Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3: long term test review

Update: April 2021


Ever since picking the car up in September 2019 (which seems like a lifetime ago and certainly a different world to that of today) I'd noticed that the granny charging lead had a slight burn mark on it when I tried it out for function one day. A few months afterwards, a recall message appeared in the BMW Connected app to get the lead replaced under warranty. I was in no immediate hurry to do this but scheduled the replacement appointment. When I arrived at BMW North Oxford, I was amused to see another i3 had turned up seconds before me, its owner on his way to reception with his granny cable tucked underarm. We had a brief socially distanced chat, which was enjoyable and it was nice to give vent to a shared overwhelming positivity about our i3 cars, and were both out the door shortly afterwards with our new, replacement cables.

During the easing of lockdown in late last summer (2020), we used the i3S for a drive out to Warburg

Nature Reserve near Henley-on-Thames, for a good, long walk. We didn't reckon on the state of the road to get there, though! The C road became a single carriageway, which deteriorated into a stony and rutted track more suited to a Land Rover than a weeny urban runabout. This quickly resulted in loud rattles starting in both front door tops that didn't stop for weeks afterwards. Sadly they returned intermittently in what I personally regard as a very negative example of BMW build quality. My car had been perfectly silent to that point, so another visit to BMW was booked under warranty.

I'm pleased to say that normal BMW silence has been restored to my mad little urban go-cart, with the proviso that I keep him away from the off-road adventuring! Lesson learnt. Mileage to date now stands at 7300.

Tesla Model 3 Performance

It has become apparent to us recently that Tesla ownership is a modern-day version of old school TVR ownership! You need patience, a ship-load of love for the brand and its mission statement, and a very forgiving nature! They are a toddler of a car company making its wobbly way into the world. I have to say it off the top: they really need to improve with the supply of spare parts and sharpen-up their communication skills. Quality control is the main thing, though. If they could focus more on building the car with care, then a huge amount of customers' time and inconvenience could be avoided; there's too much focus on quarterly production numbers, Mr. Musk! The list of interior and exterior trim issues was slowly but surely building up.

Chief among these annoyances was that the passenger seat rocked fractionally under acceleration and braking. It was another of those frustratingly intermittent things. Tesla had the car to sort this, but reported no problem. They were wrong! The rocking got worse over the next month such that it could easily be heard and felt. So the car went back again. Second time's the charm.

However, all was far from straightforward. What we thought was just a loose bolt was dramatically escalated by Tesla further up its internal echelons. With no detailed explanation given, we were in the dark. Alan was provided with a courtesy Tesla Model S 75D, which was a nice gesture, but I don't think he knew it was to be his ride for the next two-and-a-half months! After about a week Tesla reported back that one of the bolts that attach the seat runners to the floor had been "cross-threaded" in the locating bracket which is welded to the floor plate. The only safe way of repairing it was to replace the bolt, bracket and the floor plate, which meant dropping the battery for the necessary access. The repair work was to be done by a third-party Tesla approved bodyshop, and the good news according to Tesla was that it was covered by the warranty – too right as it was their error during the seat installation. The body shop needed a replacement part of the floor pan which isn't one of the run-of-the-mill parts that Tesla makes as a spare part. The whole process ground to a halt whilst everyone waited for Tesla in Fremont CA to make a batch of floor pan bits. Poor Alan's car sat at the bodyshop as it was deemed unsafe to use, under the threat of the cutting torch being taken to its bottom when the part turned up!

Every cloud has a silver lining and this one was a protracted opportunity to compare Model S with Model 3. Here's our combined impression 'twixt the two:

The S has an old-fashioned interior architecture which is reminiscent of sports cars like Aston Martins with regard to the scuttle/dashboard height combined with the low top windscreen rail. It's a real letterbox view forward compared to the 3, which gives the impression you can reach your hands forward and down to touch the road, in the same way as when sat in an old Porsche 911! Subjectively, the S has a nicer feeling steering wheel, due to the leather trim the loaner had – and the S had a heated steering wheel too, which was a boon during the winter months. Alan also found the dedicated wiper stalk more convenient. The S is, of course, more refined at speed given its increase in weight and wheelbase, and quieter too; the S seems to have better aerodynamics due to the lower roofline. Trunk space is greater in the bigger S, but that's to be expected, but the lack of door bins is a major oversight. In fact, it's plain stupid. Also, for the first two weeks the S was locked in chill mode, until without warning full fat mode was suddenly available. 

