The new BMW i3 all electric car has been causing a bit of a stir recently, which is not surprising since it’s the first totally electric car to emerge from the German giant. The big surprise is that rather than produce a predictable luxury electric vehicle which you’d expect from the marque, the designers have gone for an eminently practical city runabout, but with an edge.
The rather boxy design looks a little strange at first, more reminiscent of a London taxi than a vehicle from the company that brought us the legendary M3, but it’s only when you dig deeper that you start to see how clever the design really is. The interior finish is exemplary, exactly what you would expect from the Teutonic attention to detail, and the overall impression is of luxury in a small package.
We were only able to spend around an hour with the car, which was just enough time to do some photography and take it for a brief spin around town, but in that time we were definitely impressed with the vehicle as a whole – it’s clear the designers have really thought through the issues of making a car which is both fun and practical.
The i3 is a full five seater which comes with the same interior cabin space as a standard BMW 3 series, only you also get the benefits of a full hatchback and drop down rear seating to add flexibility to the load carrying. One real innovation is the addition of reverse opening rear doors, which provide excellent access for the back seat passengers.
This is made possible by the strong carbon fiber passenger compartment which gave the designers enough strength to do away with central door pillars. A great touch, which makes an already airy cabin even more open. Combined with the excellent all round visibillity, you get a great sense of space both as a driver and passenger. Check out our video for an idea of how it drives.
As you can see from the video above, the car is also great fun to drive. Even though we only had a brief time with the vehicle (we’ll be doing a longer more leisurely review of the car early next year), it’s clear that it’s as quiet, refined and even fast as you’d expect from a BMW badge. This is not a golf cart by any stretch.
Inevitably there are compromises of course, and with the i3 it’s a slightly smaller rear luggage space, due to the fact that the electric motor sits above the rear axle. There’s still enough room for most day to day needs, no question, and with the drop down rear seats you’ll be able to carry around most IKEA flat pack stuff without a problem. Who needs more?
There’s not a lot of room to play with up front, so under the hood is almost purely for routine maintenance access, topping up fluids and maybe storing the odd toolkit. Of course that’s basically what most front compartments are for, so not a lot new there, except for the lack of an engine!
The performance figures are more than impressive, with a 0-62mph in a mere 7.2 seconds from the 170hp motor, this is a quick beast for getting around town. Apparently it will hold its own with a BMW M3 up to 30mph, which is amazing. In practice you quickly learn that the right pedal can get you out of trouble very effectively when needed, but for most of the time, it’s enough to just drive around sedately with only the slight hum of the motor as company. Very refined indeed!
Although we only had a very brief time with the car it was enough to make us fans of the design and the practicality. It offers a perfect blend of runabout convenience, along with bags of performance if you need it, although you’ll want to keep an eye on the range as is usual with electric cars. The good news is the fact that you can get a model with a small motor bike engined ‘range extender’, which will give you extra range when the battery runs down, which is great for removing range anxiety as your battery depletes.
We’ll hopefully be able to take a more in-depth look at this range extending technology when we do a full review, but for now it sounds like a good solution along the lines of the Chevy Volt (Vauxhall Ampera), but of course with the BMW you also get a range of 80 – 120 miles of pure battery power, which is good enough for almost all city driving day to day.
The one sticking point with the car is the slightly higher price of the base vehicle when compared to rivals like the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe. Admittedly they’ve taken a chunk out of the price by offering battery leasing options, but even so, it’s still quite a difference. The base i3 comes in at around £25,680 including government grant, where the Zoe is a more affordable £13,995, and the Leaf around £15,995 (with battery leasing of around £70 a month), so there’s a bit of a base price difference to consider.
But for sheer all out fun we’d definitely have to go with the BMW i3 against the alternatives. The whole package is superb, and with the option of the range extender it’s got to be the most practical all round electric car on the market at the moment. Bar none.
Electric range in km – 
Range Extender – range of between 150-186 miles (241- 299 kms) possible with one 9-litre tank of fuel
Top speed (km/h) – 
Acceleration 0-62 mph (sec) – [7.2]
Weight – Unladen (EU) (kg) –