What is it?
BMW has sat down and burned the sustainably-produced midnight oil to create the most revolutionary mainstream electric car yet. Oh, and for those who aren’t yet ready to commit to full EV, it’s also built a range extender i3 too. And how revolutionary? Well, passengers sit in a carbon fibre ‘life cell’, all the electrical bits sit lower down, and the whole four-adult-seats-plus-decent-boot package sits within an overall length less than four metres long. That’s revolutionary.
BMW calls it a ‘megacity’ car and has even invented a new brand to sell it under - i. The i3 is a breakthrough that makes the Nissan Leaf suddenly seem a bit old fashioned...
Would you believe, it drives like a BMW. Sporty, sophisticated, pure – goodness, it’s even rear-wheel drive and so both beautifully balanced and blessed with corruption-free steering. The secret has been packing those batteries down low so, despite the i3 being quite tall and short, it’s not top-heavy and can maintain BMW’s preferred even weight distribution. The i3 is thus poised and pleasantly dynamic, proving wieldy in town but stable and planted at higher speeds too.
The electric drive is wonderful. A powerful motor means the all-electric version can do 0-62mph in just 7.2 seconds, and the way it’s delivered in a strong and linear way makes it seem even more appealing than this vibrancy suggests. Then you lift off, and you slow down, with force: BMW has engineered in a lot of motor regeneration here, which takes some getting used to but turns the i3 into a ‘one pedal car’ when you do. A very modern, very satisfying way to power a car.
On the inside
Rear-hinged doors and no B-pillar promise easy access, which the thick carbon fibre sills eat into somewhat, but once within the i3 you’ll discover space, modernity and some delightful design touches. The twin-flatscreen dash is brilliant and the visibility is panoramic. It feels genuinely premium with the sort of richness you get in a 3-Series. Oh, and BMW has worked hard to make sure the electric motor is near-silent: the range extender version, which adds a tiny 650cc bike engine in the back to supply charge, also merely hums distantly when it’s called upon. Really, you’d never know. Overall, the i3 makes conventional cars suddenly feel a little bit like dinosaurs.
There are the usual headaches over range anxiety with the EV version: that’s why BMW offers a range extender for a few grand more. Either i3 will give you an ownership package that justifies the price and the badge, and gadgets such as smartphone apps make owning it as convenient as possible, too. Being a BMW should protect the used values too: a clever car, but a complete one.