New Nissan Leaf vs used BMW i3: which is best?
Should you join the electric revolution with a new Nissan Leaf, or do you play it safe with a used range-extender BMW i3? Read our review to find out...
There’s a lot to like about an electric car: the silence, the lack of tailpipe emissions and the ease of use, for example. They make perfect sense for people in urban areas who routinely make short trips. And the number of electric car chargers is growing all the time, allowing you to effectively fill your car up while you're shopping or at work.
However, there's still a significant proportion of the population that needs to travel farther, perhaps because they have a long commute. They’d like to get in on the electric revolution but are prohibited from doing so because the older, used electric cars they can afford to buy barely have a range of more than 100 miles in good weather and drop significantly below that figure in winter. Fortunately, there are some range-extenders on the market. These are predominantly electric cars but also have a small engine that generates power when the batteries are depleted. Of the range-extenders you can choose from, it's the BMW i3 that's at the top of the list, thanks to its claimed range of 125 miles range and 80 petrol-generated miles on top of that.
So, the question is whether you should go for a new Nissan Leaf with its acceptable range or hedge your bets with a used BMW i3 and its petrol back-up. Read on to find out.
Nissan Leaf N-Connecta List Price: £31,390 Target price: £25,637 Official fuel economy: N/A mpg Emissions: N/A g/km CO2 Power: 148bhp 0-60mph: 8.2sec Top speed: 89mph
BMW i3 Range Extender Price new: £33,070 Price today: £25,500* Official fuel economy: 470.8mpg Emissions: 13g/km CO2 Power: 168bhp 0-60mph: 7.2sec Top speed: 93mph
*Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and a full service history*
New Nissan Leaf vs used BMW i3 – interior & equipment
These two are like chalk and cheese: the Leaf is very ordinary inside, with buttons and knobs in all the expected places and a layout that’s hardly revolutionary. If you’d just got in it from a regular petrol or diesel car, you'd be none the wiser that there is something drastically different about the way this car is powered.
The i3 is the complete antithesis of this and has fully embraced the EV change by throwing out most interior design conventions. There are no dials to be seen, rather two digital displays and minimal buttons. The screen in front of the driver displays speed and range information, while the other is positioned in the centre and deals with the infotainment system. This comes in two different sizes: 6.5in or 10.2in. The latter unit comes as part of the Professional Media pack, which, provided you have a BMW Connected Drive account, unlocks greater functionality, such as real-time traffic data. BMW's iDrive is one of the best infotainment systems around and really intuitive to use. It’s just a shame that, given how futuristic things look inside the i3, you can’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, which are standard on the Leaf.
Also standard on the Leaf in our recommended N-Connecta trim are adaptive cruise control, heated front seats and steering wheel, automatic lights and wipers, power-folding mirrors and keyless entry. The safety roster impresses, too, with automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and blindspot monitoring. There’s even a rear-view camera to help out when you're parking, too.
You do get climate control, sat-nav and rear parking sensors on the i3, but most of what’s standard on the Leaf is an option here – even the safety tech, disappointingly. The Leaf is therefore better equipped and the safer option.
New Nissan Leaf vs used BMW i3 – space & practicality
You sit nice and high in the i3, and the relatively thin front window pillars afford the driver a good view out. The interior feels nice and open, thanks to the lack of a traditional centre console, and the gear selector is mounted to the steering column instead of between the front seats, further freeing up space. There’s plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat, although the fact that there’s no adjustable lumbar support in the i3 will be an issue for some drivers.
Switching over to the new Leaf, you’ll find things to be much more conventional. The seating position is still higher than you’ll find in a regular family hatchback, but apart from that, it’s all pretty normal. One notable flaw, though, is that there’s only height adjustment on the steering wheel, and not reach adjustment. So, you may find yourself either having to adopt an arms-outstretched driving position or sit closer to the wheel than you’d like.
However, when you move to the back seats, the balance swings towards the Leaf. Rear passengers have much more space in which to stretch out, and access is granted via two conventional doors that open nice and wide. The i3 has cool-looking rear-hinged doors, but it’s hindered by the need to open the front ones first before you can open the rears. The floor in the i3 is much higher and the door sills are quite wide, so it’s not as easy to get into. Rear leg space isn’t as generous as it is in the Leaf, and the lack of central pillar means that the rear pillars need to be thicker, making the i3 feel claustrophobic for those in the back. The only mark against this the Leaf is that taller rear passengers might find head room restrictive. The i3, despite its boxy outline, is only marginally better, though.
For boot space, the i3 once again trails the Leaf. We were able to fit only four of our carry on-sized suitcases into the rear of the i3, whereas the Leaf swallowed seven. The Leaf's boot has a sizeable loading lip, but there are a couple of handy nets either side of the luggage area to store your charging cables in. The i3's boot does at least have a wide opening and no loading lip.