Why I Didn’t Buy a Tesla

My Bentley was delivered back to me recently. It came in a tow truck and the trim was removed from the dash and piled up in the trunk along with half of the trim of some random Mercedes. Half of the windows were stuck down and the dashboard lights looked like a disco when I turned the key. The company that repaired (and frankly did an amazing job) of the bodywork managed to get the alarm out of sync and took the whole thing apart trying to fix it. They then went bankrupt and shipped the car back to me. It’s so sad to see the car in this condition that I no longer care about getting it working and will just sell it for parts or as a project.

I have a 15 year old minivan, but in the Bentley’s absence I found myself driving my wife’s Nissan more than the van, just because it gets better gas mileage and is newer and nicer. Upon realizing that I’d never drive the Bentley again, I decided to get another car.

At this point probably 90% of the people I know would only consider buying a Tesla. And to give credit where it’s due, Teslas are truly incredible cars. They’re very fast and fun to drive and they have excellent range. They also have the best charger network (though any EV can easily use those chargers too). I think Elon is a genius and I think it’s pretty obvious that electric cars in general would be a decade behind if it weren’t for him.

That said, I think Teslas are massively overhyped and (partially as a result) a poor value unless you really need the range (or really need to go 0-60 in 2 seconds). For most people’s use cases there are much better values. For example, if you care about range, you can get a 2017 Chevy Bolt which gets ~240 miles on a charge for $13k.

Vegas is such a convenient place to live that most drives here are short. Most restaurants I go to are about 10 minutes away, with my furthest usual trips being 20 minutes away. Lake Mead is about 30 miles away, and that’s the farthest destination I go to regularly. My interest in going fast or accelerating quickly is about zero. In the past year I drove a Ludicrous Mode Tesla and a Lamborghini. I floored both of them, each put a huge smile on my face, and 5 minutes later I’d had my fill.

I’ll admit, though, I do like having a nice interior. That’s what I loved about the Bentley– everything was soft top quality leather or hand finished wood. I looked at the Nissan Leaf, which is an incredibly value, but really didn’t like the interior. The Chevy Bolt was better, and had great range, so I considered it. Then I saw the BMW i3 and the Mercedes b250e.

The b250e was a pretty basic Mercedes outfitted with a good EV system, and it was the frontrunner for a while. I’ve had three Mercedes before and loved them, and never really liked the BMW equivalents as much. But then I learned more about the i3 and it was a pretty easy decision.

The i3 looks unlike any car I’ve ever seen. It’s not beautiful like the Bentley or sleek like a Tesla, but I like the look. Even the 2014 model (the one I ended up getting), looks like it’s a concept car from the future. It isn’t just for show, though. The BMW engineers said that since they weren’t building a normal combustion car, they decided to start from the ground up rather than try to make it look like one.

The chassis is carbon fiber. The front wheels are tall but narrow. The rear doors open backwards and there’s solid glass in the back. All but one of the colorways are two-tone. The car lights up blue when you unlock it, but the lights fade to white when you open the door. It just feels like it’s from the future.

More impressive are the stats, though. They come in 22kw and 33kw models (and newer ~42kw). Mine is a 22kw model, which gets me about 65-70 miles of range. Because the car is so light, it actually gets the best range per kWh of any EV, so the running cost is extremely inexpensive. However, mine is a “Range Extender”, which means that it has a trick up its sleeve. Under the trunk in the rear is a tiny engine that acts like a generator. If the battery gets too low it whirs to life and its little 2.4 gallon gas tank can keep the car charged for an extra 80+ miles.

How cool is that? I can drive this thing and never worry about the battery because it has a built in generator.

I also love the interior. There are a few options, but mine is the “Giga” trim. The seats are made of a blend of wool and recycled plastic bottles with leather accents. The dashboard is a giant slab of eucalyptus wood. There’s a small screen that serves a dashboard and then a bigger 10″ screen in the middle for media and maps. I find the Tesla touchscreen interface to be really annoying while driving (though maybe you get used to it), but the BMW controls are pretty good and I like that climate control and presets are plastic buttons (speaking of presets, the presets can be radio stations, or literally any option or screen in the car!). The remote control features aren’t as good as Tesla, but you can lock / unlock / set climate control / etc.

It has adaptive cruise, which is a primitive version of AutoPilot. It just starts and stops based on the car in front of you. I actually prefer this, though, as my experiences with AutoPilot were really terrifying. It worked like magic for most of the time, and then once tried to exit where there wasn’t an exit, and twice tried to drive straight through a turn lane. The BMW can also parallel park by itself and you can install a ~$150 module to enable it to stay in a lane while following the car in front of you.

Best of all? My 2014 BMW i3 with every option (besides the cool sunroof!) only cost $13.5k. It has enough range for 95% of the trips I take, and the little backup engine will kick in for the remaining few. If I really need to take it to some remote place with no EV charging, I can still run on gas (albeit with annoying stops every 60-90 minutes).

Two points here, first the BMW i3 is probably a better car than you think it is (if you’ve ever thought about it at all), and second that like so many other things, the mainstream most hyped option is often good, but never the best for each individual. It’s cool that we live in a world with so many different choices that we can find the perfect thing for each of us if we just do a little bit of research.


Photo is my car!






2 responses to “Why I Didn’t Buy a Tesla”

  1. Seth Avatar

    How do you like it 16 months later? I’m considering one.

    1. Seth Avatar

      I should say I’m considering swapping my Tacoma for one – either the 2021 w/ 8000 miles at a dealership or an older used one. I live in Boise.

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