The 3 scores in the handling department, being some 400kg lighter and more modern. This cascades throughout more parameters, namely drivetrain efficiency, a more compact European feel to the chassis and a whole heap of extra performance gains outside of the fact his car is a Performance Model 3. Its visibility is superior, the regen better, the headlamps are more penetrative, the 3's seats were preferable to 'our' particular S loaner, the heater was streets ahead and the entertainment system was a world apart. Overall, we both preferred the styling of the 3 over the S, though other opinions are available.

Back to the repair saga. The body shop said they would take photographs of the work in progress, but despite asking several times for them, they're conspicuous by their absence so there's nothing to show you, dear reader. Once the floorpan bracket arrived the repair was affected in less than a day and Alan was very happy to have his car back. As the passenger seat tester, I can attest that the seat is now rock-solidly attached to the floor. Sadly, however, it wasn't long before another rattle appeared, this time in the front passenger door, so another visit to Tesla was in order. Tesla must've felt bad about another visit to them so soon after the last, as the loaner this time around was a black Model S P100D Ludicrous+... named 'Vader'. The Force was bloody incredible with that one, I can assure you! Unfortunately we only had Vader for 24 hours as the door rattle was quickly fixed being only due to some loose cables.

Despite having had a succession of annoying problems with the car, Alan is still smitten with his Model 3 Performance and has no plans to move it on. We tested the performance shortly after handing 'Vader' back to Tesla, and to be truthful, it subjectively didn't feel much slower in the 0-60 sprint. The mileage now sits at 17,000 and with all the debugging (and OTA updates) it's had, it's probably in better-than-new condition – and will soon be fitted with a Mountain Pass Performance comfort adjustable suspension system to give it the handling to match its massive performance and a better ride.

 Three definitely is still a magic number.   

Update: August 2020

Tesla Model 3 Performance

In what seems like an age ago due to 2020 turning into the Year of Hell, but which was only in fact the middle of January, my husband unhappily suffered a self-inflicted wound on his then four-month-old Tesla's flank. Storm Brendan was unleashing its full fury and combined with some utterly selfish and idiotic parking opposite our driveway, making access nigh-on impossible, plus it being dark and our lane  being very narrow... well, you’ve guessed it. Crunch. The leading edge of the offside rear wheel arch behind the passenger door took a hit against our gatepost. It didn't look any prettier the day after. Neither did the car...

Negotiations opened with the insurance company and their Tesla Approved body shop. And in true 2020 style, everything went a bit weird. Neither party knew what was going on; when asked, the insurers said the repair quote was approved and the body shop said they'd not heard from the insurer and were awaiting approval to progress the work. As a desperate measure, hubby let a mobile dent repair specialist try and pull out the damage, but to no avail. This went on until Covid-19 put everything on ice, leaving him no choice but to drive around in a new, but quite crinkled Model 3. Eventually, restrictions were eased and all parties were singing from the same hymn sheet so the car was dropped off at H. R. Owen Bodytechnics in Slough in early July. Given the calibre of exotic vehicles we saw in the body shop's compound, Hubby was more than happy for his pride and joy to be repaired by them.
The Tesla was collected on August 7 in glorious summer sunshine and looked totally fabulous in its glistening, pearlescent white hue. It even made the McLaren 720S parked next to it look a bit downbeat. Feel free to disagree, but you'd be wrong, of course!

Like a fine wine, the Tesla continues to improve with age – thanks to the constant stream of free OTA updates, and it now has some paint applied that is better than the Tesla factory paint shop could ever dream of achieving. Best amongst the recent software updates must be the rear facing side repeater cameras' field of view now displaying on the touchscreen when reverse is selected. Sentry Mode is improved by being a touch less sensitive and now indicates where in a recording
the triggering event happened with a red dot on the playback progress bar. An untried new toy is the variable torque split in Track Mode.

