BMW's first fully electric production car to is one of the more interesting EVs you can buy.

Introduction

The BMW i3 was the first fully electric production car to come from the makers of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’, and it has surprised many with how well it drives. It is made from a variety of lightweight materials and has a revolutionary-looking interior to maximise space, while an upgraded battery now extends driving range up to 195 miles. If that still leaves you a little anxious about running out of power, there is also a range-extender version. The familiar rear-wheel-drive layout typical of BMWs adds to the sharp handling, making this one of the more interesting EVs you can buy.  

 

Body Style: Hatchback  Seats: 4                MRP from £32,590 - £35,740 (qualifies for £4,500 UK plug-in car grant)

 

Did you know? All of the electricity used by BMW in the production of the i3 comes exclusively from renewable energy sources.

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Verdict: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (7.9/10)

Objectively, the BMW i3 is one of the most appealing electric vehicles on sale today. But when you start to compare it to its main EV rivals, such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, it starts to lose some of its shine. It is also one of the more expensive EVs on sale of its size, and it gets even more expensive should you choose the range extending REX model. Price aside, it is a hugely impressive car to drive and a very positive example of how EVs should perform. Its agility and pace often surprise, while improved battery capacity and charge times add to its practical side. Annoying features like having to open the front door to open the rears makes dropping off passengers a pain, but this is just one blot in an otherwise clean copybook.

Design & Exterior

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Interior & Comfort

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Technology & Connectivity

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Performance & Handling

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Safety Features

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

Specs & Trims

★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

Running Costs & Fuel Economy

★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

Pricing

★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

 

2017 BMW i3

We Like

Zippy acceleration

Futuristic looking interior layout

High-quality finish inside and out

We Don't Like

Limited rear door functionality

Quite expensive compared to other city EVs

Seats only four people

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Design & Exterior: ★★★★★★★★ (9/10)

2017 BMW i3

Introduced in 2013, the BMW i3, with its carbonfibre body capsule on an aluminium underframe, still looks as futuristic today and still turns heads as it silently zips along. The i3’s contrasting black bonnet and all-glass rear hatch, combined with flourishes of blue (which appears to be the electrified futuristic colour of choice) guarantee it won't be mistaken for anything else.

The large 19-inch wheels look great, and manoeuvrability when parking is helped by the way they are pushed to the far corners of the car. Another benefit of this (and their unusually narrow tyres) is that they have little impact on interior space. The i3's near-crossover height makes access easy, although you’ll have to open the front door before you can open the rear-hinged back door; something that could get annoying if you do the school run with older kids.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Interior & Comfort: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 BMW i3

You won’t find the typical BMW interior layout inside the i3. Just like its radical exterior, the cabin looks like nothing else in the range. It is technology-meets-minimalism, and since there’s no conventional engine up front, it has lots of legroom without the usual centre console to divide the footwells. The i3 also gets a flat floor inside, as all of the battery and transmission parts are housed under the floor with the electric motor at the back. Thin, sculpted seats provide reasonable levels of comfort and support without encroaching too much on rear passenger space, too. These factors help make the i3 feel more spacious inside than its compact exterior might initially suggest.  

There is room for only two passengers in the rear, however, and even they don't get generous amounts of space. It's not an issue for short journeys or for children, though. That added lower kink in the rear doors lets in more light and gives the little ones a better view of the world, as well.  

Practicality

While the cabin does make the most of maximising interior space, the i3 is best suited to a small family with younger children. A big plus is the fact that, when both front and rear doors are open, there is no traditional  centre pillar, which creates one big open space. That can make life easier for passengers getting into the back or loading in child seats. Storage in the rear is virtually non-existent, though, apart from some built-in cupholders between the two seats.

Behind the almost vertical glass hatch is a cargo area which offers just 260 litres of capacity. The high load height is useful, except for when you have heavier items to lug in. Folding forward the 50:50 split rear seats increases capacity to a more useful 1100 litres. Many EV owners keep the charging cables in the boot, but the i3 makes use of an additional compartment in the front of the car, where an engine would normally be, that can house these.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Technology & Connectivity: ★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW i3

All BMW i3 models come with two high-resolution screens, one that acts as the driver’s instrument and dashboard display, and a larger 6.5-inch centrally mounted screen that shows the infotainment and vehicle settings. This is operated via the BMW iDrive wheel that is located on the centre console and is intuitive to use, as on all BMWs.

