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For enhanced safety, the front seat shoulder belts of the Nissan Leaf are height-adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of driver and passenger heights. A better fit can prevent injuries and the increased comfort also encourages passengers to buckle up. The BMW i3 doesn’t offer height-adjustable seat belts.
The Leaf has standard Active Head Restraints, which use a specially designed headrest to protect the driver and front passenger from whiplash. During a rear-end collision, the Active Head Restraints system moves the headrests forward to prevent neck and spine injuries. The i3 doesn’t offer a whiplash protection system.
The Leaf SV/SL’s optional lane departure warning system alerts a temporarily inattentive driver when the vehicle begins to leave its lane and gently nudges the vehicle back towards its lane. The i3 doesn’t offer a lane departure warning system.
The Leaf SL has a standard Around View® Monitor to allow the driver to see objects all around the vehicle on a screen. The i3 only offers a rear monitor and front and rear parking sensors that beep or flash a light. That doesn’t help with obstacles to the sides.
To help make backing safer, the Leaf (except S)’s optional cross-path warning system uses wide-angle radar in the rear bumper to alert the driver to vehicles approaching from the side, helping the driver avoid collisions. The i3 doesn’t offer a cross-path warning system.
The Leaf SL’s driver alert monitor detects an inattentive driver then sounds a warning and suggests a break. According to the NHTSA, drivers who fall asleep cause about 100,000 crashes and 1500 deaths a year. The i3 doesn’t offer a driver alert monitor.
Both the Leaf and the i3 have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, rearview cameras, available daytime running lights and blind spot warning systems.
Nissan’s powertrain warranty covers the Leaf 1 year and 10,000 miles longer than BMW covers the i3. Any repair needed on the engine, transmission, axles, joints or driveshafts is fully covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Coverage on the i3 ends after only 4 years or 50,000 miles.
There are over 3 times as many Nissan dealers as there are BMW dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Leaf’s warranty.
J.D. Power and Associates’ 2018 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Nissan vehicles are better in initial quality than BMW vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Nissan 10th in initial quality, above the industry average. With 2 more problems per 100 vehicles, BMW is ranked 11th.
The Leaf’s electric motor produces 52 lbs.-ft. more torque (236 vs. 184) than the i3’s standard electric motor. The Leaf’s electric motor produces 37 lbs.-ft. more torque (236 vs. 199) than the i3s’ standard electric motor.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies the Nissan Leaf as a “Zero Emissions Vehicle” (ZEV). The BMW i3 is only certified to “Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle” (PZEV) standards.
For better traction, the Leaf has larger standard tires than the i3 (205/55R16 vs. 155/70R19). The Leaf SV/SL’s tires are larger than the largest tires available on the i3 (215/50R17 vs. 175/55R20).
The Leaf S’ standard tires provide better handling because they have a lower 55 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the i3’s standard 70 series tires. The Leaf SV/SL’s tires have a lower 50 series profile than the i3s’ 55 series front tires.
The Leaf has a standard easy tire fill system. When inflating the tires, the vehicle’s integrated tire pressure sensors keep track of the pressure as the tires fill and tell the driver when the tires are inflated to the proper pressure. The i3 doesn’t offer vehicle monitored tire inflation.
The Leaf has standard front and rear stabilizer bars, which help keep the Leaf flat and controlled during cornering. The i3’s suspension doesn’t offer stabilizer bars.
For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Leaf’s wheelbase is 5.1 inches longer than on the i3 (106.3 inches vs. 101.2 inches).
The Leaf SV handles at .79 G’s, while the i3 pulls only .78 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.
The design of the Nissan Leaf amounts to more than styling. The Leaf has an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of .28 Cd. That is lower than the i3 (.29 to .33) and many sports cars. A more efficient exterior helps keep the interior quieter and helps the Leaf get better fuel mileage.
Because it has more passenger and cargo room, the EPA rates the Leaf a Mid-size car, while the i3 is rated a Subcompact.
The Leaf has standard seating for 5 passengers; the i3 can only carry 4.
The Leaf has 8.8 cubic feet more passenger volume than the i3 (92.4 vs. 83.6).
The Leaf has 1.6 inches more front headroom, 1.6 inches more front legroom, .7 inches more front shoulder room, .1 inches more rear headroom, 1.6 inches more rear legroom and 3.3 inches more rear shoulder room than the i3.
The Leaf has a much larger trunk with its rear seat up than the i3 with its rear seat up (23.6 vs. 15.1 cubic feet).
The Leaf SV/SL has a standard remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The i3 doesn’t offer a remote starting system.
The Leaf’s standard power windows have a locking feature to keep children from operating them. BMW does not offer a locking feature on the i3’s standard power windows.
To improve rear visibility by keeping the rear window clear, the Leaf has a standard rear fixed intermittent wiper with a full on position. The rear wiper standard on the i3 only has an intermittent setting, so in a hard rain visibility isn’t as good.
While driving with high beams on, sensitive light sensors available for the Leaf SV/SL detect other vehicles which could be blinded and automatically switch to low beams. The i3 doesn’t offer automatic dimming high beams.
To shield the driver and front passenger’s vision over a larger portion of the windshield and side windows, the Leaf has standard extendable sun visors. The i3 doesn’t offer extendable visors.
Both the Leaf and the i3 offer available heated front seats. The Leaf SL also has standard heated rear seats to keep those passengers extremely comfortable in the winter. Heated rear seats aren’t available in the i3.
On extremely cold winter days, the Leaf’s optional heated steering wheel provides comfort, allowing the driver to steer safely and comfortably before the car heater warms up. The i3 doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel.
According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Leaf is less expensive to operate than the i3 because it costs $333 less to do the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance for 50,000 miles. Typical repairs cost less on the Leaf than the i3, including $197 less for a water pump and $93 less for a power steering pump.
Consumer Reports® recommends both the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3, based on reliability, safety and performance.
The Nissan Leaf outsold the BMW i3 by over two to one during 2018.
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