2019 BMW i3 Expert Review

4.5 Overall Score
Performance 4.5 Comfort 4.2 Styling 4.4 Value 4.4

Editor's Overview

The 2019 BMW i3 is an electric car designed and built like no other vehicle in its class; it uses a lot of carbon fiber over its aluminum base, plus sustainable materials in the cabin. This year sees a better range of 153 miles. The optional range extender takes this premium-subcompact hatchback -- and its sportier, more powerful i3s sibling -- to the 200-mile mark.

You'll Like The 2019 BMW i3 If...

You drive mainly in the city. The 2019 i3 or the sportier, more powerful i3s would be ideal. The driving position is higher than a regular car’s, so outward vision is enhanced. The squared-off ends make parking easy. And the i3 has this great “one-pedal driving” feature that makes the urban slog much less tiring.

You May Not Like The 2019 BMW i3 If...

You often drive with a full complement of passengers. The i3’s front doors have to be open for the rear passenger doors to operate, which can be inconvenient in tight parking spaces and/or when dropping the rear passengers off while occupants up front stay put. The price of the i3, meanwhile, is also on the steep side.

What's New

More battery capacity means greater range for the 2019 i3 and i3s. BMW claims up to 153 miles from new 120-Ah (ampere/hours) lithium-ion batteries. The basic infotainment system receives an upgrade, while new optional features include Wi-Fi with connections for up to 10 devices, wireless charging, and LED headlights with cornering lights and automatic high beams.

Interior Features

The cabin is another indication that the BMW i3 is not like other cars. The materials used include sustainable woods and eco-friendly fabrics. But they’re all fashioned into a well-designed environment that’s also assembled well. And the tablet-like displays add a tech flavor. Once occupants have got past the high step into the i3, they’ll find plenty of space and comfort for four. Luggage space behind the rear seats measures a generous 15.1 cubic feet, which expands to 36.9 when they’re folded. They also split 50/50 for some extra versatility.

Exterior Features

At 157.4 inches long, the BMW i3 is shorter than a Honda Fit. Its skinny wheel/tire combination makes sense from aerodynamic and rolling-resistance perspectives, while its short overhangs illustrate how BMW maximizes space and features in a minimal footprint. The aesthetics makes the i3 look like a car from the future, even now, five years from its launch. One issue is the aforementioned front doors/back doors functionality, but that does mean the i3 can dispense with a B-pillar. So when both doors are open, there’s a wide aperture for entries and exits.

Driving Impressions

About this “one-pedal driving”: What happens is that when a driver lifts off the accelerator, the regenerative braking system kicks in to slow the car. Do this forcefully and the brake lights will come on, so drivers behind will know the i3 is decelerating. It cuts out the right-foot dance between the go and stop pedals, and quickly becomes second nature. Press the accelerator to speed up, ease off to slow down. Get more forceful with the fun pedal and the i3 can sprint from standstill to 60 mph in a brisk 7.2 seconds. The i3s achieves it in 6.8 seconds. Electric vehicles have virtually instantaneous torque delivery with no interruption from gear changes. In common with many BMWs, the i3 deploys rear-wheel drive, which is great for a sporty feel, but not so welcome in slippery conditions. Ride quality, on the other hand, is pleasantly supple.

Pricing Notes

The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the 2019 BMW i3 starts at $44,450 plus a destination charge of $995, making $45,445. The 2019 i3s is priced from $48,645. The range extender costs an extra $3,850. The i3 is eligible for incentives and federal tax credits, like its competition. The Nissan Leaf starts at around $31,000 and has a 151-mile range. The compact Tesla Model 3 starts at roughly $45,000 and its smallest battery is rated at 249 miles. The Chevrolet Bolt EV subcompact hatch is not as premium as the i3, has a range of 238 miles but has premium-like pricing, though: roughly $37,500 for the lowest trim. The i3 REX is a kind of plug-in hybrid whose rivals could include the Toyota Prius Prime (under $30,000) and the Chevrolet Volt (from $35,000). Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new i3. The i3 holds average resale values, level with the Volkswagen e-Golf and Audi A3 Sportback E-tron.

Notable Equipment

The 2019 BMW i3 and i3s come in trims with fancy names: Deka World, Mega World, Giga World and Tera World. Even the base model has a DC fast-charging connector (for an 80-percent recharge in 20 minutes), plus 19-inch alloy wheels, heated/power-folding side mirrors, self-dimming mirrors, LED daytime running lights/taillights, parking sensors front and rear, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, 6.5-inch infotainment display, navigation, Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, satellite/HD radio, Bluetooth, USB port, and an impact sensor that disconnects the battery pack automatically.

Notable Options

As well as the range-extending gasoline engine, the BMW i3 electric vehicle (EV) offers a 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system and the Navigation Professional System with range assistant and real-time traffic information, plus Active Driving Assistant (which includes lane-keeping, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and evasive-steering assistance). Other options include a power moonroof, leather upholstery (standard in the high trims), forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, LED headlights, Wi-Fi, wireless charging, and a self-parking function.

Favorite Features

ACC STOP & GO + ACTIVE DRIVING ASSISTANT

This is part of the $2,350 Technology and Driving Assistant Package. Active Cruise Control (ACC) features partially autonomous technology that keeps a safe distance from the vehicle ahead at speeds above 19 mph. In more congested conditions, it creeps, accelerates or brings the i3 to a full stop if necessary.


PARKING ASSISTANT

When a suitable space has been found, this autonomous system is activated by the push of a button and parallel-parks the BMW i3. Parking Assistant takes control of the steering, braking and acceleration. It even controls gear selection. This system is optional in the i3, but unavailable with the i3s.


Under the Hood

For 2019, the BMW i3 EV has a lithium-ion battery upgraded to 42 kilowatt/hours (kWh), also measured as 120 ampere/hours (Ah). This gives the i3 a potential range of 153 miles. The electric motor is rated at 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and it drives the rear wheels via a single-speed transmission. There’s no option for all-wheel drive. The motor in the i3s develops 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque; BMW also quotes a range of 153 miles for this model. The range extender is a 647-cc 2-cylinder gasoline engine and comes with a 2.4-gallon fuel tank. A REX-equipped i3 is estimated to cover 200 miles. Battery recharging takes five hours at 240 volts, or more than 20 hours on a standard 110-volt outlet.


Hybrid-synchronous electric motor (i3)

42-kWh lithium-ion battery

170 horsepower

184 lb-ft of torque

Range with full charge: 153 miles

Range with full charge + range extender: 200 miles


Hybrid-synchronous electric motor (i3s)

42-kWh lithium-ion battery

181 horsepower

199 lb-ft of torque

Range with full charge: 153 miles

Range with full charge + range extender: 200 miles

Editors' Notes

To describe the 2019 BMW i3 and 2019 i3s as merely electric-powered subcompact hatchbacks does them an injustice. The i3 is radical in its approach and execution. It’s based on a “tub” of aluminum that houses the electric motor, suspension parts and various other components. On top of that is a body that uses a lot of carbon fiber, which is stronger than steel yet much lighter. This construction enables the doors to open in a symmetrical manner; the fronts are front-hinged, the rears are rear-hinged. The design is quirky, and the prices are suitably premium. Especially when a range extender (REX) is added. This is a flat-twin BMW motorcycle engine used as an onboard generator -- it doesn’t provide any drive to the wheels.

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