Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt
Sometimes the planets all align in your favour, and for one afternoon of an already shortened time with the exotic BMW i8 plug-in sports car, a Tesla Model S with the new all-wheel drive system and “Insane”-rated 691 horsepower became available at the same time. These are two very rare plug-in automotive innovators, especially in deep winter in Canada.
The sky broke from its constant snow that week, too, at least for a few hours, as the weather gods seemed to smile on our unorthodox comparison: how does this practical yet super-quick upstart sport sedan stack up to BMW’s futuristic two-door sports car?
Price-wise, nearly identically, each landing within blinking distance of $150,000. Otherwise, they could hardly be more different, and it’s those differences that stood out by the end.
There’s no doubt the BMW i8 was the A-list celebrity to the Tesla’s fresh-faced local TV reporter: both are good-looking, but the i8 had a visual tractor beam effect that the Tesla simply couldn’t approach. Whether at the gas station, stopped at a red light, or simply driving on the highway, heads and camera phones regularly swiveled in the i8’s direction.
Adding to the i8’s attention-drawing power were its big butterfly doors, which swing upwards and outwards to provide the largest passenger opening possible, but also to add to its visual drama. This is not always a positive statement, as unique details such as the rear “floating roof pillars” that don’t quite meet up with the upswing of the rear fender lines mean some angles can look somewhat odd, and its back end does look like it’s swallowing a Porsche 911 whole.
But these rear fender eyebrows also slickly integrate super-bright thin-strip rear LED curved turn signals. And though North Americans unfortunately aren’t offered the laser headlights available elsewhere, there’s no denying that this car will make the aforementioned 911 or even a usual showstopper like the Audi R8 look dated in comparison.
The Tesla P85D, on the other hand, barely looks different from the regular Model S, or from any Model S sold since it launched here in 2012. Its four-door coupe profile is sophisticated and handsome – and much easier to climb out of than the waist-high i8 – so it stacks up well visually against its luxurious gas-powered rivals such as the Audi RS 7 and Mercedes-Benz CLS AMG, if less aggressively than most of those rip-snortin’ V8, six-figure four-doors.
But in this company, there’s a familiarity about the Tesla’s shape that means it’s shoved aside like last week’s YouTube star.