If you’re considering buying an electric car, the BMW i3 is a good choice. It’s easy to drive in town and looks completely different from anything else on the road. It has a carbon fibre reinforced plastic structure covered in two-tone panels, which add to the futuristic feel. It looks and feels as upmarket as any BMW. It’s a strict four-seater though and the boot is small.
It has a powerful electric motor which feels very fast in town. The range it can travel between charges varies depending on the model year, with post-2018 models travelling an impressive 153 miles between charges. The early pre-2016 cars have a range of 81 miles, and cars which came out in 2016 and 2017 have 115 mile range.
There is also a range extender version, known as the REx, which combines the electric motor with a motorcycle engine. This petrol engine acts as a generator to keep the batteries charged until you could plug into the mains. Production of this version stopped in 2018.
The REx (Range Extender) hybrid version of the i3 has a small petrol engine as well as its electric motor, which keeps the batteries topped up if they begin to run flat. Production of this version ended in 2018, but it’s worth considering if you’re worried about how far you can get on a single charge.
It has a minimalist dashboard, large windows and light colour schemes which create a bright and airy atmosphere.
There’s a large centrally mounted screen for the infotainment and sat nav, while the speedometer and range gauge are housed in a smaller screen ahead of the driver. Everything looks good and is easy to use.
It’s not the most spacious car, but it doesn’t feel cramped. The interior is designed for a maximum of four adults. Those in the back won’t have huge amounts of legroom, and while there are small openings similar to back doors, they can only be opened when the front ones are too, so the i3 feels a bit like a three-door car. The boot is small at 260 litres, but it’s a good shape for lifting shopping into. The boot can fit a couple of suitcases, but isn’t the most practical for fitting other items, such as a baby buggy. You can also fold the rear seats to increase capacity to 1,100 litres.
It also includes plenty of standard kit with cruise control, sat nav and much more coming as standard. Popular options include leather trim and heated seats.
If you’ve never driven an electric car before, then the BMW i3’s performance will come as a pleasant surprise. It offers instant power from the moment you hit the accelerator. The i3 moves as quickly as a high-performance hatchback. What makes it more remarkable is how little noise it makes. It also has no gears so the acceleration happens smoothly.
The faster you go the more energy you use, so the range could be less than 100 miles on 2016 and 2017 cars. Even the realistic distance between charges of the improved post-2018 versions is around 150 miles. Regenerative braking, which slows the car by absorbing its energy into the batteries, helps to maximise range on longer trips.
The i3 is best around town where its high driving position, great visibility of the road and narrow dimensions make it easy to drive. It feels composed on the open roads, with its quick steering and strong grip delivering excellent agility.
When new, the BMW i3 attracted a Government Plug-in Electric Car Grant, which is an official price reduction for electric and low emissions vehicles. However, even the oldest BMW i3 models are more expensive than their petrol alternatives.
The BMW i3 has very low running costs. A full charge will take more than 12 hours from a domestic three-pin plug. A wall box fast charger reduces this to around four hours, while cars fitted with the optional DC charging unit can be topped up at a high speed public charger in less than an hour. A full charge on one of these will cost around £5.
Insurance costs are affordable, despite the i3’s complex construction. Servicing costs are likely to be low as there are fewer moving parts to service.
The i3 has a good reputation for reliability with very few problems. The REx version, due to its small petrol engine, occasionally struggles when used too much.
The BMW i3 attracted a four-star EuroNCAP crash test rating. It’s strong enough and contains plenty of airbags, but it performed poorly in the pedestrian protection test. Features such as autonomous braking are available as an option pack, it will automatically apply the brakes if it detects a likely collision.
Best for economy - 120Ah
Best for families - 120Ah
Best for fun - i3S
There are effectively just two trim levels to choose from - i3 and i3S. Both are similarly equipped with all the kit you’ll need, including climate control, sat-nav and Bluetooth. There’s also a wide variety of options, so it’s unlikely two used i3s will have the same spec.
The i3S looks sportier with its wider arches and wheels, along with bespoke badging, but otherwise there’s little that’s changed on the i3 over the last few years. On newer cars it’s worth looking out for the DC fast charging option which could prove valuable.