Do you want a car that will limit your impact on the environment, without making you feel like you’re compromising on comfort? Or perhaps you’re driven more by the desire for an upscale and modern city car that will slash your gas budget. No matter what your motivation, the BMW i3 is a good vehicle to consider if you’re shopping in the luxury electrical and hybrid class.
The i3, which was introduced in 2014, is a hatchback that comes as a fully electric vehicle, or with a range extender package that turns it into plug-in hybrid. When you’re driving the i3, you’ll get access to the swift acceleration that comes with an electric engine. The i3 also offers sleek modern design, including rear doors that hinge at the back, and a crisp interior that uses two flat display screens, rather than traditional gages.
Considering shopping for an i3? Here’s everything you should know about BMW’s electric option.
Price and Value: The BMW i3 is an expensive electric vehicle, even for the luxury class. The BMW i3 has a starting price of $44,450 for a new 2019 model. That’s more than many other small electric and hybrid cars, including the Tesla Model 3, which is nearly $10,000 cheaper.
It’s important to note that the range extender, which allows you to fill up at gas stations and essentially turns the i3 into a plug-in hybrid, is only available on the 2019 model. In previous model years the i3 is a true electric vehicle, with no hybrid option.
A larger battery was introduced for the 2017 model year, and in 2018 the i3s, which has a slightly higher horsepower, became available. Other than that, there have not been major changes since the i3 was introduced, so choosing a used BMW i3 can save you lots of money.
Size and Seating Capacity: The BMW i3 is a small car. It only seats four people, since the back seat has only two spots. Rear passengers have 31.9 inches of legroom, which is comparable to that in other compact cars. Both rear seat have LATCH connections for car seats.
Despite its small size, the i3 has 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more than many other compact cars. If you fold the rear seats flat, that increases to nearly 37 cubic feet.
Battery, Range and Engine Specs: The 2019 BMW i3 comes with two engine options: a 177-horsepower (standard on the i3) and a 181-horsepower (available on the i3s). Both have a 153-mile range, which is lower than many competitors. Although it doesn’t affect range, the i3 has one of the most efficient electrical engines, which makes it appealing to those hoping to minimize their environmental impact.
On the 2019 model, both the i3 and i3s are available with a range extender. This allows drivers to rely on gasoline fuel to get increased range of up to 200 miles.
Technically you can charge the i3 using a regular 120-volt household outlet. However, it would take an unrealistically long time to get a meaningful charge (more than 11 hours). If you purchase in i3 (or other plug-in), you’ll likely need to install a 240-volt charging outlet (which you can purchase from BMW). That charger (called a level 2) will let you charge the i3 fully in just over 6 hours. If you only plug it in for an hour, you’ll be able to drive 26 miles.
For the fastest charging, head to a public high-speed charger (called a level 3). There, you can charge the i3 to 80 percent range in 40 minutes, and get a full charge in less than 90 minutes.
Trims and Features: The BMW i3 has features that are mostly standard among trim levels. These standard features include heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a 6.5-inch display screen, backup camera, and front and rear parking sensors. You can add a moon roof, WiFi hotpot, or Harman Kardon sound system as individual options. The Technology and Driving Assistant package adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision braking and other driver assist features.
If you’re shopping for the i3, you’ll need to choose among engine options and interior finishes. The BMW i3 comes with a 177-horsepower engine, while the i3s comes with a 181-horsepower engine. Both engine options have a 153-mile range, which can be extended to 200 miles by adding the range extender option (available on 2019 model years and later).
Next, you choose your interior finish. This doesn’t affect the features, just the materials in the cabin. Your choices are Deka World (cloth upholstery), Mega World (combination of cloth and synthetic leather), Giga World (wood accents, combination leather and cloth upholstery) and Tera World (wood accents and leather upholstery).
Safety: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2019 i3 a “good” safety rating, the highest rating available from the agency. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn’t given the i3 a safety rating.
The i3 comes standard with certain safety features, like front and rear parking sensors and a rear view camera. However, to get more safety features that may be able to help you avoid a crash, you’ll have to choose a BMW i3 with The Technology and Driving Assistant package (available on all trims).
Reliability: All model years of the BMW i3 have an above-average reliability rating from J.D. Power and Associates. The i3 scores 3.5 out of 5 for all model years. In general, electric cars are considered more reliable than combustion-engine vehicles because they have fewer parts in the engine that are exposed to wear and tear. With an electric car like the i3, you don’t need to worry about as many wearing parts like valves, spark plugs or belts (although if you opt for the range extender you’ll have some of these parts and can expect normal wear and tear).
The Takeaway: The BMW i3 is a decent luxury electric vehicle. Although the i3 is small, both front and rear passengers have a decent amount of headroom and legroom. The hatchback design gives drivers plenty of options for carrying cargo. However, drivers who regularly travel with a crowd should remember that the i3 only has seating for four people.
The i3 has sleek designs that set it apart inside and outside. The rear-hinged back doors will turn heads when you get into your i3. Inside, the display-screen behind the screening wheel, which replaces traditional gages, offers a modern feel.
The i3 shares perks of electric vehicles, like great acceleration and increased reliability. The range-extender option helps set it apart, although you might instead opt for an electric vehicle with a longer range. The fact that the i3 is more expensive than comparable luxury electric cars might be off-putting to some shoppers.