UK Drive: The BMW i3 is a quirkily styled, premium contender in the EV market

AIDAN Rennie-Jones gets behind the wheel of BMW’s funky EV with a petrol-engine for back-up.

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UK DRIVE: The BMW i3 is a quirkily styled, premium contender in the EV market

What is it?

The BMW i3 is a very unique model to the Bavarian automaker’s line up. Not only is it electric, it looks like no other BMW on the road, apart from its i8 sibling. The idea behind it is that it’s a practical hatchback that is available fully electric or with a range extending two-cylinder petrol engine to recharge the batteries.

What’s new?

We have been driving the ‘range extender’ version of the i3. This adds a very small two-cylinder petrol motor that is hidden beneath the boot floor and helps recharge the batteries when you run out of electricity. This is excellent for longer journeys and although it emits some emissions they are almost insignificant amounts – particularly if you charge at home regularly.

Inside the improvements mainly focus around the infotainment system, which has been upgraded with the latest iDrive set-up from BMW. One of the most impressive parts of this is the sat nav that allows you to use Google Maps from a bird’s eye point of view as you drive along. This is very handy if you are looking for a particular landmark or want a visual reference to where you are.

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BMW I3: The sat nav allows you to use Google Maps from a bird's eye point of view as you drive

What’s under the bonnet?

Well, not a lot, really – apart form a tiny second boot and some electrics. The engine itself is actually located at the back under the boot floor. But the mains source of power comes from an electric motor fuelled by batteries, which are located in the floor of the car. This offers you 168bhp and 250Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds.
Opt for the version without the range extender, however, and the 0-60mph time drops to 7.1 seconds.

We reckon you should opt for the range extender, because the petrol engine removes range anxiety and makes long-distance journeys possible – a claimed range of 470.8 miles per charge. Also the 12 g/km of CO2 reading means it should be cheap to run.

What’s it like to drive?

On the move the little i3 is very nimble and although it isn’t superfast, it’s certainly quick enough. And thanks to a lack of a traditional gearbox, the acceleration is instantaneous with no lag whatsoever. Put your foot down to the floor and you’ll be moving quicker than anyone else on the snail-like morning commute.

On a motorway it is very refined and blocks out the loudest of road noises, which is a bonus – it is eerily silent without the radio.

It works just as well on a twisty back road too. Plant your foot down and you’ll soon be keeping up with the best of them. Need to overtake a tractor doing 20mph under the limit? No problem, the i3 will effortlessly and safely get you past within seconds.

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BMW ELECTRIC CAR: The acceleration is instantaneous with no lag whatsoever

How does it look?

The i3 is very unique and definitely has head turning looks. The chic exterior styling is backed by back doors on each side that are rear hinged and reveal a totally pillarless interior when opened. The styling is similar to that of the i8 but different enough that it carves its own looks on the electric hatchback market.

It has a very strong image for an electric car, especially in this segment where it makes its opposition look just a tad dull. And even though the design first saw the light of day in 2013, it still looks fresh, though admittedly a facelifted version is on its way.

There is ample choice in personalisation too, from different colours now being available to lots of funky looking alloy wheel options.

What’s it like inside?

The interior of the i3 is a very pleasant place to be. Our car had the “Loft” option, meaning everything was lightly coloured and this was also helped by a panoramic roof along with plenty of glass all round that flood lights into the cabin. The quality of materials is very good. There are lots of soft-touch plastics and some tweed-like material on the seats as well as some leather. This makes the cabin feel different from anything else in its class. If there is one negative it would be that despite superb build quality, there were one or two sections that used plastic that didn’t feel like it belonged in a car that costs over £40,000.

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STYLE: If you want style over practicality though, the BMW wins hands down

What’s the spec like?

As you would expect with any BMW the options list is rather lengthy. Our car for example was fitted
with LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, Harman-Kardon sound system, an extended media package to include sat nav, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

There are several versions to choose from but tick any of the options and expect the price to creep up. Our range extender had more than £4,000 worth of options, taking the price beyond the £41,920 mark, which felt rather expensive. But this is the most premium car in its segment and on finance this car would definitely rival the Volkswagen e-Golf and Audi A3 e-Tron.

Whichever i3 you opt for, however, it won’t be short of kit. As standard you get Bluetooth, DAB radio and LED daytime running lights, to name a few.

Verdict

The i3 is a very different car. It manages to stand out from the crowd, something that is admirable for a car that’s four years old now. The interior is beautifully put together, albeit even if a few of the plastics feel like they belong in something less premium. However, it isn’t a very practical car and if you are looking for a sensible family hatch that’s electric then there are other cars that can do the job better, such as the Volkswagen e-Golf. If you want style over practicality though, the BMW wins hands down. It gets looks wherever it goes, despite the fact these are becoming a more common sight on our roads.

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