The cutting-edge premium family car.
The BMW i3 is perhaps as close as you’re going to get to a car from the Jetsons.
From the profile it cuts to the cabin it ensconces you in, the i3 can either be described as modern or futuristic, depending on the perception of the person looking at it. Anything other than those terms just don’t fit.
As the BMW i3 was first introduced in 2014, in 2018, BMW saw it fit to update the i3 hatch to ensure it stays relevant in the face of stiffening competition. More than just a redesign though, the i3’s grown wider, gotten lower, and gained more power too, further underlining the likeable driving dynamics that already won us over with the pre-facelift model.
Available as an i3 and i3s, BMW’s electric hatch is now a little dearer than it used to be, but makes up for it by being even more fun and a greater overall package, if still a bit pricy.
So can the i3 be your daily BMW, then?
“Is it time to welcome a bona-fide performance car to the more affordable end of the EV market?” — Autocar UK
All new things take a while to set in. And that’s precisely the case with the BMW i3.
When it first arrived on the scene in 2014 it divided opinion, pushing BMW design to levels and into territories it hadn’t yet explored. Many people found the shape unusual in the beginning, but warmed to the i3’s distinctive design quirks and cues. With the 2018 redesign, BMW’s taken what’s familiar of the i3 and turned the knob up to eleven.
You’ll find a sharp, rather handsome front end with slim LED foglights, nestled beneath sharp LED headlights that frame the most-relevant interpretation of BMW’s kidney grille. Down the side you can’t help but notice the stepped windowline that creases downwards abruptly behind the front doors, before the top and bottom line come together to wrap around the tail.
And at the rear, you get a black hatch that blends in beautifully into the rear windscreen, giving the illusion of a glass tailgate, with the design broken up only by the LED taillights and a chrome strip that stretches across the width. For the 2018 redesign, the i3 gained a new rear bumper design to help emphasise the width of the car.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Sprightly electric performance and good handling make the i3 fun; a compromised ride can’t spoil it.” — AutoExpress, UK
The refreshed BMW i3 can be had with two electric powertrains, and both powertrains can be optioned with a range-extender petrol generator. Both the i3 and i3s pack new 94Ah batteries, though the base i3 offers up 125kW/250Nm, while the i3s offers a sprightlier 135kW/270Nm.
All models are rear-wheel drive and feature a single-speed transmission. For a little extra cash you can option on the 2-cylinder 647cc motorcycle engine that’s mounted at the rear, though that thing functions only as an electric generator to juice up the battery and add a little extra range.
The major benefit of driving an electric car comes in the savings. On the assumption of fuel sitting at $1.35/L, an internal-combustion engine would have to achieve an unbelievable 2.7L/100km to match the i3 in terms of cost, on the basis that it costs about $7.26 to charge it up for 200km. That’s hugely impressive, no matter how you cut it.
Charging the i3 can be done with a Type 2 CCS plug. Charging it can be done via a standard plug point, a three-phase charger (which is faster, and you can get the charger box from BMW), or a 50kW fast-charger.
Paying extra for the range-extender motor will add another 330km to the already impressive 200km “daily use” range that a fully-charged set of batteries offer, bringing the total up to 530km (estimated). The REX engine, in turn, consumes just 0.6L/100km in the i3, while the more powerful i3s sees the generator work harder, and therefore consumes 0.7L/100km to charge the batteries.
“The i3s’s cabin is quite unlike that of any other car on the market.” — Autocar, UK
While the CarShowroom team are hardly inexperienced when it comes to electric cars, it’s always refreshing to see automotive cabin design being pushed to reinvention thanks to the advantages that an electric powertrain offers. While the exterior might be innovative, the interior of the i3 is downright inventive, and really hammers home the theme of sustainability and environmental protectionism.
For starters, you’ll find a beautiful, curved dashboard surface, made from recycled plastic (or wood, if you option it), while the leather you sit on an touch is made from a tanning process that uses olive leaves rather than more traditional dyes to gain its hue. There’s a massive amount of light in the cabin too, thanks to enormous windows, thin pillars, and a tall windscreen.
The BMW i3’s structure is made primarily of carbon fibre, and as a result it enjoys a great amount of chassis rigidity and strength. As such, the i3 features rear-hinged doors that open ‘coach’ style to reveal no B-pillar. Unfortunately, those cool rear doors are ‘interlocked’ to the front ones, meaning the front doors have to be opened first before the rear doors can be swung open. Annoying in tight spaces.
When you’re in the back, the sense of airiness and space that was evident from the front is slightly marred. Visibility is on the generous side but somehow, with a dark cabin, it feels a bit more hemmed-in that most hatchbacks. You won’t be wanting for actual space though, as most adults will be perfectly comfortable in the back, and there’s enough room in the boot for clutter.
