With its blistering 0-60 time, near 1-g of acceleration, and long range, the Tesla Model S P85D is unarguably the king of the luxury electric car market today. Being the fastest production full-size sedan of any fuel type on sale, it’s also causing some serious concerns for luxury automakers like Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche
Even BMW, which already sells the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe and BMW i3 electric city car, is scared. Just like the other automakers above, it is rumoured to be developing its own high-end, luxury plug-in to cross-shop against the Californian upstart and steal its plug-in crown.
The scoop, claimed by UK-based CAR magazine, says that BMW is readying a brand-new full-sized plug-in for 2018 based on a next-generation 5-series platform. It will, the publication claims via inside sources at BMW, have a total power output of around 400 kilowatts, consisting of a front-wheel drive electric motor producing 152 kilowatts married to a four-cylinder, 245 horsepower gasoline engine. At the rear, CAR claims, will be a smaller, 70 kilowatt electric motor.
The car in question, which CAR says BMW is referring to as the P18 PHEV project at present, is designed to operate primarily as an electric vehicle with a powerful range-extender for longer-distance travel. Range is slated at 80 miles in electric mode, with gasoline operation only occurring at speeds above 40 mph when required. Packaged with the unspecified battery located down the centre of the car, the engine squeezed up front next to the larger electric motor and small fuel tank under the rear seats, the vehicle certainly wouldn’t have the same free-flowing uninterrupted cabin as the Model S.
And, says CAR, it will be likely sold as either the BMW i5 or i7: a low-emission sports sedan with full adaptive drivetrain that will appeal to European, Chinese and North American markets.
As a consequence, its design and look will likely be more conventional than either the BMW i3 or i8, although we’d expect some of the same lightweight construction materials to be used in order to help it meet ever-tightening emissions standards.
CAR is adamant too that this car, which it says could be unveiled at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, will be BMW’s chance at targeting Tesla.
We’re going to politely disagree.
While some sources claim BMW is going to ditch its internal combustion engine within ten years, the vehicle CAR details as being BMW’s Project P18 PHEV isn’t a car that seems to have the necessary prerequisites to cross-shop against the Tesla.
At the top of the list is range. And while 80-miles of all-electric range in a plug-in hybrid might have sounded impressive at one time, it is nowhere near the 250+ miles offered by Tesla’s Model S sedan. In order to truly cross-shop against the Model S, BMW would need to match or at least get close to the Model S’ range in order to be considered a worthy adversary.
Then there’s performance. With a 0-60 mph time of 3.1 seconds, Tesla’s flagship Model S P85D is tough to beat. With the extra weight of a gasoline engine, the so-called Project P18 would have to save some serious weight on its construction in order to achieve that in electric-only mode using its combined 220 kilowatts of electric motors. Even with a gasoline engine to boot, Tesla’s P85D performance is going to be tough to beat.
If customers aren’t buying a Tesla for the zero-emission, all-electric range, then performance is their other concern.
Next, we come to operating costs. With its Supercharging-for-life promise added to the cost of the Model S, day to day running costs of the Tesla Model S are stupidly cheap, even for those covering large distances every day. Adding gasoline to the mix, even at a price of between $2 and $3 a gallon, dramatically increases the operating costs of a future i5 or i7 model.
Further down our list comes practicality. Given the rendering produced by CAR, the secret Tesla-beating i5 or i7 will have far less interior space available for luggage or cargo than the Model S. Even the P85D, with its twin electric motors, retains the majority of its front luggage space along with a positively cavernous rear load space. In order to match that kind of practicality, a future plug-in BMW model truly worthy of cross-shopping against the Model S would need to carry at least enough luggage for a weekend away with the family.
Which brings us down to the final point. The Tesla Model S manages to combine the performance and fun of a sleek luxury Sedan with the practicality and versatility of an SUV or Wagon. It does so while offering rapid recharging capabilities, a fully interconnected, evolving telematics system, and in the future, autonomous drive capabilities.
In order to truly beat Tesla, BMW’s P18 PHEV project will need to exceed what CAR has outlined in its scoop, and match the Model S far more closely in terms of specification, capabilities and price. And while BMW is rumoured to be pricing the new car between $60,000 and $125,000, it will need to do far more than that to halt the roaring success of the Model S thus far.
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