Standard equipment includes the BMW Professional system that features DAB digital radio, Bluetooth phone connection, and USB ports. This allows for music streaming from your device. Sat-nav also comes as standard and includes Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI) that can help you avoid congested routes while driving.

If the standard stereo isn’t up to scratch, an optional Harman Kardon system is available for a fee. With this you get a 360-watt amplifier in the luggage compartment and 12 loudspeakers. It also features Harman Kardon branding on the visible speakers in the cabin, so even when you aren’t listening to anything you and your passengers will know that you’ve got a quality speaker system on board. 

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Performance & Handling: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW i3

Electric vehicles have a tendency to surprise with their rapid yet silent acceleration, and the BMW i3 excels in this area. It feels faster than the 7.3-second time to get to 62mph would suggest. It may have the equivalent of 170hp, but it's the 184lb ft of torque that gives it some real shove and, being electric, it's available instantly. The single-speed transmission results in a linear power delivery to the rear wheels.

Even though the i3 has relatively skinny tyres by modern standards with a 155/70 R19 size, they provide a surprisingly good level of grip and give the driver plenty of confidence when driving 'more spiritedly'. BMW’s boffins have worked their magic on the steering, too, which is just light enough for town use, but weighted to the degree that you can accurately judge what the front wheels are doing. It has strong brakes as well, but getting the most from the i3’s battery means using the regenerative brakes more efficiently and easing off the accelerator early when you see an imminent stop. The regenerative brakes use the car's motion to recharge the battery, the effort taken to do that being what slows the i3 down. Lifting off the accelerator completely slows the car down more quickly than in a 'normal' car and triggers the regenerative braking, which is why it makes the brake lights come on.

Recommended version: i3 94Ah BEV

0-62mph

7.3 seconds

Driving range

195 miles (125 miles real world)

Emissions

0g/km

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Safety Features: ★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 BMW i3

Despite all of its environmentally friendly construction processes, the i3 only scored a four-star rating in the Euro NCAP test, and that was back in 2013. It did perform well in the areas of driver and child occupant protection, but its lack of safety assistance systems hindered its final score. All i3 models do come equipped as standard with front driver and passenger airbags, plus curtain airbags in the front and rear. Hill-start Assist helps hold the i3 on a slope to ensure a smooth getaway, too.

The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) includes Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and a 'smart' brake-drying system which helps ensure that the brakes are at the optimum readiness even in wet conditions. A tyre-pressure monitoring system can also detect a possible puncture before you get stuck. Meanwhile the cruise control is linked to the driving modes and so can adapt to the chosen setting. In Eco Pro, for example, it maximises battery charge at the expense of acceleration back up to speed. Given that BMW offers such a wide variety of driver assistance systems on its other models it’s a shame that many aren’t available on the i3 as yet.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Specs & Trim Levels: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

2017 BMW i3

Colours

All BMW i3 models feature a gloss black bonnet, roof and tailgate, and the colour palette is six different colours. Only the Capparis White with BMW i Blue accent is a no-cost option. Four of the remaining five colours feature BMW i Blue colour accent: Ionic Silver, Platinum Silver, Mineral Grey, and Fluid Black. The remaining Protonic Blue features a Frozen Grey accent.

Trim Levels

There is effectively just one standard trim level on the BMW i3, but buyers can then choose from three different optional ‘Interior worlds’ - Lodge, Loft and Suite - that range in cost from £1000 to £2000. Depending on which you choose they can make a big difference to the look and feel of the interior.

The Loft version brightens up the interior with light grey upholstery on the seats, while the dashboard top and other interior surfaces are finished in a dark Andesite colour. It is the most subtle of the three options. The Lodge interior looks and feels that bit more special. The seats and door panels are trimmed in a mix of fabric and leather and the two-tone finish looks good. Meanwhile, the dashboard features Eucalyptus wood, which is very different to the standard shiny wood veneers you see in cars that look and feel more like plastic. The range-topping interior option is the Suite, and it is more typical of what you might expect from a BMW. It has full leather upholstery and dark colours throughout, with a fine wood Oak insert on the dashboard.

