New BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3: interiors

Hammer and tongs, tooth and nail; the rivalry between these musclebound electric cars will be seriously hard fought...

New BMW i4 interior

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

Both cars have pedals that line up neatly with the seat and steering wheel, but the BMW i4 places you much closer to the road than you are in the Tesla Model 3. That fact, combined with a driver’s seat that has significantly better side support than the church pews you get in the Model 3, means that the i4 not only feels more like a traditional performance car from behind the wheel, but is also much less tiring to drive quickly. In the Model 3, you actually have to brace yourself against the door or centre console to keep from sliding out of the seat in fast corners.

Finding your ideal driving position is more of a challenge in the Model 3, too. From adjusting the door mirrors to tweaking the reach and height of the steering wheel, you have to delve into the massive (15.0in) central touchscreen while twiddling with the scroll buttons on the steering wheel. It’s a frustrating process and not advisable while driving. That’s why we prefer the more conventional layout in the i4, with physical buttons to adjust the mirrors, steering wheel and digital instruments, placed exactly where you’d find them in the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé on which it’s based.

Tesla Model 3 interior

The i4 also benefits from sharing the 4 Series Gran Coupé’s crisp and easy-to-read 12.3in digital instrument panel and has a configurable head-up display projected onto the windscreen, to ensure that key information is always in your line of sight. That’s not the case in the Model 3, where all of your information, including your speed and navigation instructions, is displayed on the central screen. Mercifully, Tesla has placed the speed readout in the top right-hand corner of the screen so you don’t have to tilt your head too far to read it, but it’s still not ideal.

The i4 also has the edge when it comes to interior quality. Following its facelift last year, the Model 3 may feel more robust than earlier models, but the German car uses a more premium mix of materials; the ‘vegan’ leather seats in the Model 3, for example, don’t feel as plush as the real leather seats in the i4, and some of the trim panel gaps are a little inconsistent. There is no arguing, however, that the Model 3’s minimalist design will appeal to a large number of buyers.

Infotainment systems

BMW i4

New BMW i4 infotainment

With multi-layered menus, this latest iDrive system isn’t quite as intuitive as the one it replaces, but it’s still the best system around. It’s quick to respond to inputs, has pin-sharp graphics and its physical rotary controller makes it a breeze to use on the move. Unlike the Model 3, the i4 gives you smartphone mirroring so you can use your phone’s apps via the central screen, and the 17-speaker Harman Kardon stereo sounds beautifully balanced.

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 infotainment

The Model 3’s infotainment system doesn’t provide any physical controls; everything is controlled through the huge 15.0in touchscreen, making it more distracting to use while driving. However, the menus are more intuitive to navigate than the multi-layered ones in the i4, and the screen is sharp and bright. There are neat features, such as Netflix streaming and video games, too – perfect for entertainment while the car is charging.

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