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Long-term review

BMW i3s - long-term review

£34,720/£38,445 as tested, after grant
Published: 01 Oct 2020


  • SPEC

    BMW i3s

  • Range

    175.2 miles



  • BHP


  • 0-62


Does the BMW i3's better battery mean it's no longer a city car?

Way back in the mists of its conceptualising (the work was done in 2008-9, and I've shown a design sketch they released in mid-2010), BMW people called what was to become the i3 the 'megacity vehicle'.

So lots of decisions were taken to prioritise its whole shape and proportions for that use. An urban car.

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Thing is, it now has a better battery, giving twice the range and useful out-of-town capability. I'm afraid some of those decisions now seem regrettable.

My context: I live in London, have no driveway and park in cramped streets. Every journey begins and ends with London traffic. Megacity stuff. Also we're a two-parents and an 11-year-old family.

The i3 was in a way conceived for the likes of us.

But actually few journeys are just urban, because I work from home. Anyway, really, who would voluntarily drive in London? So the car is for trips out of town mostly. Especially with its new battery, which gives it far better range than the city-only Honda e.

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Anyway, because of the megacity brief, the i3 is short, which is a huge plus. It's a cinch to park. This example has few options, but it does have a rear park camera, although no sensors at the front. It's so snub-nosed it's ridiculously easy to park. It's super-short - same length as a Fiesta.

But it has the space of a 3 Series inside. Sorta. It's a different package, sitting you more upright. And the shortness means the back doors would be small if they were the usual kind. So instead the i3 takes advantage of its strong carbonfibre cell and disposes with the B-pillar and gives you clap hands doors, with a nice big opening to climb through.

That's their sole advantage. Otherwise, they are a right royal pain.

First, to get anyone into or out of the back, the person in front has to undo their seatbelt (it's mounted to the front door) and open their door, so the back door will then open. If there's no-one in the front, the poor sap in the back is stuck, because they can't reach the front door handle as it's mounted too far forward.

If you're in a car-park more hilarity ensues. You get out and find you're boxed in. Your car and the one next to it as the sides of the box, the two doors as the ends of the box. So there's a load of wriggling to get free, as in a kissing gate.

And even after some months of practice we don't always shut the back doors before the front. It's just not instinct to check first. But you must if you're to avoid them clashing horribly.

I'm really not sure if it's a better arrangement than in that other similarly-sized city car that tried to reinvent the door, the Peugeot 1007.

Also, the back doors don't have wind-down windows. And there are no ventilation outlets back there.

Net result of all this doors-and-stuffiness caper is that my kid, who's a bit of a Greta in many ways, hates this efficient electric car.

But even so, by regarding the door layout as a consequence of the megacity conception, we'll let them pass. It's a short car for a reason.

Unfortunately the shortness also means a tiny boot. But as it's no longer just a megacity vehicle but one capable of long trips, that's what we've been doing. With baggage. As a result, we often find ourselves driving around with half the rear seat folded forward. Still that's OK, we're just three. And friends are illegal these days.

It's also narrow. Again, absolutely wonderful for jinking through urban gaps and width restrictors. Not quite so great for stability on the motorway trips now permitted by its improved battery.

But there's good stuff. I'll come to the driving and the range in future reports, but as we're talking about the package, I just can't resist mentioning the interior. From where I sit in the front, it has a wonderful sense of airiness, and to the front and sides there's terrific vision for city driving. And the shapes of the dash, and the decor, are practical and refreshing and as far as I'm concerned basically just gorgeous. The only part that's dated is the main instruments display above the steering wheel.

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