Size and Dimensions

Squeezing the i3 into tight parking spaces isn’t a chore thanks to its compact dimensions. At just 3999mm long and 1775mm wide, it’s barely longer than a Ford Fiesta and slimmer than a Volkswagen Golf.

Length

3999mm

Width

1775mm

Height

1578mm

Max towing weight with brake

0kg

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Running Costs & Fuel Economy: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

2017 BMW i3

Once you get over the initial purchase cost, running the i3 should be considerably less expensive than running a regular internal-combustion-engined car. The latest i3 models come with a 94Ah battery that offers an improved range of up to 195 miles, although you should realistically expect to get closer to 125 miles in real-world conditions. Depending on your energy provider, overnight charging at home can vary, but a good rule of thumb is to estimate that it will cost 10p per kWh. In the case of the i3 that works out at a little less than £3 per full charge.

Other benefits include being road tax exempt, zero per cent benefit-in-kind tax and, if you live or travel in London, you don’t have to pay the Congestion Charge. In some towns and cities there is also free parking offered to EVs, and many now have dedicated charging spaces, meaning there’s less chance of getting caught out with a flat battery.

The i3 Range Extender does cost considerably more to buy, but it if it helps allay any possibility of range anxiety then you’ll see it as money well spent. It does come with a seven per cent benefit-in-kind rate, but it does extend the driving range to 205 miles. It’s worth noting that the range extender isn’t designed to be driven like a regular petrol-engined car, though; the petrol engine is merely a generator of electricity to reduce the risk of getting stuck without a charged battery, and you'll still need to recharge when the range is used up.

Reliability and servicing

The i3 uses a condition-based servicing system, whereby it monitors its use and alerts the owner when a service is imminent. Typically most cars will only require one annual visit to the service department for a check-up. As the powertrain is electric (unless you have the petrol engine in the REX model, of course), there are fewer moving mechanical parts than in a conventional car, which will help reduce servicing costs. Only items like tyres and brakes will require replacement when worn.

A Service Inclusive Package is available on the i3 covering the cost of a vehicle check, replacement of micro filters and brake fluid and, in the case of the range-extender versions, including an oil service and any engine oil top-ups required in between regular service intervals.

Just like regular BMW models, the i3 comes with a standard three-year unlimited mileage warranty. The lithium-ion battery is covered by a separate eight-year/100,000-mile warranty which covers the cost of repair/replacement should the battery drop below 70 per cent of original capacity.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Pricing: ★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

2017 BMW i3

The i3 is a premium product and so is priced accordingly. It also qualifies in Category 1 for the UK Government’s plug-in car grant, which equates to £4500. That helps offset the starting price of £32,590 but even then it is priced higher than other EVs of a comparable size, some of which offer even longer driving ranges. That said, the i3 does look and feel that bit more special than most of the competition. However, once you start adding an upgraded interior and other optional extras it can soon become quite an expensive car given its small size. The Range Extender is priced from £35,740.

 

Verdict | Design | Interior | Technology | Performance | Safety | Specs | Running Costs | Pricing

Recommendations

First Time Driver

If you’re new to electric vehicles then opting for the i3 with Range Extender will cover you in case you exceed the electric-only driving range.

Tech Junky

For the ultimate in style and tech, the i3 with Lodge interior combined with the upgraded Harmon Kardon stereo will make your i3 über cool.

Luxury Seeker

With its chic style, the Fluid Black i3 with Suite interior will look very sophisticated and if budget isn’t tight add the range extender.

Rivals

Renault Zoe 40

Its long-range battery makes this one of the best EVs on sale.

Hyundai Ioniq

Available as a hybrid as well as a full electric vehicle, this hatchback really impressed us.

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Offering good amounts of room inside, the electric B-Class is fast and refined with a good battery range to boot.

Nissan Leaf

Even with its 30kWh battery, the Leaf can’t match the BMW’s driving range, but what it lacks in range it makes up for in space and affordability.

Volkswagen eGolf

More ‘normal’ looking and offers more passenger and luggage space, but it doesn’t feel as fun or special to drive.

What others say

Auto Express

“The BMW i3 is a relaxing drive and there's nothing else like it on the road.”

Car Buyer

“The BMW i3 is a great fun and nippy around town, but it’s very expensive to buy and those striking looks won’t suit everyone.”

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2017 BMW i3