The car now has some 11,500-plus miles wound on over 10 months' ownership and all that's happened hardware-wise is the switch back to summer tyres and the 20 inch wheels plus a private number plate and much polishing.

Okay, you've read the pros, so here are the cons: a small rattle had appeared in the offside 'A' pillar trim shortly after collection and has been joined by another on the passenger side. Also the red and chrome underline on the rear badge that denotes 'Performance' status came off when it got caught in a cleaning mitt. That's about it.

The Tesla Model 3 Performance continues to both fulfil and exceed its brief. Can there be any higher praise than the fact that it is keeper. For life.

Update: August 2020


The newspaper headline here could read 'Mr. Reliable continues being completely reliable. Shock!' There's little to add, really. I continue to enjoy the car as much as I did when I picked it up 10 months ago. It's still as much fun in the twisties, still as much fun away from the lights whilst making the boy racers look silly. Who said I had to grow up?

 Since picking the car up late last summer I've managed to improve the car's GOM estimations for range at full charge. I am truly as anal about the care of my battery pack as I am about the oil levels in my 911s. On collection, the average mileage reading in Comfort Mode was about 124 miles, but now it's regularly 136 or so miles in hot weather. I have a suspicion the first owner never once fast charged his car in its first nine months' ownership. I haven't either, and this must be a sound explanation behind the negligible, if at all measurable battery degradation over 19 months' use at time of writing.

The BMW sits in my fleet with a brace of classic air-cooled 911s, but covers more than 95 per cent of my driving and I often wonder which Porsche would go to make way for a longer range EV. The BMW is staying, come-what-may as it can just about carry my drum kit, depending upon which layout I'm playing at the time. So what makes the Fantasy EV Garage Cut?
The original plan a while ago was to sell my Porsche 964 Carrera 4 and buy myself the new-fangled Tesla Model 3 Performance. It ticks all the boxes, but when push came to shove, I couldn't part with the 911. Husband Alan took the Tesla Model 3 P crown!

Tesla Model S/X weren't going to work for me due to the local rural road network. They're ironically too big in a world where I need carrying space.

The Jaguar I-PACE had me at launch; it's a stunning car to my eye with the caveat that Ian Callum's design only 'snaps' into place with the 22 inch wheels. The killer is the 100kW limit on charging and reliance on the public charging network and no matter how beautiful and for me, how practical it is it's a no from me.

The Kia e-Niro/Hyundai Kona don't do much for me, though both would tick most of the boxes. Again, it's the reliance on the still-fragile public charging network that puts me off, regardless of the fact that both those cars are so fabulously well engineered and efficient with their management of electrons that using public chargers is largely negated.

 The Audi e-tron is a big, full glass of no. My BMW i3S replaced an ageing Audi S4 Quattro Avant V8 that was the most unreliable car I've owned in 36 years of driving. The dealer network was similarly found wanting.

Nissan e-NV200? Van. And public charging. Enough said.
I think you can guess where this is going. I keep coming back to the Tesla Model 3 and/or Model Y at some time in the future

Update: January 2020

Tesla Model 3 Performance

Alan’s car has now clicked over 5000 miles in just over four months’ worth of commuting and weekend driving. So far, it has been the expected paragon of reliability, meeting all our expectations of EV motoring. There have been a couple of issues with the software, though; Alan, and many other Tesla drivers, weren’t enamoured with Tesla’s intermittent wiper system and its judgment over what constituted too much or too little rain on the windscreen before sweeping. The so-called ‘Deep Rain’ update has improved things quite a bit, but another update, the voice activation one, is still a cause of frustration combined with hilarity. It seems that a lot of it isn’t currently permitted for use in the UK and Europe. Can’t really grumble though; these things will improve and the car, as purchased last year, didn’t feature these ‘free’ upgrades!

