BMW enters electrification era with i3

Background

Electric cars are not necessarily news these days. Several automotive manufacturers have them for sale including Ford, Chevy, Fiat, Nissan and Toyota. Some have been making recent news for capturing the luxury side of the market – Cadillac ELR and Tesla Model S. BMW’s approach to EVs is to make them interesting, engaging and badge-worthy.

The i3 is unique for three reasons. (1) The i3 is the first mass-produced vehicle that is made of 25% carbon fiber. And we’re not talking cool hoods and dash inserts. The i3 cockpit structure is made of carbon fiber and that’s important because it’s light and strong. Previously only Formula One cars and supercars like the McLaren offered such technology and the last time I checked, they’re not mass producing race cars. (2) Other than the $90K Tesla, the BMW i3 stands as the only other rear-wheel drive EV. That’s significant because it helps preserve the driving characteristics of BMW vehicles. (3) It’s the first BMW real EV for sale and therefore makes it acceptable for other luxury and performance car companies to enter into this market.

Specifications

Narrow, large wheels. 20"
  • emphasis on visibility. Lots of class.
  • Roof is made of recycled carbon fiber.

Models & Pricing

The base Mega World
  • 19-inch extra-efficient forged aluminum wheels
  • BMW Navigation
  • BMW ConnectedDrive with eCall
  • BMW i Remote, an alarm
  • 7.4 kW on board charger and LED headlights
  • DRLs and tail lights
  • leather trimmed steering wheel and grained dash trim.
The next level, Giga World, has all the features of the Mega World but with the addition of distinct Giga-specific 19-inch wheels and an interior wrapped in leather and wool cloth. A universal garage door opener is included for easy access to the i3’s BMW i Charging Station, which is usually mounted in the garage. It also has Comfort Access, a sunroof, and satellite radio. The leather-trimmed steering wears contrasting stitching to give a classy, sporty look. The top-of-the-line Tera World, adds unique 19-inch wheels, a luxurious full leather, olive leaf-tanned interior, with textile accents and contrasting stitching, and anthracite floors mats.

What We Liked

In order to reduce range anxiety, a rear-mounted 650cc, 34 hp, two-cylinder, gasoline-powered Range Extender generator is available, which roughly doubles the vehicle’s range. When the battery gets to a certain level, the Range Extender starts and maintains the battery’s current state of charge. The Range Extender never directly drives the vehicle’s wheels. The Range Extender adds roughly 330 lbs. to the vehicle curb weight and has a fuel capacity of 2.4 gallons.

What We Didn't Like

The i3 is narrow so those with broad shoulders should take notices. The suspension is a bit stiff, but we believe this is a characteristic of our Euro-spec pre-production tester.

Recommendations / Competition

I'm in! I could see this EV in my garage parked next to my 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser as the perfect compliment. I would forego the $3,000 and 300-lb range extender and go pure EV. I'd install the 240v charger so my i3 could be fully juiced in three hours. And I'd probably put 14,000 miles a year on my i3 and 2,000 on my Land Cruiser. What attracts me to the i3 (as an enthusiasts) is the way it looks, the ultra-modern & efficient interior and the rear-wheel drive. I like its polarizing appearance, but I wouldn't necessarily get the bright orange paint job. Probably white or silver is more my style. My automotive friends would argue that there is little advantage for the i3 over its competitors which include the Fiat 500e, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Focus Electric to name a few. Those are all adequate examples of EVs, but the i3 is a BMW and those vehicles are not. The technology is appealing and the carbon fiber just seals the deal for me, saving the i3 as much as 700lbs.
Starting Price
$42,000
Expert Rating
88
Hatchback
Electric + 0.65L gas
170
184
Rear Wheel Drive
Direct Drive
100
Top speed:
9
9
9
9