Vehicle Comparisons

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X

Tesla reckons that its all-electric Model X is the safest, fastest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history. With all-wheel drive and battery options that can give you well over 300 miles of range, the Model X has ample seating for seven adults and all of their gear. And it can be almost ludicrously fast too. It's a pretty unique proposition.

Whatever Model X variant you choose, you'll get four-wheel drive, courtesy of a pair of electric motors, one powering the rear wheels and one for the front pair. In the 75D variant which offers a 259-mile driving range, this combination works with a 75kWh battery and generates 328bhp. In the 90D derivative, a 90kWh battery is used, there's a 303mile driving range and you get a combined output of 376bhp. Finally, in the top P100D flagship model, there's a 100kWh battery, a 336-mile driving range and a huge 691bhp output thanks to what Tesla calls a 'Ludicrous Speed Upgrade' that makes this variant capable of rest to 60mph in just 2.9s on the way to 155mph flat out.

On the move, you'll be impressed by the easy seamless way this Model X gains its speed, though the acceleration does tail off noticeably at higher speeds. The regenerative brakes take some getting used to: come off the throttle and it's as if you've pressed the brake. What this means is that most of the time, you won't need to use the brakes at all. 'Smart Air Suspension' is standard but many still seem to find the ride quality quite firm.

The Model X may not immediately strike you as a classically-styled SUV but it's certainly obvious from the start that this is a much more practical proposition than Tesla's original offering, the Model S. The Model X's design party piece lies with the gull-wing 'Falcon Wing' rear doors that make entering the vehicle something of a theatrical event. Tesla says they can open in a confined space too, thanks to a double-hinged design (there's a hinge on the roof and another above the window line) that allows the doors to raise up with as little as 11 inches of clearance outwards. There are also ultrasonic sensors that lie beneath the bodywork so you can't open the door into an immovable object.

The front doors open conventionally but are electrically powered, with the driver's door opening automatically when you unlock the car with the key fob. Step inside and a press of the brake pedal will see the doors close behind you. With both doors open, there's brilliant access into and out of the car, so, for example, strapping a childseat into the rear is far easier than it would be in a conventional SUV. The Model X comes as standard with two rows of seats. If you specify the optional third seating row, the middle row seats move forward at the push of a button to aid access into the third row. Adults will fit into the very back but will probably need the middle row slid forward a bit if they're to travel in any real comfort.

The Model X is a very desirable thing. It's also a very expensive thing. Still, if you were already going to spend upwards of £80,000 on a luxury SUV, it's certainly a more rational choice than something more conventional in this segment.

Caveats are few. Yes, battery charging does require a little more thought than just topping up a tank and if a car is shared between a married couple for instance, you'll both need to be on the ball with it. Other than that, there's very little not to like. The interior is adventurous, the packaging is efficient and if you're able to go for the 90D or P100D models, the acceleration is quite simply astonishing. Quite simply, the Model X sets a fresh standard for what cars of this kind can do.

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BMW i3

BMW i3

BMW i3 has proved to be a successful first stab at the all-electric vehicle market for its Munich maker and since the original 2013 launch, the Munich maker hasn't stopped trying to improve it. In 2016, the original 60Ah version was replaced with a 94Ah variant that boosted this model's all-electric operating range to over 200 miles. A year later, BMW gave the styling a minor refresh and added a slightly pokier i3s derivative into the range. Then in late 2018, the brand introduced a larger 120Ah battery that promised a driving range increase of up to 30%. For all buyers, the option remains on both variants to add in a small 'Range Extender' petrol engine to further boost operating mileage. The result of all these improvements is a car that's now even harder to ignore in this growing segment.

As you might expect from a BMW product, the i3 doesn't want for go. The electric motor is mounted low down within the rear axle which helps to keep a low centre of gravity and also to improve crashworthiness. The power unit weighs just 130kg and produces 170bhp in standard form, which means that the i3's power to weight ration of 141bhp per tonne is just 5bhp per tonne shy of a Honda Civic Type R hot hatch. If you're interested in a comparison of that sort, you'll be interested in the slightly pokier i3s variant, where the electric motor's power output is boosted to 184bhp, plus there's sports suspension with specially developed springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

Whatever i3 variant you choose, as with all electric vehicles, a decisive advantage comes in its amount of torque. In a typical city scoot such as, say, a 1.2-litre Fiat 500, you can count on 102Nm of torque, but this BMW generates a hefty 250Nm of muscle in its standard frm (or 270Nm in 'i3s' guise), offering instant urge with all that torque available from idle. It's sent to the rear wheels via a single-ratio gearbox that offers the choice of three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. The i3s has an extra 'Sport' setting.

This translates to a car that's certainly not slow off the mark. The standard model will get from standstill to 37mph in 3.8sec and to 62mph in 7.3sec (or 6.9s for the i3s). Either way, any Toyota GT-86 sportscar drivers will have a very hard time keeping pace with an i3. The top speed is limited to 93mph in the standard model or 99mph in the i3s. Extremely direct steering, a low centre of gravity, a clever DSC stability control system and lightweight body structures add up to very focused driving characteristics. BMW has engineered in a little body roll, largely to clue drivers in to where the limits of those narrow tyres are, but this remains a car you can enjoy hustling along. Go for the 'Range Extender' version of this car, as is possible with ether i3 or i3s variants, and a tiny 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine is added to cut in once the battery power is spent.

