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.

Head-to-head

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.

Dimensions

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.

Infrastructure

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.

Verdict

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.

Figures

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

Disqus - noscript

Shouldn't the Ampera be the winner then?

This must be your most corrupt test yet AE!

The ONLY category that the i3 wins is pure battery range on combined range its left wanting by what 400 miles?! It literally fails as a daily car in every other department. Its slower, its more expensive, it comes with less standard equipment, its more to run, it has higher depreciation, it's ugly as sin (I guess its about level with the Prius), it has worse breaks, it has more cabin noise (less refined!), its less economical on combined.

I guess I could probably go on and on but I think I have made my point.

Surely the obvious rival to the i3 is the Nissan Leaf, and yet it is excluded from the test!??! All this leads me (and probably others) to believe is that it was excluded because it would have won the test.

AE you really need to explain why a review of electric cars excluded the benchmark model.

I think its because the Leaf is pure electric with no range extender version, all these 3 do. Saying that on pure battery it will go further than the pure electric i3. I agree though, the Leaf would have probably walked if it was a pure EV test.

The problem is that they based the test on a road trip, which is something a daily driver wont do 85% of the time. The BMW is not the slowest, its the fastest accelerating (faster to 30 than the outgoing M3) and its only marginally more expensive. Finally with 100 miles of electric range it can realistically be run on electricity alone, which will result in the lowest running costs

Ahhh... call me cynical... so they purposely chose the range extender version of the i3 so that the Leaf couldn't take part.

Priceless AE. Simply priceless.

i3 top speed = 93mph - Ampere = 100mph. The Amp is faster than the i3.
It could be ran on it alone, as can the Leaf which would have wiped the floor with the i3 in all categories showing the test has cherry picked the cars to be up against to make sure it won at least one category. The overall lifetime costs, new batteries for example would make the car a more expensive proposition overall as they would need to be replaced before the ones on the Amp + Prius. Not to mention it looses more, costs more to tax and has higher insurance costs. Then not to mention the recovery truck fee's to get you home because you wanted to use your heater in the winter.

That's it!

I've driven the i3 and its a fantastic car to drive. So much so I am going to order one. But not the REX, just the pure electric.
I've driven Prius and didn't think much of it.
I think the figures are taken when petrol engine is running -to compare like with like- but the i3 has a crude noisy range extending engine, because it is meant to be hardly used. Whereas the other two it is used much more -so theirs are better engines.
In pure electric, it was one of the most refined cars I've ever been in. And it is one of the things I look for in car -refinement.

I'm not a BMW lover. Never had one before -despite owning about 30 different cars in my lifetime. I have a 2.7 twin turbo diesel v6 presently and before that petrol engines only. Even a V8 once. And the i3 is a more refined than any of them.
But it doesn't have much of a range -you might say. I only use a car locally. If going far, I catch a train. Once a year, we holiday long distance. I can borrow or hire a car. It will still be cheaper.
I just love the drive of the i3.

Or maybe the Vauxhall is just more refined. Have you tried the Ampere? Dont forget the tyres on the i3 wont help (eco rubbish ones to get that range up!), plus BMW will have used less insulation and thinner panels to keep the weight down due to the batteries and car been top heavy. So if you thought the i3 was refined the Amp might blow you away!

When you say refined are you talking just noise? Or power delivery, driving characteristics etc etc?

Hmm wheres my reply gone....

Bmw again surprise surprise bmw advertising funds put to good use again

AE, simple question, what is the range of the i3 at motorway speed, I suspect its nowhere near your claimed 160 miles, especially if it was on a cold winter evening. The test is flawed, the i3 is the worst car on test on most categories but wins overall, I suspect the test was carried out wearing lederhosen.

Cynical me thinks the i3 is likely to appear to drivers with defective vision who are not a category that needs to be encouraged!

Both do 70mph + and both will suck battery too fast at these speeds, so top speed is completely and totally irrelevant. Nippiness in town is far more useful in this type of vehicle. So where it counts, the i3 is quicker.

If they had chosen the non-range enxtender version then the Prius and Ampera couldn't take part. Electric only cars with i3 non-rEX, Leaf and Reanault Zoe is a completely different road test. So, there is no point to be made there,

State the obvious then.
Of course the range is lower on cold days and high speeds. They don't need to state it because you only need one brain cell to assume that.

