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TheStreet Open House

Tesla vs. BMW i3 Electric: First Comparison Test

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The time has finally come. Not since the 1971 Ali vs. Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden has a duel this controversial hit American shores. And this time it's about electric cars, not boxers.

In one corner, the undisputed heavyweight electric car champion of the world, Tesla (TSLA) Model S. It has knocked out the competition in luxury car sales in Silicon Valley, and gotten a record 99% customer satisfaction rating by Consumer Reports.

In the other corner, the fresh German challenger, BMW i3, which begins deliveries to U.S. customers in April. The world's first mass-produced carbon fiber car, the overall geometry of this electric car makes Tesla seem downright conservative.

The judge: Me. I have now driven both cars, and with well over 30,000 miles of overall electric car driving experience, having driven almost every plug-in electric car that's been made available for sale under the sun over three years, I may be the most qualified person for this comparison task.

And since you are going to ask: No, I have not taken these two cars to the racetrack. I have not measured G-forces in an eight-figure slalom. I have not taken them drifting like a rally driver. Not yet, anyway. I just drove them like a normal city/suburban commuter.

There are some obvious caveats to this comparison. For starters, these two cars are very different in many important dimensions. If these were two conventional gasoline/diesel cars, we wouldn't be comparing them at all.

Tesla is a much larger footprint car. It fits five adults, and you can even stash two short kids in the trunk. With only five people in the car, the luggage space is gigantic -- more than any other sedan. The car is also very wide.

BMW i3 is much shorter and narrower, but taller. It fits only four people, and the luggage space is on the small side, even for a small car.

Tesla has conventional doors. BMW has so-called "suicide" doors for the back passengers, with the doors opening like many of those "extended cab" pickup trucks.

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