These two have been butting heads so much lately I almost feel like putting them both in timeout. Tesla and BMW have thrown verbal and technological jabs at each other ever since BMW’s i Division launched the Bavarian brand into the EV game. But nowadays, it’s much less about electric vehicles, as anyone can do that, but about autonomy. Tesla broke new ground with its Autopilot system, so BMW’s 7 Series now also offers a similar setup. Because of this, Top Gear thought it a good idea to see whose system is best, Tesla’s Autopilot in the Model S P90D or the system used in the BMW 730d.

We’ve heard quite a lot about Tesla’s Autopilot system and I’ve personally voiced my concerns for the fact that Tesla and Elon Musk are literally beta testing with human lives. If Dewalt said they were beta testing a new circular saw that stops when it detects a hand is about to touch the spinning blade, would you try it out? Of course not, that’s madness, but it’s a good idea to beta test autonomous 5,000 lb machines that move at highway speed, right? But I digress, we won’t get into that lunacy now – especially since regulators said it’s safe – but we will talk about how its system function and works and how well Top Gear seemed to think it works in the real world. The good folks in England were able drive fourteen miles under full autonomy, using Autopilot, which is incredibly impressive. Tesla’s Autopilot system is capable of accelerating past the car in front when it changes out of its lane, maintain gaps and even change lanes on its own, after a simple press of the blinker stalk. And it’s only getting better, as the Model S is able to update its software OTA (Over The Air) on its own overnight.

Tesla's Autopilot system
Tesla’s Autopilot system

But even more than the ability to drive autonomously is the graphics and information being displayed in a crystal clear and easy to read manner. Coming from Silicon Valley, that’s not at all surprising, as companies out there have been working on digital user interfaces forever now, so they’re a bit ahead of everyone else. So the Tesla’s screens and displays are much easier to use and understand than the BMW’s. This makes operating the Model S’ Autopilot system, and just the entire car in general, easier and faster.

On the flip side, The BMW 730d has a much different approach to its system. While there is no interference from the Autopilot system if the driver takes their hands off the wheel, the BMW system will yell at you for more than two seconds of hands-free driving. BMW wants the system to assist you, not replace you. It wants it to be a system that can keep the car in the lane and drive properly if, say, you drop you’re cell phone or wallet in between the seats and need to remove your hands from the wheel to get it. It’s not meant to be relied on. And that’s intentional, not a design fault or lack of technological capability. However, it still isn’t as impressive as Tesla’s Autopilot, although the technology is largely the same. It works well for the time that it allows you to use it, and is able to keep the car in its lane and drive autonomously, but it can only do so for too short of time periods to see if it can hang with the gang from Silicon Valley.


The 730d also has a much less intuitive interface, in all aspects, on the inside. Its Gesture Control and touchscreen iDrive system are supposed to make things easier for the driver, however, the increase in screens and controls has only made things more convoluted and confusing. Personally, I wonder what the hell was wrong with a damn volume knob? The Model S can show the 730d a thing or two about simplicity of design. Hell, the Model S doesn’t even have a start/stop button. It simply turns on when you get in and turns off when you lock it. Easy peasy.

In terms of interior quality and refinement, though, there’s no contest. Tesla shows its small company nature, as the BMW 730d is miles ahead of the Model S, in terms of interior comfort, ride quality and luxury. While the Model S is quieter and seemingly more refined on the inside, thanks to its silent electric powetrain, the BMW 7 Series has it absolutely trumped when it comes to luxury, build quality and material quality. It’s a superb cabin, one that’s flat out better than the Model S’. Especially when you consider that, in this case at least, a loaded BMW 730d still costs less than the base price of the Model S P90D in the UK. So the 7 Series is by far the better value.


However, this test was about technology and autonomy, so luxury and value don’t really come into play. Admittedly, I fear for the day when all humans are in lazy, autonomous pods, snapchatting or playing Candy Crush 11 while their stupid autonomous jelly bean takes them to work. Plus, no matter how good computers get and how good autonomous cars get, they will always be reactionary and will never have instinct. In that regard, the smartest autonomous car in the world could never match the level of awareness and safety of a keen driver. But if we must measure the cars based solely on autonomy, the Tesla Model S wins.

[Source: Top Gear]