Design-wise, think of the i3 as a car in two halves. The bottom half is almost all aluminium, the upper half almost all carbon fibre. Armed with this information, you can rightly surmise that it doesn't weigh very much. Even with the weight of all those batteries - some 230kg comprised of 96 individual cells kept at an optimum 20deg Centigrade by their own air conditioning unit - the i3 only tips the scales at 1,195kg. Compare that to the 1,395kg of the entry-level petrol-powered Mercedes-Benz B Class and you'll appreciate the lengths BMW have gone to keep weight low and efficiency high.

The styling is determinedly modern, with the kidney grille being the key BMW styling signature. The black hood, roof and glazed hatch will be characteristic features for future BMW 'i' cars. Adaptive LEDs headlights and floating LED tail lights are standard. The lowered belt line in the rear and absence of a "B" pillar improves visibility, while the rear "coach" doors make entry easier.

As before, the i3 really isn't a very big car, measuring just 3,999mm long, which is only a tad longer than a Ford Fiesta. Despite that, thanks to the flat floor, the thin seats and the low window line, the cabin feels surprisingly roomy. The instrument cluster and Control Display comprise two screens, one behind the steering wheel and the other at the top of the centre console.

Interior materials are eco-orientated, with the dashboard and door cards made from dried grass fibres from the kenaf plant and eucalyptus wood being optional. The boot measures 260-litres, but fold the rear seats and you get up to 1,100-litres. Expect that capacity to drop if you choose the range-extender motor. This is a modified version of the 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine used in the company's CT650 GT maxi-scooter, with a nine-litre fuel tank ahead of the front seats.

This car's certainly widened its market scope since BMW gave it an uprated 120Ah powertrain, which on the full-battery-powered model has facilitated an increase in all-electric NEDC driving range from the 112 mile total on offer when this car was originally launched to as much as 223 miles in its current form - quite a change. Think around 160 miles in realistic regular use. The 'Range Extended' versions offer a slightly lower all-electric NEDC-rated driving range but of curse, when that expires, you've the advantage of knowing that a frugal little petrol engine will cut in, exending your driving range to nearly 300 miles.

Recharging times vary, but are much quicker than you'd expect, despite the significantly larger battery capacity. A DC Rapid-charge system is standard and AC charging is multi-phase, meaning full charging can be completed in under 3 hours with the multi-phase system. As before, the car can also be charged at home using a standard three-pin plug or by specifying a BMW I Wallbox.

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Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

The Nissan LEAF has always been a car that divides opinion. Some love this fully electric vehicle for its bold engineering and surprisingly enjoyable driving dynamics, but to date, many other green-minded potential buyers have struggled to make a case for it. That could change thanks to the improvements made to this second generation model, which offers a further big enhancement in driving range and some really clever new technology.

Let's deal quickly with the first thing you'll want to know about: driving range. We remember vividly setting off in the first generation LEAF model back in 2010 and struggling to get much more than 60-70 miles out of it between charges. With this second generation design, Nissan claims a homologated WLTP driving range of 168 miles from the standard 40kWh model - or 239 miles (WLTP) from the alternative 'e+' version with its 62kWh battery. Even if you think in terms of a 'real world' driving range being about two-thirds of those total figures (which is our experience anyway), you can't deny that these readings represent an impressive improvement, representing a 50% increase over the final version of the previous model.

The 40kWh lithium-ion battery that virtually all LEAF models use is larger this time round (the previous generation car had a 30kWh battery) but the unit is no larger in terms of actual size. It produces 110kW (which equates to 148bhp), which significantly improves on the previous model's figures of 80kW / 108bhp. That means pulling power's up too - a rise to 320Nm - making the LEAF feel even faster from a standing start: Nissan say that the 0-62mph time has been improved by 15%, which should translate into a sprint time of about 9.8s. Previously with LEAF models, the amount of retardation you got when lifting off the throttle meant that the brake pedal was something you rarely needed to use. This time round, you'll hardly need it at all thanks to 'e-Pedal' technology that can bring the car to a complete stop when you come off the accelerator.

There are two routes to styling an all-electric car. Either you make it look exactly like a conventionally-engined model, as Volkswagen did with the e-Golf, or you go for something overtly futuristic, as Nissan did with the first generation LEAF model. That approach continues on with this second generation design, which gets a completely re-worked body featuring a flat floor, a sharper nose and a more aggressively tapered rear end. There are though, familiar cues from more ordinary Nissan models - things like the company's signature 'V-motion' front grille, the 'boomerang'-style lights and the kicked-up rear shoulder line for example.

The MK2 model shape is certainly sleeker; Nissan says it now has a slippery drag coefficient of 0.27Cd. And the whole structure's stiffer too, torsional rigidity having improved by 15%. Importantly, interior practicality is additionally much improved, notably in terms of boot space, which rises from 370 to 435-litres. The designers have also tried to give the cabin more of a premium feel, with upgraded cabin materials and a smarter look for the 7-inch centre-dash infotainment touchscreen. To remind you of this car's eco-friendly remit, there's vibrant blue stitching on the seats, the dashboard and the steering wheel.

Has this car's time finally come? Probably not quite yet, but the improvements Nissan has made will open up a much larger market for it. In developing this second generation model, the Japanese maker has clearly listened to customer feedback. The biggest issue of course was driving range, but as well as enhancing that, the brand has also added a package of technology that will make buyers feel that they're at the cutting edge of automotive technology.

Of course, some of the previous issues still remain. The car is still quite expensive to buy, the looks will divide opinion and you won't even be able to consider it unless you have off-street overnight parking. Little by little though, all-electric motoring is widening its customer reach. And, as it's always been, the LEAF remains right at the forefront of that change.

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