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First Comparison: BMW i3 vs. Chevrolet Volt

Stocks in this article: GM F TM HMC

What's the significance of this? It means both cars are fun and silent. It's the kind of feeling you get when you floor an all-electric car. For all of their differences, there is also a degree of similarity between flooring a $130,000 Tesla and a $30,000 Nissan Leaf. It's all about the instant torque, silence -- and lack of vibrations and rattles.

This puts the Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 with range-extender in a unique position in the market right now. They are the only two cars where you get the full feeling of driving a powerful electric car, but with gasoline back-up for continuing without fear of getting stuck.

For all of their key similarity, what are the powertrain differences between the BMW i3 with range-extender and Chevrolet Volt?

1. Electric motor: The BMW i3 is more powerful and when combined with the lower weight, yields a slightly faster acceleration; 0-60 MPH is approximately eight seconds.

2. Gasoline engine: The Chevrolet has a 1.4 liter, 4-cylinder, compared to a BMW engine that's half the size: 2 cylinders and 0.7 liter. I will tell you the implications of this later in this article.

3. Battery and range: The Chevrolet's 16.5 kWh battery is EPA-rated at 38 miles, whereas the BMWs 22 kWh battery has not yet been rated by EPA -- but most experts are anticipating the BMW to yield somewhere around 90 miles of range.

4. Gasoline tank and range: The Volt is 9.3 gallons and the BMW is 2.4 gallons. The Volt will go 340 miles on gasoline, and the BMW has not yet been rated. Most people believe it will go approximately 70-80 miles on gasoline. You can of course refuel either car at any gasoline station.

What this means in practice is this: The two cars will operate similarly for the first 38 miles, at which point the Volt's gasoline engine turns on. The BMW's gasoline engine would turn on somewhere around 90 miles.

On the freeway, once the gasoline engine has turned on, the Volt has approximately twice the power of the BMW. This means it should perform better in long and steep uphill climbs -- we will be able to test this properly in the next few months. However, the BMW also needs to be refueled with gasoline very often, making it unsuitable for true road trips. Thus far, I only got to drive the electric-only version of the BMW i3.

What about charging the cars? On a regular 110 volt AC household outlet, the Volt would give you four miles of range for each hour plugged in; the BMW slightly more at five miles. On a 240 volt AC dryer outlet, the Volt would give you 10 miles of range for each hour plugged in; the BMW probably 25 miles.

Unlike the Volt, the BMW i3 also offers 440 volt DC charging, which would give it up to 80% charge (70 miles) in 30 minutes.

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