Some electric cars are a little dull to look at and drive - not the i3. This is a vehicle designed from the beginning to be an electric car, not a standard car that’s been fitted with an electric system instead of a fuelled engine.
The result is a very distinctive car, with an eye-catching upright design, rear-hinged back doors and a body made of lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium to offset the extra weight of the batteries.
There’s an unusual, stepped rear window line and cheeky little front end that mimics the BMW family look. With some funky alloy wheels and coloured highlights around the front grille, the i3 is styled to be as exciting and individual as its pioneering powerplant.
Some electric cars are a little dull to look at and drive - not the i3.
What’s it like to drive?
Over its lifespan, the i3 has been available with several different battery packs offering longer ranges. For a while, there was a version with a small petrol engine that added even more distance between recharging.
None of the versions are sluggish to drive. The electric motor seems to spring into life at the first touch of the pedal. This means the cars have very responsive acceleration.
The controls are light and accurate, making the i3 fun to drive. It has lively, agile handling. The i3 experience is all very easy: there’s just a single forward and single reverse gear. Drivers can simply select different modes to either maximise performance or preserve battery power. The faster you go, the less range you’ll have.
The electric motor seems to spring into life at the first touch of the pedal.
The cabin has a premium, airy feel. Details like a leather-trimmed steering wheel, digital dashboard and heated front seats create an upmarket ambience. There’s a touchscreen infotainment system too, with DAB, Bluetooth and sat-nav, plus live traffic information. The screen is bigger and more user-friendly on higher-spec versions.
This is a 5-door with a capacity of just 4 seats. Forgoing the token 5th seat makes sense for what is a compact hatchback. It means each of the passengers can enjoy plenty of head and legroom.
Rear doors are small. They’re hinged at the back to make access to the back seats a little easier. Lift the tailgate to find a smallish boot. Don’t forget that because the electric motors are so small, there’s luggage space in the front too.
The driver sits quite high for a hatchback, so there’s a clear, commanding view of the road ahead. Passengers should find the ride is generally smooth and comfortable. Versions with the bigger alloy wheels tend to be a little more bumpy.
Equipment isn’t bad across the range – this is a premium-badged car with a higher price tag to justify. So you’ll get air-conditioning, automatic wipers and climate control. Some versions were given a ‘Loft’ interior, with brighter materials and blue highlights to match the exterior highlights. It adds a youthful zest.
Owners in the electric vehicle market have different considerations to other car buyers. Range and speed of charging become much more important - here the i3 scores well against many rivals.
BMW has made the i3 very user-friendly. Thanks to the space taken up by the batteries, there’s no awkward loading lip for the boot. You can simply slide things in. This means that the boot isn’t the biggest. The rear seats fold flat to give you cargo versatility.
The i3 is a well-equipped car - and the equipment list is long, including handy practical details like automatic headlights, fog lights, heated and adjustable door mirrors, and a USB charging socket. Standard-fit rear parking sensors are useful for protecting the awkward rear corners when parking.
Running costs and reliability
Keep the battery topped up and the i3 should be incredibly cheap to run. Real-world ranges are variable and depend on the battery pack version. Most types manage over 100 miles.
The latest top-spec version is more likely to achieve a range of 160 miles. The charging is rapid, with a full charge possible in less than 3 hours with a special wall-box. Using normal plugs, it’s an 8-hour job.
The hybrid petrol model that was available for a while did offer a much longer range – at the cost of the fuel used. Tax, insurance and servicing should be much lower too. Reliability reports are very promising, and all i3s come with an 8-year warranty on the battery pack.
What cinch loves
The BMW i3 is a fully electric car with distinctive modern styling and a premium interior. It’s also an easy-to-own and practical 5-door hatchback. The electric range varies between models, but recharging is faster than average. This little BMW is nippy and nimble to drive, and you sit higher, like in a crossover. The BMW badge adds prestige too.