Though it’s worth noting that the i3 is a strict four-seater, with the centre of the rear bench repurposed for a set of cupholders.
Behind The Wheel
“Enjoyable. That's the word that sprung to my mind. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.” — CarsGuide
An electric car is always electrifying to drive, thanks to the instantaneous torque and silent progress. However, due to the weight of the batteries, they tend to feel a bit wayward in the corners, far from confidence inspiring the way you’d expect from something like a Volkswagen Golf GTi or a BMW 3-Series.
It may be an electric car, but there’s a definite BMW-ness to proceedings, with sharp steering and great amounts of agility both in-town and on a B-road. The i3 is most at home in the urban sprawl, while the more powerful i3s with its lower, stiffer suspension and modicum more power makes it a right giggle on a twisty stretch of tarmac.
The suspension on the i3 is comfortable, while the i3s is slightly less so. However, the i3s rewards with a more connected sensation behind the wheel, with less body roll and more grip to exploit. Further, the additional torque can be felt the moment you twitch your right foot. However, drive it hard and you’ll watch your electric range dwindle, so if you haven’t opted for the range extender, don’t get too far away from home otherwise you might be left flat on your bum.
When you’re not being a hooligan, you’ll find both the i3 and the i3s are pretty good companions on every journey. There’s little wind noise or tyre roar, the seats are comfortable and supportive no matter where you sit, and the good view afforded all the way round means you’ll very rarely miss anything.
Safety & Technology
“The BMW i3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 when it was tested.” — CarsGuide
The i3 is very much a BMW in this regard, with a stellar safety rating accompanying the enjoyable ride. Safety kit includes a full-suite of airbags, a roll-over sensor, all-round parking sensors and a reversing camera, collision warning (forwards), AEB, and adaptive cruise control.
It’s worth noting that while the i3 benefits from a parking assistant, the i3s does not. Also oddly, you won’t find features like lane-keeping aid or lane departure warning, or indeed blind-spot monitoring.
Standard convenience kit is a bit hit and miss though. There’s a fabulous 10.25-inch central screen with navigation, a four-speaker (!) audio system, DAB digital radio, BMW ConnectedDrive, climate control, LED headlights, and automatic wipers. This is shared across both cars, with the posher i3s gaining nothing to its advantage.
Cost options include Apple CarPlay, heated seats, tyre pressure monitoring, and a sunroof.
It’s not easy being on the cutting edge of the world, but the i3 dared to do that back when it debuted in 2014. With its distinctive styling, state of the art powertrain and undeniable driving dynamics, the i3 may not have had the same sensational response as Tesla gets whenever Elon Musk sneezes, but it got people looking in the right direction.
The i3 is to the premium hatch segment what the Nissan Leaf was to the mass-market family hatch space when that came about. It’s quirky, zany, and undeniably distinctive, forging its own way through unfamiliar territory. With practical packaging, a useful range-extender powertrain, and all the creature comforts demanded of something bearing the BMW roundel, the i3 is perhaps the best premium EV out there in this space, perhaps only threatened by the Tesla Model 3 (assuming they ever get them off the assembly line).
We recommend an i3 in any guise if you’re on the market for a compact electric vehicle, really. That said, an i3s with the range extender might be the best overall proposition, though you will have to stomach a pretty heady price tag for the luxury.
Still though, you get to drive the BMW i3 around with the satisfaction of knowing you’re on the very edge of automotive ingenuity. That, is priceless.
Car Magazine, UK — 4.0/5.0 — “The BMW i3 offers addictive acceleration and marginally more secure handling to an already immensely likeable, very quick, but pricey city car package.”
WhatCar? UK — 3.0/5.0 — “Electric motoring doesn’t come much more desirable than the BMW i3, but there are better (and cheaper) alternatives.”
Autocar, UK — 4.0/5.0 — “Still better to drive than any other EV, but no better to own.”
Motoring — 76/100 — “For now, I’m not concerned about people buying the BMW i3s, I’d settle for them just getting behind the wheel. Consider it baby steps for a nation devoted to performance variants of their preferred prestige marque.”
AutoExpress, UK — 4.0/5.0 — “The BMW i3 is innovative, stylish, and good to drive, while most of its electric-only rivals, are not.”
CarsGuide — 7.4/10 — “If you want an electric hatchback that looks like it's from the future, then you should totally look at the BMW i3. There are no real competitors at the moment, and if the Tesla Model 3 production puzzle doesn't sort itself out soon, the i3 could have this part of the market to itself for a while.”