Take a look at the BMW i3 and you still can’t help thinking “car of the future”. It has a distinctive and very different design that is not quite like anything else on the road and yet it now has a certain familiarity. The reason for this is that this BMW electric city car has actually been around since 2011 in concept form and been in production since 2014. In electric car terms this makes it something of an old master, yet through updates and improvements the German car maker has still been able to keep the I3 innovative and relevant.
Electric vehicle technology has moved on rapidly during the i3’s lifetime and the car will cease production in July this year. So is this a classic electric that is worth getting your hands on while you still can? Or, is it an aging vehicle that has been left behind by a new generation of all-electrics?
- Great interior style and technology
- Well built and reliable
- Handles well
- Premium price
- Small boot and no fifth seat
When the i3 was first conceived well over a decade ago, it was clear that designers wanted it to be very different from traditional petrol and diesel designs and make something of an electric statement. They certainly achieved this and it is testament to the design team that even today the i3 still looks futuristic. Form the front it has a chunky, almost aggressive stance and is clearly recognisable as something out of the BMW stable. The sidelines look a little confused and the design of the rear is a little boxy and abrupt. Overall the i3 does have some nice, distinctive, styling touches as well as some interesting two tone paint options. It is a car that was always designed to appeal to a niche market of drivers looking to highlight their electric choice and it continues to do this quite well.
The i3 is a narrow car which makes it very much a four, rather than a five seater. However, big windows and a relatively high roof line do make the interior feel spacious for a car of this size. As you might expect internal design is also very futuristic and even after more than ten years it is still very much at the cutting edge when it comes to technology. In addition to the standard spec, you have the options to upgrade to loft, lodge or suite interiors, each with their own unique combination of upholstery and trim. Whatever the choice, the cabin is comfortable, well specified and of course has that reassuring BMW quality feel.
The much acclaimed BMW iDrive system comes as standard with a high-resolution 10-inch screen and built in sat-nav. This is easy to get to grips with and there are various other options available including having the car integrated to Amazon Alexa and a useful parking assist system. A rear-hinged door is practical for child seat access, but the boot is a little on the small side. However, overall this very much feels like a premium interior, well ahead of its competition.
The i3 has seen a lot of battery evolution since it started out with an under-powered 22kWh unit that came with the option of a scooter engine based generator to extend range. It now comes with a 42.2kWh or 120Ah battery that has managed to extend range without needing more space. Even so it is a little short on performance when compared to more recent competition using more advanced battery power. The standard i3 offers 170hp while the more sporty i3s delivers 184hp. The extensive use of lightweight carbon in construction means that both i3s seem quick off the mark, with 0-100km/h in under7 seconds in the sports version.
Range wise the standard i3 will get around 300km on a full charge with i3s around 280km. These are not exceptional but will generally be enough to satisfy potential buyers. Most buyers will opt for a home wall box and this can charge the standard i3 to a 100km charge in 1 hour 18 minutes. Using a 50kw fast charging station would take 18 minutes for a similar distance.
Because of its longevity on the road, unlike most electric cars the i3 does have a track record when it comes to reliability and it appears to be quite favourable. There are certain exceptions, but generally the car receives a 4/5 or 9/10 rating in online reliability surveys, comparing well to other all electric models. One point that should be made is that because of the extensive use of carbon in construction it can be expensive when it comes to accident repairs, meaning it tends to have a higher write-off rate than other similar sized cars.
Whilst compared to other compact electric vehicles the i3 is significantly more expensive to buy, it is not an expensive car to own. It is a low tax, economical model that comes with a 3 year BMW i Unlimited Mileage Warranty and high voltage battery protection for up to eight years or 100,000 miles. Service packages are affordable and available from a good network of centres, making the i3 an economical, as well ecological option for many buyers.
From the look of the i3 you would expect it to be fun to drive and it does not disappoint. It has a good feel to the steering and can take corners nimbly, but with a sense of stability. It does have a great turning circle, which is excellent in the city and when parking. However, 19 or 20 inch alloys on a car of these dimensions makes the ride quality a little harsh especially on a bumpy road where the upgraded suspension of the i3s model might be more advisable.
On the face of it the BMW i3’s four-star Euro NCAP safety rating looks a little disappointing. However, this was achieved way back in 2013 and subsequent improvements have been made. Even back then occupants and child protection was excellent, with pedestrian protection the main issue.
To get the most in terms of safety from the i3, there is no doubt it is worth investing in the optional Driving Assistant Plus pack. This provides a range of camera-based collision avoidance systems, emergency braking and active cruise control. There is even a Traffic Jam Assist, for semi-autonomous driving in queues.
- Running Costs
With a starting price of €44,695, you are paying a premium for the BMW name, as is the case with its petrol, diesel and hybrid models. The lack of a fifth seat and the ride quality are also drawbacks, but even so the i3 has many fans. As a compact city car, often used as a second family vehicle, it is practical and offers excellent levels of performance and comfort from the stylish interior. It is not a car that is everyone’s cup of tea, but you can also see why many who drive the i3 will loudly sing its praises.