BMW i3 (2013-2022) Review
The electric BMW i3 brings style and desirability to this fledgling sector but it’s expensive, while some essential items are cost options
Strengths & weaknesses
While many electric cars have lacked the wow factor, that certain spark that can make a customer fall in love with a car when they see it in the showroom or take it for a test drive, the BMW i3 certainly delivers.
BMW’s contender in the fast-growing electric car market is a breath of fresh air, and not just because there are no emissions spewing an exhaust. It looks different to every other car on the road because under the surface, it is different to the herd.
The company has offered three versions, the standard and more affordable i3, priced from about £33,000, the i3 Range Extender, which uses a small petrol engine to recharge the batteries, which was around £36,500 when it was on sale, and the quicker i3S for a similar price to the REx model.
With its space-age looks and construction (it features carbon fibre and sustainable materials), premium badge and low company car tax the i3 is an appealing alternative not only to conventionally powered cars but to rival electric and hybrid vehicles including the Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi Outlander.
Of course, the elephant in the room is electric vehicles’ limited range. BMW recently addressed this by boosting the i3’s battery capacity so that on a full charge, a pure electric i3 can travel up to 195 miles. That should be enough for those commuters who can recharge at home and at work, although it’s a range that requires careful driving to achieve.
For those who like to travel farther, the hybrid version, called the i3 Range Extender, is worth considering since it can go for up to 276 miles on a full charge and a full tank of fuel. It consumes petrol at a rate equivalent to 470.8mpg and emits 12g/km CO2. While the electric version costs nothing to tax, the REx model sits in the lowest paid bracket.
Both models share the same eye-catching looks. Poke around and you’ll find useful features, too, such as a flat floor throughout and rear doors that hinge at the rear rather than the front, to aid access. The seats are quite shallow but this helps boost cabin space so although externally it’s a small car, the i3 is actually quite spacious.
This impression is heightened by the clever use of materials - like eucalyptus wood - that make it feel light and airy, and a minimalist dashboard that uses two colour touchscreens in place of dials and switches. This hi-tech presentation extends to the standard equipment list which includes a sat-nav, digital radio, parking sensors, and automatic lights and wipers. It’s possible to personalise the i3 with a choice of four distinctly different ‘interior worlds’ – BMW-speak for cabin trims – that make the car feel more special still. It’s just a shame that BMW’s creativity hasn’t extended to providing a larger boot. At 260 litres it’s smaller than a Ford Fiesta’s.
Underway, the i3 feels agile and alert. It’s seriously nippy up to about 60mph, and there’s playful rear-wheel-drive handling and ultra-direct steering to enjoy. The raised driving position is a boon in town. The firm suspension can be a little bumpy and the skinny tyres sometimes struggle for grip but the i3 always feels secure.
The Range Extender version is a little slower than the pure electric i3 but the pay-off is reduced range anxiety and longer trips without having to stop to charge the battery.