The BMW i3 is a technological and stylistic tour de force—yet like any technology, it's nearing its sell-by date.
Without a doubt, the BMW i3 is the most unusual car to bear the brand's signature blue and white roundel. Yet it's also the most environmentally forward-thinking car to ever emerge from Munich, even if it is rather pricey despite the compromises it forces.
We appreciate the i3's unique personality, but there's no denying that electric cars behave like computers; they become outdated very quickly, which is just what has happened to the i3. It's a 6.6 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The i3 is offered in several "worlds," as BMW calls the model's trim levels—Mega, Giga, and Tera.
In terms of range, it has been beaten at its own game by the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which is more practical and cheaper—if not as well finished inside. For 2017, BMW has addressed the i3's range. A more power dense battery is available as an option to increase range from 81 to 114 miles. Also, BMW has increased how much fuel can be stored in the optional gasoline range-extender's fuel tank for the new model year, bringing it in line with the i3 sold in Europe.
BMW i3 styling and performance
The i3 isn't supposed to appeal to BMW's performance-minded buyers, who will be immediately turned off by its narrow tires and tall proportions. The electric i3's genius—providing a calm, soothing, capable experience through crowded urban areas—is intended for packed city cores and the crowded neighborhoods of Europe and Asia, although it's not totally out of place in urban and suburban America.
If you didn't see the i3's blue-and-white roundel badge and twin-kidney grille (which is, of course simulated), you'd likely never associate it with the rest of the BMW range. The i3 has a broad stance, with its tall but narrow, 19-inch wheels shoved out to the corners, and an upright posture that makes it look bigger than it is. The i3 launched a new design language for the brand's "i" plug-in car. It's not pretty, but it is distinctive.
We like its almost Scandinavian interior a lot more. BMW claims that there's more interior space here than in a 3-Series sedan, but it's organized in a different manner. It feels like an open, urban loft, and it's full of trendy, generally sustainable materials.
The 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery tucked under the floorpan that gives a range of 81 miles has been supplemented by a 33 kWh model with a 114-mile range for 2017. An optional 650cc 2-cylinder range-extending (REx) engine produces 38 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque. It doesn't actually power the wheels, but instead runs a generator to recharge the battery, boosting the car's range to as much as 150 miles between fill-ups. For 2017, the tank can hold 2.4 gallons of fuel, up from the 1.9 it was electronically limited at last year to comply with complex California regulations on zero-emission vehicles.
The i3's 125-kilowatt (which works out to 170 horsepower) electric motor allows it to accelerate smoothly and rapidly, but its most distinctive feature is its regenerative braking that lets its be driven essentially with one pedal. Touching the brake is only required when full stopping power is needed, which helps distinguish it from other electric cars that are tuned to mimic conventional automatic transmission cars. It's easy enough to get used to and quickly becomes addicting.
The i3 is rated as the single most energy-efficient electric car sold in the U.S. The lower capacity battery version earns a rating of 124 MPGe, while the new model requires a little more time to charge and comes in at 118 MPGe. (The Mile Per Gallon Equivalent unit, or MPGe, measures the distance that a car can cover electrically on the same amount of energy that's contained in one gallon of gasoline.)
BMW's own home charging station is rated at a hefty 7.4 kw, which helps provide charging times of around 3.5 hours for the lower capacity battery and 4.5 for the higher capacity. BMW i3 models offer a Combined Charging System quick-charging port as well, although today there are only a handful of public charging stations using that standard.
The i3's motor is almost silent, only revealing itself under hard acceleration.
BMW i3 comfort, safety, and features
Front seat passengers are treated to thin but comfortable seats covered in a wide range of materials, plus they're afforded a terrific view ahead. The rear seat is best for occasional use in part because it's awkward to get into or out of thanks to the rear-hinged carriage-style doors.
Federal testers haven't rated the i3 yet, but the IIHS gave it mostly good scores. The i3 boasts some advanced safety tech like a carbon fiber reinforced body shell that's mounted to an aluminum platform.
BMW doesn't outfit the i3 with conventional trim levels. Instead, it calls them "worlds." The Giga World stickers for $1,500 over the base Mega World and the Tera World tops the range for an additional $1,000. Each has its own unique styling touches and a few more features, but all models are outfitted well from the start with heated front seats, SirisuXM satellite radio, and DC fast charging. A few option packages are also available and there's a BMW-branded charging station that's available as an accessory.