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...

New Nissan Leaf

New Nissan Leaf vs used BMW i3 – driving


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The BMW i3 is by far the faster car. It has the most powerful electric motor, at 168bhp compared with the Leaf's 148bhp, and thus can get from 0-60 mph a second quicker.

It also feels remarkably agile for what is a fairly tall car that has been designed for urban driving. Grip is stronger than you’d expect of a car with such narrow tyres. However, the steering is perhaps a little too quick for its own good and isn’t the most communicative, so you often find yourself taking several bites at a corner. As a result of the requirement to make this tall car feel agile, BMW had to fit stiffer suspension, so the ride quality suffers, especially in town. Minor imperfections make their presence known, while mid-corner bumps at speed can make the i3 feel nervous and twitchy.

Nissan Leaf vs BMW i3 driving

The Leaf is positively serene by comparison, being very comfortable on the motorway and faster A-roads. It’s not quite as good at low speeds, but potholes and speed bumps are still dealt with in a respectable manner. It may be a second slower than the i3 to 60mph, but the Leaf is still faster than the rival Volkswagen e-Golf and has plenty of instant power to make for swift getaways from junctions and traffic lights.

Both cars employ regenerative braking, a system that works when you lift off the accelerator and generates energy when the car is slowing down to put a little bit of juice back into the battery. The Leaf has a much more aggressive regenerative setting called e-Pedal. When selected, this increases the regenerative force to such an extent that you barely have to use the brakes at all. You quickly get used to this and start looking further ahead in traffic to find opportunities to exploit its regeneration potential.    

 New Nissan Leaf vs used BMW i3 – costs


A facelifted i3 with a larger 94Ah battery demands a premium over a similarly aged 60Ah version. You can find some late 2016 90Ah i3s with less than 15,000 miles on the clock for about £22,000. We found a year old range-extender model that has only covered 3500 miles and comes with the desirable Professional Media pack for £25,500 – the same amount as the What Car? Target Price for a new Leaf N-Connecta.

That price looks particularly good in comparison to the i3's £31,390 list price, but that's due in most part to the £4500 electric car grant you get from the Government. The i3 also benefited from this grant, which is perhaps one of the reasons that its value has dropped so sharply. Mind you, it is predicted to hold its value slightly better than the Leaf, so it should be worth more when you come to sell it.

Both cars are exempt from road tax. The Leaf manages to avoid any first-year tax since it has no tailpipe emissions. The i3 may also be just as cheap to run as the Leaf if you keep it charged and don’t engage the engine. However, if you regularly require this, it’ll be no less expensive to run than a regular petrol-powered family car.

With regards to range, when we subjected both cars to our own range test, the Leaf achieved 108 miles and the i3 just 74 miles. Both tests were run without engaging either of the cars' Eco driving modes and with the air conditioning set to 21deg C. This sounds like the i3 is at a disadvantage, but remember that it has a nine-litre petrol tank that can be refilled in a matter of minutes. Recharging the battery in the Leaf to 80% will take 40 mins from a rapid charger (although it will accept this rate only once every 24 hours in order to protect the battery). It will take two hours from a 22kW fast charger or eight hours on a 7kW home charger to fully replenish the battery. The i3 will also take 40 minutes on a rapid charger to get an 80% charge, or, for a full charge, 1.5 hours on a 22kW fast charger and around five hours from a 7kW home charger.   

New Nissan Leaf vs Used BMW i3 driving

From new, the i3 came with a three-year unlimited mileage. The battery is covered under a separate policy for eight years and 100,000 miles and kicks in if the capacity of the battery drops below 70%. Since the example i3 we have chosen is a year old, you’ll obviously have two years left on the manufacturer’s warranty and seven years left for the battery. The Leaf has a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, and the battery is also covered for eight years and 100,000 miles. Nissan will replace your batteries if they degrade to below 75% and covers EV components such as the charging cable for five years and 60,000 miles.

As far as reliability is concerned, the Leaf was too new to be included in our most recent What Car? Reliability Survey. However, its predecessor topped the hybrid and electric cars category in 2017 and has proven to be one of Nissan’s more reliable models over the years. The i3, on the other hand, was third from bottom in the list of 11 cars. Nearly a third of all owners surveyed had been presented with faults, the majority being bodywork issues, but there were also owners who had problems with their car's suspension, air conditioning and sat-nav.

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