Instead of talking rubbish why don't you research who the big advertisers are in the motoring press? If you measure column inches, I think you'll find that Hyundai/Kia are the biggest advertisers. BMW don't come close.

the test was supposedly for electric cars... of course there is a point.

Strange that as when i come on to this site most adverts are for bmw and take me straight to bmw uk, they obviously know there target buyers, as you obviously get hit with kia and Hyundai, i just find this site a bit biased towards certain makes when auto car give a far more reliable review

The web ads are smart ads based partly on your browsing history - different for each visitor. You need to look at the paper editions.

As far as car reviews, I think pretty much all motoring sites are BMW fans. BMWs might not be the most reliable or spacious cars but they are, almost without exception, fun to drive when compared to their competitors. You would expect motoring journalists to rate that sort of thing quite highly.

i actualy just got rid of my 2004 m3 after cracks in the sub frame were found even still under 10 year warranty, i had decided enough was enough and went for 2007 rs4 which in my opinion is a far better car, that said check out the review of the jag-amg, jag far better to drive, cheaper and yet the amg comes out on top seems that bmw and merc can have only one thing going for them and still win the test, just biased and sloppy journalism

Assuming the ready availability of 30grand for that use, the i3 is definitely the best as a primary daily car, i.e. for daily commuting and general driving around. In that use, no need for range extender and running costs will be low. But you really need something else if you want to take the family on a weekend or holiday.

The Ampera can do it all with a few visits to the petrol station, the only sacrifice being that it also only has 4 seats which for me greatly reduces its family car appeal.

So on pure EV promise the i3 wins, but as a general purpose car candidate, to me it is the Ampera, which has the added advantage of not making you look like you overpaid for an unpractical version of the C4 Picasso

We're just about to make the jump to EV but have decided to get a Tesla Model S. Sure the i3 is cheaper but when you compare the two the BMW comes across as old-school big-car-company thinking. With the i3 we would have to make compromises. With the Tesla for the few times a year we'd go over its range we just need to plan stops in advance.
Here is Switzerland the Model S is outselling cars like the XJ, S-class and A8. In fact the only biggish car that sold more last year was the Panamera and that had only sold 10% more in a full year sales rather than 6 months

And lets not forget the i3 is only a 4 star NCap car, the others are both 5 star.. Safety is an important priority to some people.

That Prius is way too aged now anyway. Needs an update, pronto.

Here is some news for you, petrol and diesel engines do less MPG in cold weather and at higher speed. Shocker! YOUR car, has a reduced range in winter and when you drive it fast.

No sensible point. The test is for cars of a similar configuration. A Leaf would be tested against the Renault Zoe and the non rEX i3. A different test for a different type of car. Your only point is making up childish conspiracy theories. Get a life.

It's obvious you haven't driven this car. The point you have made is that your judgement is as poor as your spelling.

Just passed 10,000 miles in my Ampera. This is a seriously underrated car - overall 110mpg although can go many weeks without using petrol at all (electric charging points are rapidly expanding although I usually charge at work making use of our big solar array) , 300 mile range when you need it, incredibly comfortable and well equipped, always draws admiring glances. I really can't think of anything that plain ugly BMW offers that could tempt me away.

The BMW i3 is probably one of the fastest not slowest, 0-62 in 7.2 seconds. The tire's help with rolling resistance. The car is one of the only 'True' electric cars which has actually been made to be electric apposed to a conversion car. Mainly, its produced in a factory which is run completely by wind turbines, the car been 95% recyclable. Very different from all the factories building these other hybrid cars. Made using Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic, making it lighter but just as strong as a conventional steel car. Costing £2 to charge to full, giving you 80 - 100 miles. The BMW i3 has everything going for it and more.

Ampera 0 - 62 in 9 seconds, BMW i3 0 - 62 in 7.2 seconds, considerably quicker in the speed range which matters, who wants to go over 93mph in a city car? The Leaf, well lets not go there with speed and handling. The BMW i3 comes with an 8 year warranty and is made up of 93 individual cells, you would never have to replace the whole battery. The BMW i3 costs nothing to tax each year and no congestion charges in London. Insurance costs similar to a 1 Series BMW. The BMW i3 seems to be coming out on top, when you look at the actual 'Facts'.

