BMW i3 vs rivals: electric car triple test

22 Jan, 2014 9:45am

We see if new BMW i3 is the car to take EVs into the mainstream

Car manufacturers have had a tough time trying to convince buyers to ditch the internal combustion engine in favour of the electric motor, but that hasn’t stopped BMW from jumping on the EV bandwagon.

It’s just launched the battery-powered BMW i3 city car which, sizewise, slots into the line-up below the 1 Series. However, BMW knows the pure electric car fits a very specific brief – namely short trips with easy access to charging facilities.

So it also offers the i3 Range Extender (REx), which adds a two-cylinder petrol engine and provides scope for longer journeys. To find out if the newcomer is the breakthrough electric cars need, we’ve lined it up against a pair of established range-extender rivals.

BMW i3 review

Vauxhall Ampera review

Toyota Prius Plug-in review

The Vauxhall Ampera follows the same idea as the i3 REx, with petrol power generating energy for an electric motor, while the Toyota Prius Plug-in uses a beefed-up version of the standard car’s hybrid.

So does the BMW raise the bar for electric cars? Or is it still too much of a compromise to be a true alternative to a conventional car? We drove all three models on a varied test route to find out.


Range comparison

When fully charged, the i3 has an 88-mile electric range. In comparison, the Ampera can go 30 miles, and the Prius around 10 miles.

The BMW and Vauxhall will hold battery charge if your journey consists of motorway miles followed by city driving, although the i3’s longer electric range means you’re more likely to do the whole journey in EV mode. Add petrol ranges, and the cars’ figures rise to 160, 357 and 505 miles respectively.


It's not until you park next to the Ampera that you can see how large the BMW really is. It’s five inches taller and nearly as wide, while the high ground clearance and skinny tyres are in stark contrast to the low-slung, speed hump-scraping Vauxhall.


The biggest problem with these cars is that the electric charging stations required to maximise their battery range are so rare.

Our trip from London to Coventry via Silverstone relied on petrol power, and the charging points we did come across required you to sign up to a local charging scheme – not ideal if you’re on a cross-country trip.

Plus, the different fast-charging leads supplied with these cars won’t necessarily be compatible with the charging points on offer.


1st place: BMW i3 Range Extender

BMW i3 REx 2014 front track

The i3 is the best electric car on sale. It’s beautifully built with lots of advanced touches, it’s roomy, drives reasonably well and has a decent range. But this REx model is no substitute for a conventional car. Think of the petrol engine as a safety net for when the batteries run out, and it makes a lot more sense.

2nd place: Vauxhall Ampera

If you want to jump into electric car ownership, but only want one car, then the Ampera is still the model to go for.

It performs well, has enough hi-tech touches to make it feel like you’re driving something special, and is a capable and comfortable cruiser for long journeys.

3rd place: Toyota Prius Plug-in

Toyota Prius plug-in 2013 front tracking

The Prius Plug-in is easily the best model in Toyota’s hybrid line-up, but that’s not saying much. Good points are that it recharges quickly and it’ll be reliable.

However, it trails its rivals here for interior quality, and its plug-in drivetrain isn’t as flexible or efficient as either competitor’s.


BMW i3 range Extender Vauxhall Ampera Positiv Toyota Prius Plug-in
On the road price/total as tested (including govt grant) £28,830/£35,370 £28,750/£29,745 £28,245/£30,240
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000) £9,860/34.2% £9,833/34.2% £10,564/37.4%
Depreciation £18,970 £18,918 £17,681
Annual tax liability std/higher rate £338/£676 £337/£674 £332/£664
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles) £1,089/£1,814 £989/£1,649 £1,402/£2,337
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost 21/£383/A/£0 20/£459/A/£0 16/£413/A/£0
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service £375 (5yrs/60k) £115/£277/£115 £119/£189/£119
Length/wheelbase 3,999/2,570mm 4,514/2,685mm 4,480/2,700mm
Height/width 1,578/1,775mm 1,439/1,787mm 1,490/1,745mm
Drivetrain Electric motor/2cyl in-line Electric motor/4cyl in-line 4cyl in-line/electric motor
Generator/engine capacity 647cc 1,398cc 1,798cc
Peak power/revs 168/0 bhp/rpm 148/5,000 bhp/rpm 132/5,200 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 250/0 Nm/rpm 370/250 Nm/rpm 142/4,400 Nm/rpm
Transmission Single speed auto/rwd Single speed auto/fwd CVT auto/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel 9 litres/repair kit 35 litres/repair kit 45 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down) 260/1,100 litres 300/1,005 litres 443/1,120 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight 1,315/415kg 1,732/268kg 1,450/390kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient 9.9 metres/0.29Cd 10.9 metres/0.28Cd 11.0 metres/0.25Cd
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery 3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs 3yrs (60,000)/1yr 5yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers Variable/44 20k miles (1yr)/24 10k miles (1yr)/184
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos 15th/24th 26th/18th 9th/3rd
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars 86/81/57/4 85/78/41/5 88/82/68/5
0-60/30-70mph 7.2/6.5 secs 9.4/8.2 secs 10.4/10.4 secs
30-50/50-70mph 2.3/4.2 secs 3.4/5.5 secs 4.0/6.3 secs
Top speed 93mph 100mph 112mph
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 52.9/38.3/9.5m 50.3/35.7/9.2m 52.4/36.7/9.9m
Noise 30/70mph 64/73dB 57/68dB 60/72dB
Overall Auto Express economy 65.7mpg/14.5mpl 72.3mpg/15.9mpl 51.0mpg/11.2mpl
Govt combined economy 470.8mpg 235.4mpg 134.5mpg
Govt combined economy 103.6mpl 51.8mpl 29.6mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket 99/13g/km/5% 90/27g/km/5% 128/49g/km/5%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/camera Six/yes/£790/£790 Eight/yes/yes/yes Seven/yes/no/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seats Yes/£2,000/£260 Yes/yes/yes Yes/£1,500/yes
Met paint/adaptive LEDs/keyless go £530/£710/yes £525/no/yes £495/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth Yes/yes/yes/yes No/yes/yes/yes Yes/yes/no/yes
Stability/cruise control Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes