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- Highs Eco-luxe styling, quick acceleration, beautifully crafted interior,
- Lows Limited range compared to some rivals, disconnected driving experience, tight rear seat.
- Verdict The i3 offers unique styling, peppy acceleration, and impressive interior quality, but its electric range lags behind some less expensive competitors.
As of now, the BMW i3 is the only luxury electric vehicle not named Tesla that can drive more than 100 miles on a single charge. Along with the i8 hybrid sports car, the i3 is part of BMW’s eco-friendly i sub-brand, and both have elevated car design. That said, the i3’s range is no longer competitive in the overall EV landscape, even when fitted with the optional gasoline-powered range extender, which boosts total range up to an EPA-rated 180 miles. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, while not as luxe, goes farther on a charge and costs far less.
What's New for 2017?
For 2017, BMW gave the i3 a sizable range boost with an optional 33.2-kWh battery pack. The new pack takes up no more space than the old one and provides an EPA-rated 114 miles of electric range on a charge. That’s a significant jump up from the entry-level pack’s 81-mile rating. The range extender can only be added to the optional larger battery pack.
- Base: $43,395
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EV Motor, Power, and Performance
The i3 is available with two types of powertrains: electric and electric with a range extender. The range extender is a 38-hp 647-cc inline two-cylinder engine that drives a generator to replenish the battery when its charge drops below 5 percent. The EPA rates the base i3 at 81 miles of electric range. Spring for the larger battery pack, and you'll get up to 114 miles of range, or a total of up to 180 miles with bigger battery plus the optional range extender. According to BMW, a full charge of the standard battery pack requires 16 hours on a standard 120-volt outlet but only 3.5 hours on 240 volts. The larger battery requires 24 hours for a full charge on 120-volt current but only needs 4.5 hours with a 240-volt setup. On the road, the i3 does not live up to its maker’s Ultimate Driving Machine slogan. It's set up for guilt-free maneuvering and eco-friendliness, not to get the driving mojo flowing. Like most EVs, the i3 is quick off the line, so squirting through traffic is never a problem. But its driving experience is one of isolation, with no buzzing, no untoward vibrations, and no sound. The i3 dispenses with cracks, bumps, and expansion strips in the pavement with ease, to the point where it feels too disconnected.
EPA fuel-economy testing and reporting procedures have changed over time. For the latest numbers on current and older vehicles, visit the EPA’s website and select Find & Compare Cars.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The i3's interior is beautifully crafted, and the cabin has an open, airy appeal, but those who spend any time in the cramped rear seat might disagree. Although the exterior appearance of the i3 is quite polarizing, the interior is almost universally well received, and for good reason. It’s one of the most futuristic and uniquely designed cabins in the entire automotive landscape. Depending on the trim you choose, you’ll find a mixture of recycled materials, beautiful open-pore wood, leather, and even furniture-quality wool cloth. The i3 has the utility of a typical small hatchback—with a twist. The rear side doors are hinged at the back, so they open opposite the front doors. This creates a large, open space that facilitates entry (and cargo placement) in the back. The i3’s rear seats fold flat, creating a decent-size cargo space that can store a small to average amount of luggage and gear.
Infotainment and Connectivity
While many electric and hybrid vehicles opt for massive screens with touch functionality and an overabundance of information, the i3 takes a much simpler approach: a small 6.5-inch screen controlled by a rotary knob. It’s somewhat ironic that the i3, one of BMW’s most technologically advanced vehicles, is not up to date with today’s infotainment standards. Although they can be found in many of the brand’s other cars, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are not available in the i3. It does have Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio, but there’s only one USB port in the front console and none in the rear.
Safety Features and Crash Test Ratings
Some older vehicles are still eligible for coverage under a manufacturer's Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) program. For more information visit our guide to every manufacturer's CPO program.