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In-depth reviews

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.

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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.

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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.

Engines

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.

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    125kW 42kWh 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £35,120

Most Economical

  • Name
    125kW 42kWh 5dr Auto [Loft Interior World]
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £36,120

Fastest

  • Name
    135kW S 42kWh 5dr Auto
  • Gearbox type
    Auto
  • Price
    £37,650
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