In-depth reviews

BMW i3 review

The BMW i3 was one of the first electric cars to make everyday drivers sit up and take notice, with its cool style, good handling and practical range

Overall rating

3.0 out of 5

Price
£32,900 - £35,900
Fuel Type:
Electric

Pros

  • Fun to drive
  • Futuristic styling inside and out
  • Uses eco-conscious materials

Cons

  • Pricey compared to rivals
  • Range is no longer competitive
  • Compact interior and small boot
Car typeRangeWallbox charge timeRapid charge time
Electric175-189 miles6hrs 15mins (7.4kW, 0-100%)36mins (50kW, 10-80%)

If you’re looking for an electric car to get you from A to B, then there are plenty of options from the Vauxhall Corsa-e and Peugeot e-208 to the Renault ZOE and Fiat 500. All of these small electric cars offer more range and at a lower price than the BMW i3. 

But where those cars stick to simple formulas and some share platforms, bodies and interior cues with petrol-powered counterparts, the BMW i3's unique styling, advanced carbon-fibre construction and the prestige of the BMW brand are all things its rival can't boast. The i3, much like the Honda e, boldly assumes that, far from being fearful of electric technology, potential buyers would want to make a statement about their decision to switch to electric.

The i3 certainly does that, even though it’s been around for the best part of a decade now. Well, as a concept at least, which is how we saw the i3 when it was first unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011. The BMW i3 went on sale in the UK in 2014, and has since become one of the ten best selling electric cars in the world alongside the Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model 3 and Model S.

BMW’s compact electric car is a five-door hatchback, like the ZOE and Honda e. However, the way it's designed, constructed and packaged gives it a different feel to anything else on the road. The body is constructed of carbon-fibre clad in plastic panels, while a high roofline and rear-hinged rear doors maximise practicality for passengers. The design stands out in traffic, too, thanks to clever detailing and interesting side-window profiles. Inside, a suitably futuristic interior has something of a boutique feel thanks to its eco-friendly yet luxurious finish.

As a pure-electric vehicle, there’s no engine compartment as such; the i3 features a 168bhp electric motor driving the rear axle via a single-speed automatic transmission, with the batteries located under the floor. The i3s is the more performance-focused variant and uses a 180bhp motor; official ranges are 189 and 175 miles respectively for the two versions, from a fully charged battery.

Real-world range in our experience is just over 160 miles, but of course it all depends on your driving style and road conditions. It'll take almost 20 hours to fully charge the i3's batteries from a standard three-pin socket. However, if you fit a 7kW wallbox charger at home, you can reduce that time to six hours. If you use a 50kW DC rapid charger at motorway services or elsewhere, it'll take some 30 minutes to add 100 miles of range. It's a shame that the i3 doesn't offer faster charging like the Honda e, Peugeot e-208 or even Vauxhall Corsa-e, all of which can charge at speeds of up to 100kW.

The two versions of the i3 are similarly well equipped, with both getting LED headlamps and big alloy wheels, BMW's iDrive infotainment system with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and automatic headlamps and wipers. The i3s gives you the punchier motor, but also has 20-inch alloys instead of the standard 19-inch rims, lower sports suspension, sharper steering, optimised traction control and a 'Sport' driving mode.

On the road, the i3 is fun to drive, with responsive acceleration, crisp steering and near-silent running making it particularly effective at darting around town. Ride quality isn't brilliant, though, and the short-travel suspension means hustling the car along country roads can fairly quickly become unsettling. Body control and handling improve a little with the upgraded suspension of the i3s, but don’t think this is an electric hot hatchback – it’s not.

The i3 feels most at home around town and in the suburbs, which isn’t such a bad thing when you consider its primary role is as a second car for many families. Practicality is compromised by a smallish boot that only offers 260 litres of luggage space with all seats in place, and by the fact you only get a two-seat rear bench. But if you can live with those restrictions, the car has a lot to recommend it as a fun-to-drive, cheap-to-run, stylish and eco-friendly lifestyle statement. For a more detailed look at the BMW i3, read on for the rest of our in-depth review...

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