BMW i3 review
The BMW i3 makes a great city car - it's relaxing to drive and there's nothing else like it on the road
The BMW i3 is the first all-electric production vehicle from the German manufacturer but it is also available with an optional range-extending motorcycle engine that keeps the batteries topped up. Without it the BMW i3’s range stands at anywhere between about 80 miles and 125 miles depending on how you drive; with the range-extender those numbers could double. The BMW i3 is about the same size as a Ford Fiesta but it feels higher and larger inside. Compared to many electric cars, like the Renault ZOE or Vauxhall Ampera, it’s also very lightweight thanks to its carbon fibre and aluminium construction – in fact, it’s about 300kg lighter than a Nissan LEAF.
Our choice: BMW i3 Range-Extender
The i3 looks like no other car on the road. It’s clearly a BMW – the traditional roundel badge and double kidney grille make sure of that – but its sharp edges and outlandish lines draw plenty of glances. Different colours are available but the bonnet is always finished in a contrasting shade, which really makes it stand out. The BMW i3 interior styling depends on which package you go for, with buyers able to upgrade from the standard interior to Loft, Lodge or Suite. These cost between £1,000 and £2,000, offering things like Eucalyptus wood, velour floor mats and stitched leather. Whichever you go for you’ll get a concept car-style interior, featuring two LCD screens, a funky steering wheel and a chunky drive selector.
The most immediately obvious thing about driving the BMW i3 is the sense that you feel as though you could almost do away with the brake pedal. BMW has carefully tuned the amount of brake energy regeneration so that when you step off the accelerator the car begins to slow down. How much you release the pedal decided how much regeneration there is. You can easily drive around town without ever braking, which makes it really relaxing. There are no gears and there aren’t any vibrations or clattery engines so it’s generally a very smooth and quiet place to be, too. The BMW’s steering feels typically sharp, and because all the heavy batteries are mounted under the floor, the i3 has a low centre of gravity. For such a high-riding car it handles pretty well because of this fact – though the 50:50 weight distribution and rear-wheel drive help, too. Complaints include the slightly firm ride, but it’s quite a minor issue in an otherwise excellent car.
It’s tricky to say exactly how reliable the BMW i3 will be – all this technology has almost been designed from scratch for this particular car. It’s all obviously been through a strenuous testing process so reliability shouldn’t be a problem. BMW is confident in the i3, saying that there are very few moving parts compared with a conventional car so there is less that can go wrong. There are fewer parts to be serviced and the brakes will not be worn down quickly because the electric motor tends to do the majority of the deceleration. The i3’s carbon fibre body is extremely strong, giving the i3 excellent side impact credentials. There is no official score from Euro NCAP just yet but a five-star rating is looking like a certainty.
The BMW isn’t quite a full five-seater – there’s only two seats in the rear – and nor is it quite a five-door car. The back doors are just small rear-opening coach doors but at least the fact there’s no B-pillar in the middle makes it very easy to get in and out. The i3’s boot sits quite high up but it’s nice and flat, so you can easily slide things in. There’s 260 litres of space with all the seats in place and 1,100 litres with them folded down. The biggest problem with the i3 is its range – 125 miles is achievable but it’ll be more like 90 in the real world. The way to solve it is to go for the range-extending version, which is exactly what the majority of buyers in the UK have done.
Obviously the benefit of any electric car is the fact that you don’t have to pay for petrol. You will have to pay for electricity but BMW reckons that an overnight charge should only cost you a couple of quid. What’s more, you won’t have to pay road tax and even in the Range-Extender version (which uses a petrol engine to boost the batteries) you won’t have to pay the London Congestion Charge. BMW claims the savings go further than this, though, saying that servicing costs are guaranteed to be lower.