BMW i3 review
The BMW i3 is innovative, stylish and good to drive - delivering a premium small electric car with plenty of road presence
The BMW i3 is a fully electric car that’s been built on a bespoke platform, a trend that has since been followed by the likes of the Volkswagen ID.3 and a host of other battery-electric vehicles. The i3 is both fun and relaxing to drive, with strong performance coupled with a superbly efficient powertrain. Build quality is high too, with a unique interior design making it appear more special than something like a Renault Zoe or Peugeot e-208.
With those contemporary looks and a familiar blue and white badge, the BMW i3 provides an engaging driving experience far removed from more conventional city cars; only the firm ride really counts against it. And while the i3’s cheap-to-run electric powertrain impresses, the packaging and design make it one of the most user-friendly and appealing electric cars you can buy. It may look expensive compared to rivals, but it definitely feels like a 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 entry-level 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.
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Used car tests
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.
The i3 is part of a BMW ‘i’ line-up that until recently included the stunning i8 coupe and roadster models, while the new BMW iX3 arrived late in 2020. Models like the BMW i4 and BMW iX SUV are in the pipeline.
The BMW i3 makes use of a ground-up design, advanced construction methods and carbon fibre to keep weight to a minimum. The styling is radical too, which in the i3’s case means a unique hatchback body with a wheel-at-each-corner design. Rear-hinged rear passenger doors provide 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 ID.3.
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 full EVs.
The i3 is the most affordable car in BMW’s ‘i’ line-up, although with prices starting above the £35,000 mark (including the Government grant), it's still not exactly cheap. Buyers need to focus on the fact that the all-electric powertrain can dramatically reduce running costs in the long-term for it to make financial sense.
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, a multi-function steering wheel, central armrest, cruise control with brake function, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats and BMW’s ‘Professional’ navigation system. Apple CarPlay preparation is now standard too. Optional kit includes a park-assist package, an electric glass sunroof and a Harman Kardon sound system.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe BMW i3 is innovative, stylish and good to drive - delivering a premium small electric car with plenty of road presence
- 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 average 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