Update: January 2020

BMW i3s

Kryten, my little Beemer, has almost nothing to report. Mileage is now 3500; nothing has gone wrong or fallen off – just worry-free, cheap motoring! Having said that, an event outside of BMW’s control did happen; just a couple of days before I took the car to BMW North Oxford for its scheduled first year inspection service, I had a warning flash up about tyre pressure in the nearside rear. Sure enough, it had gone down by 10psi, so I pumped it back up. Having had endless problems with porous wheels on my previous daily, the Audi S4, I didn’t really think too much about it. Pumping up tyres was almost a habit, though I was a bit surprised to be visited by this problem again. However, the next day, the BMW service technician found a massive screw in the tyre which rendered it beyond repair, so a replacement went on. Sadly, they didn’t have that tyre in stock at that moment, so I had two visits to the garage in one day in total some five and a half hours waiting in their plush reception. 

Overall, I was happy with the service I had from BMW Oxford and as the previous owner paid for this, and the next services, I will very happily go back there. I’ll spare the person’s blushes on the Service reception desk who asked if my car required any AdBlue by not identifying them!

Introduction: November 2019

My name is Gina Purcell and in September 2019 I replaced my 2004 Audi S4 V8 Avant Auto with a nine-month-old Approved Used BMW i3S with 1100 miles on the clock. My other half is Alan, and the day before we picked up my i3S from BMW Sytner Tamworth we were at Tesla’s Heathrow centre to pick up his brand new Tesla Model 3 Performance. Alan’s been using a 2002 Porsche Boxster S as his daily commuter since 2005, and with nearly 190,000 miles, it’s earned its retirement. The Tesla is Alan’s new commuter, as the i3S is my daily runabout and at the time of writing this I’m about two months and 1000 miles into the EV experience and he’s racked up 2500 miles in the same period.

And the BMW?

Sadly, there wasn’t enough in the kitty for two Tesla Model 3 Performance cars, so I’ve gone for something completely different. I’ve admired the quirky i3 as I’m as fascinated by clever engineering as I am by performance, and I think of the i3 as something McLaren might come up with as an eco-minded baby brother to accompany any of their range of carbon fibre constructed supercars. Think of Aston Martin and the role their re-badged Toyota IQ, aka the Cygnet, played to the rest of their range to lower their corporate emissions level.

That there’s a lightweight EV available to buy with an aluminium chassis mated to a carbon fibre reinforced plastic safety cage and roof, all clad in plastic body panels, with an interior that’s a riot of ecologically-based goodness and textural overload, just simply amazes me. It is rear engined and rear wheel drive, too, just like my old Porsche 911SC! The little i3S is also nearly as fast as my old 911 point-to-point in Sport Mode, which I wasn’t expecting.

What are they like from a drivers’ perspective?

Tesla Model 3 Performance:

We both assumed EV driving wouldn’t be all that different from driving the automatic Audi, but we were wrong. The instant torque of an EV means that you are always in the right gear for any given situation. Neither of us miss gearboxes and shifting, and EV driving is made for quick and safe overtaking.

The Model 3 reminds me of a nimbler version of my departed Audi S4, being a four-wheel-drive car with a long wheelbase and weighing in at over 1800kg. The Tesla feels as if it is part of the very surface it rides on, so tenaciously does it ooze a sense of grip without any discernible body roll, and this sensation is prevalent at any speed. Alan says the ride is actually better than his modified and expertly set up Porsche Boxster, which is itself a paragon of ride and handling quality. The steering feel has an alertness and sensitivity that matches the chassis’ willingness to turn. Unlike the Audi, it has that go-cart ability to feel quick-witted in its responses to inputs like a car half its weight and this is, I believe, as a result of the low centre of gravity and ideal weight distribution of its EV chassis.

Motoring journalists who know what they’re on about rave about the Model 3’s direct steering and darty feel. We can only concur; the handling is precise and sublime, the ride is amazing given the sports saloon suspension and the slingshot smoothness of the electro-magnetic powertrain is a force of nature… literally!

