The rear seat comparison is this: First of all, the Tesla fits three people; the BMW i3 only two. That is a deal-killer for some people, for sure. The Tesla also has slightly more leg and foot room. However, the BMW has more headroom, being comfortable for people almost 5'11 tall.
Luggage space: Not a close call. Tesla wins, by a mile. The BMW has a small but very usable space, and the rear seats fold flat. Not bad, but the Tesla is in a class by itself.
In terms of rendering a verdict for the interior comparison, you have to put it into the context of price. A loaded BMW i3 with range extender will likely be around $50,000. Tesla's 85 kWh battery model starts at $81,400, and the 60 kWh model $71,400. You can add a lot equipment to those base Tesla prices.
Tesla's 85 kWh model gives you 265 miles of range, and even the 60 kWh model will handily exceed the BMW's 180-mile range. However, you can quickly add up to 90 miles (realistically 60-80 miles, given the nature of a gasoline tank that shouldn't be run down to zero) of range in the BMW in a few seconds at positively any gasoline station. So from this perspective, you could argue that the BMW is at least equal overall compared to even the bigger Tesla battery version.
Performance-wise, the BMW i3 will lag the Tesla badly. The i3 range-extender version will do 0-60 MPH in approximately 7.8 seconds, and the top speed is 93 MPH. Tesla is obviously much, much faster, even if most people may deem the BMW to be fast enough.
The BMW i3 may have an advantage in terms of cost of repair. The outer body parts are mostly in plastic, and can withstand various kicks and dings.
We are likely to start experiencing comprehensive drive tests of the BMW i3 in the U.S. perhaps in December. What I mean by that is journalists would drive the car for more than just a few hours, alone in their own home environment. This is opposed to controlled drives on test tracks and equivalent.
Some will argue passionately that Tesla and BMW i3 don't compete in any way. Surely, some people will not consider the other car, for good reason. For example, the Tesla fits more people, more luggage, and it's faster. The BMW i3 will be easier to drive in small spaces, cost less, and it's got a spectacular design.
However, what I have learned from studying EV drivers is that there is a lot more purchase overlap than rational people would normally assume. Many people just want a really cool car, as long as it's electric in some form. For some of those people, they would consider both the Tesla and BMW i3, and for good reason.
The BMW i3 vs Tesla battle is the one people are asking about first, because Tesla is such a high-flying stock. The answer is to some extent inconclusive. However, how does the BMW i3 compare to Chevrolet Volt? Well, that will be the subject of another article.
Disclosure: BMW provided airfare, one night's stay in a hotel room and a handful of meals in order to enable this first-hand report from the launch event of the BMW i3.
At the time of publication the author was long GOOG.
This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.