BMW i3 review - Engines, performance and drive
Sprightly electric performance and good handling make the i3 fun; a compromised ride can’t spoil it
It doesn’t take long behind the wheel of the i3 to realise that it’s infused with BMW’s trademark fun driving experience.
A high-set driving position, excellent visibility and light controls help the i3 take crowded city streets in its stride, while the electric motor’s instant response lets you zip through gaps in the traffic with confidence.
Surprisingly, it’s on twisting back roads where the i3 feels least composed. The steering is quick and well weighted, and there’s more grip than you’d expect from the thin tyres, but hit a mid-corner bump and the tall i3 quickly becomes unsettled.
The short-travel suspension struggles to contain large body movements, plus there’s plenty of roll. It never feels like it’s going to lose control, and the stability control intervenes smoothly, but it’s enough to make you take things a bit easier.
As a result, the BMW is at its best when being used as a relaxed and refined cruiser, maximising the range in those batteries. The suspension copes well on the motorway and wind noise is kept in check.
Drive the sportier i3s on a twisty section of road, and it’s clear that it's more positive than the standard car. Tweaks to the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars in the sports suspension combine with the wider tyres to deliver more grip, weightier steering and a generally greater feeling of confidence behind the wheel. But, despite all the changes, this is no hot hatchback.
Car group tests
- Kia e-Niro vs BMW i3 vs Hyundai Kona Electric
- BMW i3 - best low emissions green cars
- Nissan Leaf vs BMW i3 vs VW e-Golf vs Renault ZOE
- Most economical hybrid cars
- BMW i3 vs Audi A3 e-tron
Used car tests
In fact, the i3s still weighs a fairly heavy 1,290kg and the combination of a tall body and a high driving position means the car doesn’t feel particularly nimble.
The i3 is powered by an electric motor with 168bhp in the standard car or 181bhp in the i3s. This is connected to the back axle via a single-speed fixed-ratio transmission and uses a liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery. The i3 is very neatly packaged. The battery is integrated into the rear cabin floor, while the motor takes up one half of the space under the boot floor.
With its powerful electric motor and lightweight 1,270kg carbon fibre structure, the BMW i3 is surprisingly fast, too. Thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque, acceleration is rapid, and it manages a 0-60mph time of 7.3 seconds. This drops to 6.9 seconds in the more powerful i3s, while top speed increases from 93mph to 99mph.
The sportier i3s has a new, more responsive traction control system that means less of its extra power is wasted in wheelspin. The initial hit of torque rockets the i3 away, but the acceleration subsides as the speed rises, so next you notice the wind noise around the doors.
In both cars, the regenerative braking is nicely judged, so you quickly get used to driving using just one pedal, coming on and off the accelerator to adjust your speed.
In this review
- 1BMW i3 reviewThe BMW i3 is innovative, stylish and good to drive, while most of its electric-only rivals are not
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingSprightly 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