Interacting with the touch screen very quickly becomes second nature, and although it’s not exactly subtle in size, hanging off the dashboard, it is not at all distracting and I love having the satnav image supersized. In night mode the screen is similarly non-distracting, and all the information is actually clearer to see. I think a screen of this size and in this position in a car is as massive an innovation as the centre driving seat was in the McLaren F1. It’s also fun to enjoy the same 0-60mph time as that iconic hypercar, though driving it within the bounds of social acceptability is an exercise in superhuman restraint.

When letting the car do the driving, Alan has found that Tesla Autopilot can be a bit frisky on the motorway in the same way that Robert Llewellyn discovered on his first Fully Charged drive of the Model 3. Big lorries in the slow lane spook the Tesla! However, he’s managed to get the car to do three quarters of his commute on Autopilot, a route consisting of a mix of A and B class roads, which is quite an impressive feat. It’s weird to know that his car is talking to the Mothership in California and adding its experience to the mass of AI knowledge that feeds back to the whole Tesla fleet!

BMW i3S:

Though basically similar, the i3S is a light lemon sorbet after the stellar, five Michelin star, taster menu of the Model 3. For a start it’s 500kg lighter and rear-wheel drive, which translates to a little bit more feedback through the steering wheel and an even more nimble and nippy chassis, aided also by the i3’s shorter wheelbase. The first time I hustled it along quickly around a bend I felt as though the chassis was turning beneath me, followed by my body mass, as if myself and the car were scribing different radius arcs! Think of that 1970s toy, the Weeble, where the lighter top moves around more than the heavy bottom. I put this down once more to that extremely low, Weeble-like centre of gravity and the high seating position of the i3S, but once I gelled with the car’s handling I didn’t notice it any further.

With its short wheelbase and 20 inch wheels, the primary ride quality has been described as choppy and bumpy, but as someone who’s been driving short wheelbase, air-cooled Porsche 911s for nearly 30 years, it feels like home. The most significantly different thing about driving EVs is the one pedal driving, and it’s something both the Tesla and i3S are brilliant at with their strong regenerative braking. Some people say the regenerative braking is too powerful in the i3S, but I think it’s perfectly judged. It took a few miles to learn when to start feathering off the throttle or when to completely lift off, but now it feels as if I’ve been doing it all my life. Whereas I was all about wringing out the revs of my 3.0-litre flat-six Porsche 911, nowadays I’m all about getting that regen indicator to swing into charge. How times are changing!

What use do we put our EVs to?

Tesla Model 3 Performance:

Alan’s Model 3 is his daily commuter, but it was pressed immediately from new to a near-200 mile round trip so we could collect the i3S. The Tesla has also done a similar length journey to visit relatives, plus another 200-miler to drop my old Porsche off for some specialist work, together with two months’ worth of commuting. All this has been as faultless as you’d expect.

BMW i3S:

Being a mini SUV, my i3S has to carry the accoutrements of both my hobbies of playing drums and flying radio control model aircraft, as well as the weekly food shop and garden centre visits, roles which it carries out with aplomb. About a month before we ordered the Tesla, we were invited to a driving day organised by our new electricity provider, Octopus Energy. They had a Jaguar I-PACE, Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 to sample; sadly there wasn’t a Tesla to try, but the i3 interested me. It had one hurdle to jump – could it carry the longest case full of bits for my drum kit, which at four feet long is quite a bulky item. It passed the test. I can’t believe just how much carrying capacity the i3 has; it’s like one of those outdoor jackets that after a few wears you discover new pockets you didn’t know were there! The flat load floor with the rear seats folded down helps a lot, too, as do those rear suicide doors, which are a little slice of genius!

What was the buying experience like?

Tesla Model 3 Performance:

The Model 3 purchase was excruciating! When the online order was placed on June 8 (‘Order complete… Haha yes’, said the happy hedgehog – order a Tesla and see for yourself) the website said delivery would be July. Of course, that didn’t happen due to supply issues from America combined with a bulging order book and a seemingly random assignment of cars to owners, resulting in day one reservation holders not getting their cars before the ‘Johnny-come-latelies’  like us.

