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BMW i3: Test Drive Review

Date: 08 November 2013   |   Author:

Category: Supermini P11D
Price: £32,675
Key rival: Renault Zoe
On sale: November 2013

The i3 represents the launch of BMW's new i brand and is also the premium manufacturer's first production electric car.

As well as the electric version there's also a range-extender model that comes with an additional 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine, which doubles the car's range to around 200 miles, for an extra £3150. Arriving in the UK next month, BMW initially expects only around 20% of sales to be the pure-electric model, although in time, as drivers better understand their journey profiles, this is expected to swing around so only 20% opt for the extra flexibility of the range-extender.

The i3 is sized to rival superminis such as the Ford Fiesta, although it's a more upright and significantly more striking and fashionable design than any of its contemporaries, and breaks new ground as the first genuine, premium zero-emission vehicle.

The interior is like no other BMW, and no other car on sale, with a count of at least five different materials around the driver, including an expanse of an almost carpeted fibreglass-looking substance. But it has a cutting-edge air to it, helped by the tablet-style digital speedometer display. Most of the switchgear will be familiar to BMW owners, and there's no great learning process to getting going.

At the equivalent of 170hp, the i3 is quicker than other mainstream EVs, and that extra punch is obvious, with a prod of the throttle bringing instant and rapid progress. Only the artificial electric feel of the steering lets down the car in terms of meeting BMW's reputation for engaging drivers' cars. The energy regeneration from the braking is also extreme, and slows the car to such an extent that it can genuinely be driven as a one-pedal vehicle, with the brake pedal only used for emergencies. Despite that, it is still the best mainstream EV from a driver's viewpoint, even if there are still compromises compared with traditional petrol and diesel models. It has a tiny turning circle, making for excellent manoeuvrability, but the big A-pillar doesn't help when looking for pedestrians that won't hear the silent car coming up behind them.

Practicality is decent, with a 270-litre boot that's square and flat, with no lip to lift stuff over as the batteries are partially stored under the floor. Access to the two rear seats is via rear-hinged 'suicide doors' that only open when the front door is opened. The gap isn't too bad, and entry is possible without the front passenger needing to get out. 

The biggest issue for the i3 is cost. Bearing in mind it's supermini-sized, the Renault Zoe is the most logical rival, and while the BMW is better in terms of performance and premium badging, the Zoe is much cheaper and certainly not a bad option if an EV suits your working requirements. The i3 is also more expensive than the larger and more practical, if much less prestigious, Nissan Leaf EV, while BMW's range-extender version is a similar price to the larger, range-extended Vauxhall Ampera. The running costs for all of the above bar the Zoe are, though, very similar, at between 54.7p-57.1p, a band that interestingly, also encompasses an automatic BMW 120d. The Renault, meanwhile, was down at 36.9p due to a list price of sub-£20,000.

BMW i3 Suite
P11D price £32,675
Model price range £30,675-£35,825 (Before £500 Government grant)
Residual value 35.4%
Depreciation £21,100
Fuel £1500
Service, maintenance and repair £1536
Vehicle Excise Duty £0
National Insurance £0
Cost per mile 54.7p
Range 118mls
Fuel consumption 0mpg
CO2 (tax) 0g/km (0%)
BIK 20/40% per month £0/£0
Service interval variable miles
Insurance (1-50) group 30
Warranty 3yrs/unlimited miles
Boot space min/max 260/1100 litres
Battery power 125kW
Top speed/0-62mph 93mph/7.2secs


Most fashionable, drivable and intriguing low-CO2 model yet.