BMW i3 review
The BMW i3 is innovative, stylish and good to drive, while most of its electric-only rivals are not
The BMW i3 was designed from the ground up as an eco car and so feels a little more special than its Volkswagen e-Golf rival, which is based around a conventional platform. The BMW is a relaxing, strong performer and more importantly, it mixes incredible efficiency with quality and a greater sense of individuality than rivals like the e-Golf or Nissan Leaf.
With its strikingly contemporary looks and that familiar blue and white badge on its nose, the BMW i3 delivers a new and engaging driving experience, although it does have a firm ride. It’s not just the i3’s efficiency that impresses – the packaging and design make it one of the most user-friendly and appealing electric cars on the market. It may look pricey compared to rivals, but it definitely feels like the premium choice.
The BMW i3 electric hatchback has been around since 2013, yet thanks to its innovative and bespoke design, it still manages to look and feel more advanced than rivals based on regular production models.
The BMW i3 was updated in 2018 with a larger battery. The car came with a 22.6kWh battery at launch in 2013, climbing to 33kWh with a 2016 update – now there’s 42.2kWh battery that’s more in line with those fitted to the latest Nissan Leaf (40kWh) and Hyundai Kona Electric (64kWh). The i3 boasts an official range (measured on the latest WLTP scale) of up to 188 miles – an almost 30 per cent improvement over its predecessor.
There are two versions of the i3 available: a standard car with 168bhp and the i3s, a sportier model with 181bhp. BMW no longer sells hybrid ‘range extender’ models, which used three-cylinder petrol engines to charge the battery on the move.
All the ‘i’ models share the ground-up design approach and use advanced construction methods and carbon fibre to keep weight to a minimum. They all have radical styling too, which in the i3’s case means a unique hatchback body with a wheel-at-each-corner design, with rear-hinged rear passenger doors for easier access to the spacious four-seat interior.
While there are gradually increasing numbers of EV and alternative powertrain vehicles on sale in the UK, few can match the road presence and sense of innovation the i3 provides. However, rivals for the i3 with pure electric drive include the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and VW e-Golf.
While the i3 has been on sale in the UK since 2014, there was a round of revisions to the car in 2016. The latest iteration arrived in 2017 along with the sporty i3s, with both getting a small update in 2018 to add a larger battery. The range-extender hybrid was discontinued at this point, so all BMW i3 models are now EVs.
The i3 is the most affordable car in BMW’s ‘i’ line-up, although with prices starting at around the £35,000 mark (excluding Government grant), it's still not exactly cheap. While the i8 offers supercar styling, with its party-piece beetle-wing doors and powerful hybrid drivetrain, the i3 focuses more on practicality and reducing running costs significantly.
Beyond the choice between the standard car and the i3s, there are no trim levels as such. Instead, BMW offers a number of packages and options, with interior trim choices sorted into four ‘worlds’: Atelier, Loft, Lodge and Suite. Standard equipment is generous and includes rain sensors, automatic headlights, folding anti-dazzle mirrors, multi-function steering wheel, central armrest, cruise control with brake function, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats and BMW’s ‘Professional’ navigation system. Optional kit includes a park-assist package, electric glass sunroof and Apple CarPlay preparation.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe BMW i3 is innovative, stylish and good to drive, while most of its electric-only rivals are not
- 2Engines, performance and driveSprightly electric performance and good handling make the i3 fun; a compromised ride can’t spoil it
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsDay-to-day running is cheap as chips, but you pay for the privilege at both ends through a high list price and poor residuals
- 4Interior, design and technologyConcept car looks and design-led interior set the scene for a technology masterclass
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe i3 is roomy and comfortable for four, thanks to great design and clever packaging
- 6Reliability and SafetyThere’s an 8-year warranty on the battery, but pedestrian safety costs the BMW i3 vital Euro NCAP stars