Hi HTG

This was a test of the i3 Range Extender, we will be testing the standard i3 against some pure electric rivals at a later date.

Thanks

Dean Gibson
Deputy road test editor

Hi shaun34

You're right that the range wouldn't be 160 miles if you were using it on the motorway the whole time. If you're just using the generator, then that would give you around 70-80 miles and the battery would probably add around 40 miles to that at motorway speed. And yes, temperature makes a difference, which is why the BMW and Vauxhall both offer pre-heating of the battery to maximise their range.

In the magazine, we gave the i3 and the Ampera four stars, because the BMW is better if you do lots of short journeys, the Ampera is better for longer trips.

Thanks

Dean Gibson
Deputy road test editor

The test was billed as "electric car triple test" - Naturally one would think Leaf, Zoe, and i3. If they'd called it "Environmentally friendly options test" then I'd have accepted the 3 cars they'd chosen to test.

Thanks for offering me a life, however, I'm rather pleased with my current one. I appreciate your concern all the same.

I think you're completely missing the point of these cars... If you're going to buy one and play traffic light grand prix with Leafs, Zoes, etc then you'll soon find the range of the battery not lasting till the next bend in the road. If covering ground quickly is a priority, I'd be very surprised any of these cars were picked.

Good to hear... I hope it's a fair and balanced review ;-)

Why would anyone spend £30k on such an ugly car. That along with the fact that you can buy a 2nd hand Renault Zoe or Twizy (with around 10k on clock) for £5k. Personally I think it was designed to appeal to people who buy organic vegetables. Stupid. Let the Hydrogen powered cars be released already!

Cheers Dean, doesn't change the fact that the car is built for short journeys, has a pathetic boot, and would only make sense to the average family if they had use of another vehicle, both the others could be used as the only car you would need.

I fully appreciate that however, with a full tank I will still get close to 400 mile, with a boot full of luggage and 4 passengers, I still doubt the i3 would get more than 100.

Electric Cars don't work! Hydrogen is the future! The i3 is one of those few cars that is so ugly that people forget its a BMW and not a Proton!

These three cars are totally different. The Prius is great for driving longer distances efficiently on a regular basis. The Ampera for driving longer distances once in a while. The BMW i3 is a great electric car but with the range extender the top speed is probably around 55 mph as the range extender only has 34 hp, nice to make sure you get home but nothing more.

As bad as my spelling? Please show me where? Or are you referring to my grammar where I did miss an apostrophe out of the word it's.

Or do you not actually have a point and thought you would pick on spelling because you have nothing better to add to this discussion?

The tyres help reduced rolling resistance yet but they also increase road noise and reduce grip. You mean like the Leaf, a car that is and only is pure electric unlike the i3. From early reports of the i3 it was always intended to have a petrol engine as well hence making it non-pure.

Don't even get me started on wind turbines! As an Electrical Engineer (was working for the Grid) they annoy the hell out of me, anything that is only 15% efficient is not an engineering triumph to be shouted about.

As far as I can see it has one thing going, cheap running costs, it has no space, it useless for a family. If you want cheap to run by a moped at least you will get through the city jams faster.

Apart from the fact the leaf is quicker, top speeds don't lie but I guess everyone can interrupt that how the want to get the result they want, as AE have done here. The test was rigged from beginning to end to make sure the german came out on top. The warranty on the i3 still does not cover the batteries if they reach end of life and if they have been charged and maintained properly they will pretty much all expire at the same time, 93 cells or not batteries have a shelf life, leaving a 10k bill in the space of a year say.

How come the other points keep been avoided? Incredibly poor load space, very little standard equipment, higher depreciation, it takes longer to stop and couldn't even get a 5 star safety rating like the Leaf.

I just cant not see a single way that its a better car than the Leaf, unless your a badge snob of course.

Also I have not long finished working for Siemens, the firm that supplies the wind turbines to the factory. It is not ran purely on wind power I can assure you that.

HA!!!

He's kind of right, they have to b hybrids. One in which the all electric i3 will be truly embarrassed.

The BMW is one ugly car. Manufacturers need to stop trying to make electric cars look different and just refine the power train to be an improvement on the internal combustion engine.
Then they will sell loads if the price is okay.

AEX 1,339
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