The cabin is high-quality, there is innovative connectivity and refinement in the electric motor and this car is a joy to drive. It also has low running costs. The totally electric version will not last long on a single charge and rival vehicles can be found cheaper. Both the boot and rear seat area are short on space and the ride is a tad firm.
For both the range extender and the fully electric i3 versions, the rear wheels are driven by the same electric motor. It comes with 168bhp, bringing the i3 to a maximum speed of 93mph. It feels quite snappy when you are driving it about the town.
Although an electric car, the i3 still has the heart of a BMW, It is quite agile and responsive for how narrow and tall it is. The ride is slightly firm, but seems better on the version with the 19-inch wheels. There is a small circle for turning on the wheel and it has a weight that is both satisfying and consistent.
The way the motor is set up makes for a refined engine with no loud whine. It is so quiet that you end up hearing more road noise, which almost becomes a struggle for the carbon fibre construction to suppress. There is a slight rumble in the range-extender version when the petrol, two-cylinder engine kicks in, but it is really only noticeable when you reduce speed for junctions.
The cheapest i3 is still fairly pricey but the government grant helps a little bit. Plugging the i3 in overnight will likely only cost a couple of pounds. With a domestic plug, it would take eight hours to get a full charge, but the BMW has a quick-charging wall box that will do it in four.
The cabin both looks and feels gorgeously made, just like all BMW’s. There is eucalyptus wood finish and carbon fibre strips that are exposed to add luxury touches. However, BMW doesn’t have the best record for reliability, finishing in the bottom third in a recent survey. The i3 has a motor with less moving parts than normal since it is electric, but the durability of the elements still remains to be proven.
In its recent crash test, the i3 received four stars. Both child and adult occupant protection received high marks, but a star was lost due to poor pedestrian impact test performance. Six airbags and stability control are standard, but road sign recognition and speed limiters are options that you must purchase. The i3 is also fitted with an alarm to help deter thieves.
There is a feeling of spaciousness in the front due to the fact that the central handbrake is missing and the gear selector is not between the seats, but rather on the steering column. There are two TFT displays. The main one is for all infotainment at sat-nav information and the second one is located in the place of traditional instruments behind the wheel. It is all simple to use and visibility is excellent due to a boxy body and tall windows.
Access to the dual rear seats is made easier by rear-hinged back doors. The rear is a little short on both knee and headroom, which could be a problem for adults. Thick pillars lend a gloomy feeling to the rear interior and the boot is fairly small at 260 litres. That is increased to 1100 litres if the rear seats are lowered but it is still less than most small cars.
The kit with the i3 is relatively better than most BMWs. Standard issue is a DAB radio, climate control, sat-nav, audio controls mounted on the steering wheel, USB and aux-in sockets and rear parking sensors. Available options include a TFT sat-nav system that is wide screen and access to BMWs powered by regular means for when you need to travel long distances.