles
Fuel Economy: 124 MPGe
MSRP: From $41,350
2015 BMW i3 Review
Many all-electric vehicles take a unique approach to exterior design, and the 2015 BMW i3 is no exception. The BMW i3 is a small, unique hatchback with modern styling cues. It features a tall roof, stubby nose, and a bubble-like presence. BMW is creating a design as futuristic as the technology under the hood.
The inside of the BMW i3 has a similar theme, with many swooping shapes and contrasting colors and textures. The interior panels are made of a renewable fiber called kenaf. The presentation of the interior is both modern and elegant. Rear hinged back seats add to the modern vehicle appearance.
The tall design creates ample headroom in both the front and rear seats. Rear seats only have enough leg room for small adults, while front seats will be comfortable for most adult drivers. This is impressive coming from a car that is shorter than the subcompact Honda Fit. Back seats fold down to create extra cargo space.
The BMW i3 isn’t as sporty as a typical BMW sedan, but it is surprisingly fast and agile compared to other all-electric options, with a 0-60 mph time of 7 seconds. Handling feels good, but the tall design does lead to a slight feel of body roll on tight turns.
The crown jewel of the BMW i3 is its efficiency. Currently, it’s the most efficient car sold in the USA. The i3 achieves 124 MPGe, meaning it uses the amount of energy found in one gallon of gas to drive 124 miles. This is simply one of the most efficient vehicles on the market. Depending on driving style, the battery charge will last for around 80 miles. For an extra cost, you can purchase a range extender, giving you extra distance between charges. Using BMW’s 240-volt Level 2 charger will give the i3 80% charge in about four hours. Using a standard 110-V household charger it will take nearly four times as long to charge.
The 2015 BMW i3 has not yet been crash tested, but it has all the standard safety features you would expect, along with optional Technology + Driver Assistance package. This package includes radar adaptive cruise control, BMW online, real-time traffic, and radar adaptive cruise control. You can also purchase the Parking Assistant package, which includes parking sensors, rearview camera, and parking assist.
This electric vehicle comes in three primary trims: Mega World, Giga World, and Tera World. Mega world, the base trim, provides a nice suite of features such as navigation, automatic climate control, and satellite radio. Upgrade to Giga World, you’ll receive Comfort Access proximity key, leather upholstery, and a universal garage door remote. With the top trim available, Tera World, you’ll receive dark brown leather upholstery and other eco-friendly interior materials. You can add either of the two packages mentioned above to any “world” for an extra cost; the Technology + Driver Assistance package and Parking Assistant package.
Nissan LEAF Overview (base)
Battery: 24 kWh 360 V lithium-ion
Range: Approx. 84 miles
Fuel Economy: 115 MPGe
2015 Nissan LEAF Review
The 2015 Nissan LEAF does what many electric cars do, breaks traditional vehicle design. On the outside, the LEAF is a small, bubbly hatchback with big eyes. The front features a small, low to the ground grill. Above that is the Nissan logo over the cover of the LEAFs plugin. Rear fenders bulge out of the vehicle, while 2 slim and tall tail lights line each side of the rear hatch. It is a design stuck somewhere between bold innovation and traditional styling cues.
Previous Nissan owners will see some familiar design features and some unexpected elements in the LEAF. A rectangular display in the middle of the dash will display electric-car related data such as energy usage and close recharging points. To put the LEAF in gear, you need to pull back and left on a small mouse-like knob sitting on the console. These vehicle functions are not difficult, but will take some getting used to. The overall presentation is attractive, and reflects the all-electric technology under the hood.
The quiet interior of the 2015 Nissan LEAF has plenty of seating room for a small vehicle, but passengers in the rear will sit with their knees higher than expected due to a battery pack under the floor pan. The hatchback design creates a spacious cargo area.
The silence of the LEAF’s battery will be shocking to those unfamiliar with driving electric vehicles. The LEAF is quiet, but still packs a decent punch with 187 lb-ft of torque. The steering and handling can feel very light-weight, which will disappoint those who appreciate the feedback of a sports car. Although quick in the city, the LEAF will lose much of its acceleration at highway speeds. As the battery level lowers, general performance levels will decrease.
With 115 MPGe and 84 miles per charge, this car will cost you much less per mile than a gasoline counterpart. The Nissan LEAF has an Eco mode that slows the engine and preserves battery power, but the speed reduction can be frustrating. The LEAF will charge in 8 hours with Nissan’s base charger and 4 hours with the 240-volt Nissan home charger.
The Nissan LEAF receives a 4-star rating from the NHTSA and received a “poor” rating in the difficult small-overlap front crash test done by the IIHS. Despite this, the LEAF is a relatively safe vehicle. Rearview cameras now comes standard. All the expected safety features are present. The Leaf also gives a distinct, whispery noise below around 20mph to warn pedestrians of the presence of the silent LEAF. Like a truck, but much quieter, the LEAF beeps while in reverse.
The base 2015 Nissan LEAF will feature Bluetooth, key fob, rearview camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated steering wheel, and heated front seats. Upgraded features include a faster charging options, leather seats, photovoltaic solar panel, navigation, a smartphone app that monitors charge levels, a tailgate air deflector, and more.
BMW i3 vs Nissan LEAF Winner:
Base model: BMW i3
The base Nissan LEAF is quite minimalistic, but the base i3 is generous in features and performance. Seldom does a vehicle offer navigation at the beginning, but BMW does. The base LEAF foregoes some essentials such as cruise control, which many will find unacceptable.
Upgrades: Nissan LEAF
The fully upgraded BMW i3, although beautiful and functional, is nearly double the price of the upgraded Nissan LEAF. Nissan offers an affordable electric vehicle with lots of tech in the top trim. The smart phone app connecting the LEAF to your phone makes monitoring its charge both easy and fun.
Overall winner: 2015 BMW i3
Although the LEAF is the affordable option, when comparing the BMW i3 vs Nissan LEAF, BMW provides a better package overall. The i3 has a more futuristic design, greater efficiency, and a more enjoyable driving experience. Those looking for a great electric vehicle at a lower price will appreciate the LEAF, but the 2015 BMW i3 comes out on top in this matchup.
Which all-electric vehicle is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below! Want to learn more about efficient vehicles? Take a look at the Chevrolet Volt vs. Toyota Prius Plug in.