- I’ve driven the high-performance Tesla Model S and Model 3, and I’ve also sampled the BMW M5 and M3.
- For me, the BMW M5 beats the Tesla Model S P90D and P100D.
- But the Tesla Model 3 Performance upsets the mighty BMW M3.
Right up front, I’ll admit that comparing legendary gas-powered performance sedans with Tesla’s four-doors could be construed as bogus. Gas versus electric? C’mon, what are you thinking?
But bear with me. The thing is that when I drive a performance car – powered by dinosaur goo, electrons, or anything else – I’m thinking less about the fuel and more about what the vehicle can deliver when the rubber hits road or race track.
That’s my basis for this double comparison: Tesla Model S versus BMW M5, and Tesla Model 3 versus BMW M3. A performance-car head-to-head, looking at the two most critical go-fast sedan segments, midsize and compact.
And another thing: As long-range, high-performance electric vehicles go from not existing to hitting the market in real numbers, buyers are going to be cross-shopping gas with electric.
My idea here is to ignore many of the peculiarities of electric cars and the environmental issues of low-mpg gas cars and make this a fair fight, all about the driving part.
So how do the cars of the future match up against the Ultimate Driving Machines? Read on to find out.
We’ll start with the Tesla Model S. Here we have an all-electric sedan with a price tag north of $US100,000.
I’ve tested the car on several occasions, even taking it on a road trip.
I’ve experienced the P90D version …
… as well as the P100D at Tesla’s factory test track in California.
In Ludicrous Mode, the P90D can clock a 0-60 time of 2.6 seconds. The P100D can make that run in an astonishing 2.3 seconds. Those are supercar velocities for a family four-door.
The Model S can achieve this staggering straight-line performance because electric cars can deliver astounding, immediate torque. The P90D and P100D also have large 90-kWh and 100-kWh battery packs, respectively, along with all-wheel drive.
I haven’t driven the Model S on a race track, but in my experience, the drag-strip performance of the P90D and P100D is offset somewhat negatively by the cars’ handling, which is solid but not ferocious. Top speed: 155 mph.
I prefer the driving dynamics of the slower, rear-wheel-drive Model S. And with the new Model 3 Performance, Tesla has added a “Track Mode” that brings a joyful instability to the party.
The bottom line is that the Model S performance trim levels are mind-boggling for drag-racing runs, and the car is quite a luxurious saloon cruiser, crammed with technology and serving up well over 200 miles of range. But I prefer the Model 3 Performance by a long shot for spirited driving.
Next up is the Model S P90D’s and P100D’s rival in gas-powered realms, the BMW M5.
My M5 test car costs a whopping $US130,000, nicely equipped and more than ready to rock.
The design of the M5 is beautifully brutal.
Under the hood we find the 4.4-litre, 600-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 making 553 pound-feet of juicy torque. This is a hulking pole axe of a motor, a masterpiece of menace — a grand mechanism for taking gasoline and transforming it into staggering velocity.
That power is piped through a set of quad exhaust pipes, creating a masterful sonic symphony of fiery rage.
The eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is so crisp and capable that you don’t need to flip on manual mode and use the steering-wheel-mounted paddles to change gears. Like the dual-motor Model S, the M5 is all-wheel drive.
The interior is far more traditional than what you get with the Model S. Though that tradition is pure Ultimate Driving Machine.
The M5 is outfitted with Pirelli P Zero performance tires.
The bottom line is that if the worship of four-doors and euphoric thrust is what you seek, the BMW M5, with a 0-60 time of 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph, has what you’re looking for.
And the winner is … the M5 over the Tesla Model S P90D and P100D.
Make no mistake: The Tesla P90D and P100D are fantastic. But the M5 is a four-door supercar that can handle long freeways cruises with suave style but in a heartbeat switch to wild mode and bring the terror far more than the Model S.
The driving dynamics of the M5 are also much, much better. Some of this is because the M5 is designed to be driven hard, in the way that the best internal-combustion vehicles are supposed to be driven hard. The balance, power, steering, braking, and overall energy of the car is the culmination of decades of engineering.
The Model S provides that futuristic, sci-fi speed that Tesla has perfected, while the M5 is more physical and athletic. And for this type of car – a midsize sport sedan – I favour the rawness that lurks beneath the Bavarian reserve.
Let us now turn our attention to the Tesla Model 3 Performance.
This $US78,000 all-electric machine is fully loaded.
Please note that the Model 3 Performance — I call it the P3D — has a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive setup. The 0-60 time has been clocked at under 3.5 seconds. Top speed: 155 mph.
My press car had the much-admired, much-coveted all-white interior.
Unlike with the soon-to-be-discussed BMW M3, the Model 3 Performance has an airy, minimalist cockpit, with a dashboard defined by a big touchscreen that displays speed and handles almost all infotainment and vehicle-operation duties. No need to shift gears either!
A short lip of carbon fibre makes up the truck-lid spoiler and is a clue that this Model 3 has a bit more under the hood.
The bottom line for the Model 3 Performance is that it’s the best Tesla you can buy — a sheer joy to drive, and a worthy addition to the brand’s enthusiast lineup.
Finally, we have the BMW M3, which starts at about $US66,000 and goes up from there as you add options.
I’ve also sampled the drop-top convertible version, the M4. These are rear-wheel-drive German muscle cars in a compact package.
Some serious heritage here. The M3 has been a champ since before it had four doors! Actually, it was a coupé until quite recently.
Like the M5 — and unlike the Model 3 — the M3 wears its aggression proudly.
The M3’s engine is a 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder powerplant that cranks out 425 horsepower with 406 pound-feet of torque.
No minimalist interior here. Instead, the M3 presents a familiar BMW cockpit that’s all about the driver.
The M3 is a beast that sported a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual mode when I tested it. Magnificent!
The M3’s 0-60 time is about four seconds. Top speed: 175 mph. And the bottom line is that the BMW M3 is just about the most impressive sporting sedan on the market.
And the winner is … the Model 3 Performance!
Heretical? Yes. The BMW M3 has been among the best high-performance cars for sale on planet earth since 1985. End of discussion.
It’s the best gas-powered compact four-door for going fast that money can buy. But the question here is: How does it stack up against an all-electric competitor that’s priced in the same general ballpark?
You might think this is a case of “apple, meet orange,” but the Model 3 Performance is, in my estimation, such as step up from the Model S dual-motor performance cars that I think the comparison is fair. If you want a high-performance compact sedan and would also like to have an all-electric option, you were out of luck until the P3D came along.
You’re out of luck no more. And the P3D is among the best cars I’ve driven, period. I love the M3. But I love the Model 3 Performance more – and when I finally get a shot at “Track Mode” in action, I think we’ll be talking about transcendent love.
The core issue is that the M3 is a legitimately wild automobile – German engineering applied to the task of taking the extremely rational and making it devoutly irrational. Like any other car journalist, I can get tired of BMW’s luxury rep and its popularity among the nouveau riche. Then I slip into an M car and hammer the throttle, and all is forgiven. But I slip out of the car shaken and stunned.
The Model 3 offers none of that. Instead, the P3D serves up ideas, ideas, and more ideas. So does the more pedestrian and cheaper long-range, nonperformance Model 3. But the P3D adds special sauce. I don’t slip out of the car shaken and stunned, but impressed, with my synapses firing, firing, firing.
There’s no question that the M3 is the latest in a long, rich history of performance. But the Model 3 Performance is the future.
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