Buying used can be an economical way to get into electric vehicles.

They’re compact and stylish. They’re electric vehicles, and more people are buying these cars and hybrid vehicles than ever these days. Two solid used electric vehicle choices that are popular with CarMax customers right now are the BMW i3 electric car and the Nissan Leaf. Both of these vehicles deliver effectively as alternatives to everyday transportation.

We took the budget-friendly 2013 Nissan LEAF and the futuristic-looking 2014 BMW i3 for a spin. Both cars are lots of fun to drive, but there are some differences between the two cars we drove, besides the difference in price. Let’s compare these two electric vehicles!

BMW is vs. Nissan LEAF Comparison | CarMax


BMW i3

Research or Buy a Used BMW i3: exterior | CarMax

This little space pod of a car wouldn’t look out of place hushing through Earth’s orbit to resupply a space station. Two-toned and distinctively-styled, this car satisfies customers who are both brand-conscious and want a stylish EV in their driveway.


The i3 is available as a purely electric vehicle with a pretty impressive range.  For example, the 2014 i3 has an estimated range of 81 miles on a single charge *. If you want to go farther than this, BMW also makes a Range Extender version of the i3. This model typically costs a bit more than other models from the same year, because it packs a tiny two-cylinder gasoline engine that works to help keep charge in the battery pack. Common recharge methods are 120V wall socket-recharging or using aftermarket 240V Level 2 chargers, which are available from a variety of companies and are designed to dramatically reduce charge times.

Style & features

You sit fairly high in the i3 (it’s tall for an EV), and this gives you a more commanding view of the road; on top of this, you’ve got some pretty exotic and premium features in a cool-looking four-seater layout with typically BMW premium design flourishes. The “back doors” hinge at the rear, for example, and with all doors open you’ve got some serious access to the interior. Inside the latest models like the 2017 i3, you’ll find features like leather seats, active parking assist, parking sensors, rearview camera, a moonroof, and BMW’s iDrive entertainment system.

Research or Buy a Used BMW i3: interior | CarMax


The 2014 i3’s acceleration was impressive when we took it for a spin — this comes thanks to a powerful electric motor which doesn’t need to pause for shifting through gears. And, of course, with the electric i3, its operation is nearly silent. Even at its top speed of 92 mph, the only thing you’ll hear is the wind outside. And maybe whatever you’re playing through your Harmon Kardon® premium surround-sound stereo system.


According to BMW, the 2017 BMW i3 has just over 15 square feet of storage space with the back seats in place; fold them down and you can more than double your storage space for luggage, groceries, or large pet carriers. And the i3’s tall ride height gives taller passengers a good amount of headspace.

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Nissan Leaf

Research or Buy a Used Nissan Leaf: exterior | CarMax

The five-door Nissan LEAF was one of the first mass-produced, completely-electric cars from a major auto manufacturer; because it was early on the EV scene, Nissan has had time to work on refining the overall design. It’s generally less expensive than the BMW i3, making it a solid choice for the more budget-minded EV driver.


The LEAF also has an impressive range; for example the 2013 LEAF SV has an estimated range of 75 miles on a single charge.* Many owners plug their LEAFs in when at home to top off the lithium-ion battery, so they can untether and hit the road for work, errands, or longer trips where they can take breaks at a charging station. Nissan also introduced an available updated heating system to the 2013 LEAF that draws less power from the battery to help improve power consumption.

Style & features

The LEAF’s more functional style and design help to make it a more affordable choice as an electric vehicle; nevertheless, you’ll still find most of the features inside that come standard in conventional vehicles, like a rearview camera and heated seats. S-model LEAF passengers also get heated rear seats — in fact, all LEAF variants come with heated rear seats, a rarity for four-and five-seat passenger vehicles these days. In the upper-trim models like the SV and SL, you get these features plus a premium package that includes alloy wheels, leather seats, a Bose® premium sound system, and a seven-inch touchscreen in the dash that works with your nav system.

Research or Buy a Used Nissan Leaf: interior | CarMax


As with the i3, the LEAF’s electric motor offers some seamless acceleration, if not a record-breaking top speed. According to Nissan, a new 2013 LEAF SV could go from 0 to 60 mph in just over 10 seconds, which is adequate for getting you up to highway speeds on the on-ramp.


There’s room for five in the LEAF — while the i3 only seats four. And overall, the LEAF has more interior capacity than the i3, especially when the back seats are folded flat. Fold the seats flat in the 2013 LEAF and you’ll have a generous 30 cubic feet of space for plenty of groceries and luggage. And while the i3 is a taller vehicle than the LEAF, the Nissan narrowly edges out the BMW in available headroom (41.2 inches of headspace for the LEAF, versus 39.6 inches for the i3).

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Which one's right for you?

If you are looking for the right commuter car, a hybrid or electric vehicle may be a great choice for you. The BMW is a bit more upscale than the LEAF; but the LEAF can give you plenty of all-electric traveling range with a relatively smaller average price tag. According to our recent CarMax/CleanTechnica survey, owners say they love that there’s not much maintenance to worry about with an electric vehicle. One of our LEAF owners reported in 2015 that his priciest expenditure was replacing the tires.

A word about cost: when used, the i3 can be found for an average price of $20,000 at Carmax.com, and a used Leaf can be found for less than $10,000. Whichever you choose, if you’re interested in getting into an all-electric vehicle, this can be a more cost-efficient way to do it.

As you consider the BMW i3 and the Nissan LEAF, or any new or used car or SUV for that matter, be diligent in your research! Read more online, including these tips for buying a used car.

If you’re still curious about hybrids and high-mpg vehicles, check out our top 10 hybrid cars of 2016 and our top 10 mpg-boosting electric and hybrid cars. CarMax has sold over 100,000 distinct models of hybrids and EVs since 2001, including popular models like the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt. Good luck with your hunt!

*Range and mileage are based on EPA estimates. Range will vary based on, among other things, battery age, vehicle condition, and driving conditions. Battery range may decrease with time and use. See fueleconomy.gov and store for details.
Unless otherwise noted, information related to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.