Trying to get hold of Tesla on the phone was a waste of time and it quickly transpired that their delivery system was an overloaded, understaffed omnishambles, to be polite. Ourselves, and many others, suddenly developed a deep interest in the shipping company websites, trying to second-guess if our cars were on the next boat, and where that boat was via GPS tracking. Prospective owners were even hacking the programming code of their online Tesla Accounts to see if they had been assigned a VIN. We got swept up in the madness, too. Anyway, after all the silliness, the car arrived in the UK when we were in the middle of a two week holiday. Once we had a delivery date things couldn’t have gone smoother, and we picked up the Model 3 from Tesla’s Heathrow hub the day after we got back. 

In Tesla’s defence, all the chaos came from them simply trying to clear their huge backlog of initial UK orders and I understand things are getting better with deliveries and waiting times are coming down. They’re a relatively small, new, niche car company that are overwhelmed with orders, busting a gut to serve up some of the best cars in the world, and deserve to be cut some slack. 

BMW i3S:

In contrast, buying the BMW was a cinch. We saw the car on BMW’s Approved Used listings, phoned up and bought it. The first owner paid over £41,000 for it (£38,000 after the Government grant) but it was on sale for £26,000. Yes, my car just got caught in the ‘Luxury Tax’ trap and I will have to pay £320 per year for the car’s first five years, but I don’t mind – I didn’t pay £12,000 for the privilege of driving the first 1100 miles.

Where do we charge up and what does it cost?

Before we bought the cars we did the groundwork of choosing an energy provider that had a good overnight tariff. All our research led to Octopus Energy for the provision and to Myenergi for one of their Zappi 2 7.5kW chargers. In the future, we’ll have some building work done to our house and add solar PV panels, and the Zappi will be able to divert solar power to car charging if we want. Being on a cheap rate tariff also means having a smart electricity meter installed, which is no bad thing. Buying and installing the Zappi would have cost £1000, but the UK Government grant halved this cost. A word of warning, though: if you have any charger installed under the grant and you fail to plug in after a few months, you may have to repay the £500 grant back! Try and get the charger fitted just before your car arrives.

Tesla Model 3 Performance:

So far all charging has been done at home and if we wish to venture farther away we’ll have the satisfaction of knowing there’s nowhere we can’t go because of the ever-evolving and expanding Tesla Supercharger network, and the Model 3 can use any CCS public charger. As we get into late Autumn and lower ambient temperatures, both cars’ ranges have been slightly clipped. Alan plugs his Model 3 in when he gets home from work and sets a charge limit of 80 per cent, so every morning he has an indicated range of 245 miles to cover a 60 mile round trip. As to costs, when commuting in his Porsche Boxster S he was spending £200 plus per month on petrol, but now that cost is about £25 in electricity.

BMW i3S:

The i3S is a homebody with its 94Ah pack providing about 140 miles of range in optimal conditions and it’s unlikely I’ll need to register with any third party charging providers… but never say never! In cooler temperatures the projected range is just over 100 miles in Eco Pro mode. When I was running the V8 Audi I was filling up roughly twice per month at £85 per tank. In two months I’ve spent about £30 in electricity as my charging is done in daytime. As with the Tesla, the i3 gets charged to 80 per cent and seldom, if ever, gets discharged to below 30 per cent.

And what about insurance?

Alan’s Model 3 insurance is £250 annually and my BMW i3S is £246. The Model 3 is exceptional in this comparison as, with an imminent OTA software update coming, its power will be increased by 5% to nearly 500bhp versus the fixed 184bhp of the i3S. The BMW is a tricky and expensive repair in a heavy accident, so the insurance is loaded accordingly

Log Book: Tesla Model 3

Date acquired: September 2019
Price when new: £62,790
Price when purchased: £59,290
Mileage when purchased: Delivery miles
Mileage now: 5750
Extra costs: £2000 (winter wheels/tyres & various accessories)
Depreciation: Glacial


Log Book: BMW i3s

Date acquired: September 2019
Price when new: £41,470
Price when purchased: £26,000
Mileage when purchased: 1165
Mileage now: 3500
Extra costs: £270 (new n/s/r tyre and BMW Frunk Bag)
Depreciation: Moderate

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