The BMW i3 was a real standout when it was introduced as a new model four years ago — and it still is — with few major changes since. Sometimes you just get it right the first time.
Although it is more expensive than many rivals, the i3 is worth considering if you are looking for a commuting car. Its electric range is more than enough to handle most daily drives, and it provides a comfortable ride. There are plenty of features, too.
Thanks to the optional gasoline-powered electric generator, range anxiety won’t be much of a concern — and compared with other EVs, the i3 is pretty fun to drive. There also is plenty of space for both passengers and cargo.
In a segment that lacks flair, the BMW i3 has plenty. The exterior is somewhat polarizing, with its upright body, puggish mug, and floating roof, but the cabin has genuine panache, lending it credence as the only truly premium small EV on the market.
An unusual turn-dial column-mounted gear selector, two tablet-style screens (one for infotainment, one that serves as the gauge cluster), swaths of beautiful open-pore wood (on uplevel Giga World and Tera World trims), and stylish eco-friendly materials create a pleasing and futuristic environment.
The i3 has seats for four people. The front seats are comfortable and mounted high in the cabin, giving those up front a commanding view of the road. The back seats have sufficient head- and leg-room, but getting into them may be confounding to some, as the i3 features “suicide-style” rear doors.
On the performance front, the i3 has athletic handling through turns because it has a low center of gravity, thanks to its battery pack, and the steering is sharp. The i3’s immediate throttle response and instant torque make it spunky to drive at low speeds, while strong regenerative braking is great for lazy, one-pedal motoring around town.
In fact, BMW calls the i3 a “megacity vehicle,” due to the car’s relatively short range, but it also underscores that this small, light, practical, and efficient car was made specifically for urban environments.
With its carbon-fiber and aluminum structure and electric powertrain, the i3 advances BMW’s legendary driving dynamics into the future. An optional gas engine extends the total EPA-rated range to 180 miles. And it is relatively quick. The range-extended i3 went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds; the EV model hit 60 in 6.6 seconds. There is plenty of punch leftover for passing or merging on the highway, too.
Powertrain options with this EV are a 21.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an EPA-rated range of 81 miles, or a model with the same battery and motor supplemented by a 647-cc inline-two-cylinder gasoline generator. This “range extender” engine, which creates energy only to put back into the battery pack and never directly powers the wheels, boosted the range to 150 miles, according to EPA ratings, with its 1.9-gallon fuel tank.
Prices for the BMW i3 start at $42,400 for the base 60 Ah model. With the larger 94 Ah battery, an i3 costs $43,600, and the i3 REX, which has a small gas-powered generator, is priced at $47,450.
In the crash test department, the i3 does well by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with top ratings in four out of five crashworthiness tests. Safety features include a rearview camera, active park assist, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
For electric vehicle shoppers desiring some sportiness and luxury-brand panache, the 2017 BMW i3 is a very compelling choice.
Grant Miller is the publisher of Miami’s Community Newspapers. He may be contacted by calling 305-662-2277 or via email at Grant@CommunityNewspapers.com.