BMW i3 Review

The BMW i3 is a small electric car with a funky interior and a decent range between charges. Sadly, it’s expensive and other small electric cars are more comfortable.

8/10
Wowscore

This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Futuristic interior
  • Intuitive infotainment system
  • Surprisingly fast

What's not so good

  • Small boot
  • Looks are divisive
  • Alternatives are more comfortable

What do you want to read about BMW i3?

Overall verdict

The i3 looks like no other car on the road…

The BMW i3 is a small electric car with a funky interior and a decent range between charges. Sadly, it’s expensive and other small electric cars are more comfortable.

The BMW i3 is well worth considering if you’re looking for an electric car that’s easy to drive around town and has a stylish, upmarket interior. But like an iPad next to a white-label Android tablet, you’ll pay more for the i3’s sharp looks and quality than you will for its more ordinary alternatives.

Inside the i3 you get BMW’s brilliant iDrive with high-resolution 10-inch infotainment screen and sat nav as standard, but unfortunately, BMW’s wooden dashboard trims and partial leather seats aren’t – they’re only available as part of BMW’s optional Loft, Lodge and Suite interior trim packages.

But even without one of these upgraded packs, the i3’s cabin still looks plush and there’s plenty of space for you to get comfortable – even if you’re more than six-foot tall.

Sadly, space in the back isn’t quite as generous but there’s still enough space for kids to stretch out. The i3’s special rear-hinged back doors mean it’s easy to lift in a bulky child seat too, and its oddly shaped rear windows mean the back seats do at least feel impressively airy.

Sadly, it’s a strict four-seater and its boot isn’t particularly spacious. As a result, both the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf are more practical electric cars.

The BMW i3 comes as standard with a compact battery pack and a small electric motor driving the rear wheels. BMW claims this combination gives you a range of 188 miles between charges, but in real-world conditions, you can expect it to manage closer to 160 miles.

The upmarket BMW i3 is a left-field choice in an already niche market, but look past its sci-fi styling and you’ll find it’s pretty easy to live with.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

There’s also an ‘s’ model which has more power but also a slightly reduced range – it’ll officially to go 175 miles between charges. However, BMW thinks that in the real world the i3s will also cover around 160 miles, matching the standard model.

Don’t go thinking the i3’s a sluggish eco car only suited to plodding to the shops – the standard car’s 170hp electric motor delivers almost instant bursts of acceleration helping it sprint from 0-62mph in a thoroughly respectable 7.3 seconds. The i3s is even quicker, with its 184hp electric motor cutting that sprint time to 6.9 seconds.

Whichever model you pick, you’ll find the BMW very easy to drive. It’s turning circle is very tight and its large windows make it easy to see out of and a breeze to park.

Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as comfortable as the Zoe and Leaf. Its stiff suspension and large alloy wheels highlight bumps in the road and you’ll hear quite a lot of wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds.

It can’t quite match the Zoe in terms of safety, either. It earned a four-star score from Euro NCAP in 2013 compared with the Renault’s five-star rating in the same year, and automatic emergency city braking is optional too.

But if you can live with this compromise, the BMW’s a stylish small family car that’s worth considering if you mainly drive in town and have somewhere to charge it.

If you want to see what sort of offers are available, visit our BMW i3 deals page.

What's it like inside?

You can choose from four different interior styling packs

The i3’s cabin might look like it belongs in a high-tech laboratory but all its controls are easy to use and the cabin can be trimmed in some really classy materials

Everything is the i3’s cabin feels fantastic and looks like it’s been beamed back in time from a space-age furniture shop

Mat Watson
carwow expert

How practical is it?

The thin front seats help to create more legroom in the rear

The BMW i3 is fairly small on the outside, but pretty big on the inside. However, other electric cars can take more passengers and the i3’s narrow body means the boot is tight

Yes, the i3 has an amazing amount of room inside, but ultimately you can't deny the laws of physics and something has to give. In this case, it's boot space

Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
260 litres
Boot (seats down)
1,100 litres

The i3’s tall body and large front doors make it a doddle to jump in and there’s plenty of seat adjustment to help you stretch out. You can adjust the steering wheel for height and reach to quickly find your ideal driving position but the front seats’ slim design means there isn’t room to fit adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long drives.

You can’t open just the back doors on their own (you have to open the front doors slightly first) but their clever rear-hinged design helps make it easy for your passengers to climb into the back seats. There’s no annoying pillar between the front and rear doors to worry about and there’s just enough legroom in the back for adults to get comfy thanks to the very thin front seats.

Rear headroom is reasonable for a car this size but you only get two rear seats. As a result, the larger Nissan Leaf will be more suitable if you regularly carry four passengers.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to fit a child seat in the i3. With the front and rear doors open there’s plenty of room to lift in a bulky child seat and the clearly-marked Isofix anchor points make it easy to secure the seat base. The BMW’s raised roofline means you don’t have to stoop down to strap in a child like in the Nissan Leaf, either

The i3’s front door bins are big enough to hold a 1.5-litre bottle each and there’s enough space for another one-litre bottle in the glovebox. You get a single fixed front cupholder with a second removable clip-on cupholder as standard and a shallow storage tray on the dashboard that’s big enough for your keys, a smartphone or some sunglasses.

Sadly, you can’t get a folding rear armrest for your back-seat passengers and the smaller rear doors don’t come with any handy storage bins. Thankfully, Atelier models come with two built-in cupholders where other cars feature a central rear seat.

The i3 isn’t the most practical electric car on sale – with all four seats in place its boot can carry 260 litres of luggage. That’s some way behind the 338-litre Renault Zoe and 435-litre Leaf but it’s still big enough for a few large suitcases.

Fitting a baby buggy is a tighter squeeze, however, and the i3’s narrow body means there isn’t enough space in the back to carry a golf bag. If you’re really stuck for space you can flip the back seats down in a two-way (50:50) split to carry some long luggage and up to two passengers at once.

With both back seats folded the i3’s boot grows to a more practical 1,100 litres. That’s more than in the 891-litre Kia Soul EV can manage but still slightly smaller than the 1,125-litre Renault Zoe. You’ll have to remove a bike’s front wheel before it’ll fit too.

Thankfully, there’s no annoying boot lip to lift heavy luggage over and the back seats fold flat so it’s easy to push heavy luggage right up behind the front seats. You also get some handy elasticated straps in the floor to help make sure smaller items don’t roll around as you drive along.

Unfortunately, the i3’s batteries take up all the available space under the boot floor so there’s no space to hide any valuables safely out of sight.

Read full interior review

What's it like to drive?

The i3's large windows give you a great view out

Nippy, easy to drive but not particularly comfortable

The optional range extender makes the BMW i3 an electric car that almost anyone could live with everyday. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly comfortable – especially around town

Nothing about the i3’s styling shouts sports car but it’ll still sprint away from a set of traffic lights faster than most conventional petrol and diesel-powered cars

Mat Watson
carwow expert

The BMW i3 comes as standard with a compact battery pack and a small electric motor driving the rear wheels. BMW claims this combination gives you a range of 188 miles between charges, but in real-world conditions, you can expect it to manage closer to 160 miles before you’ll need to start searching for your nearest charging point. This makes it ideal for nipping to and from work in a busy city.

There’s also an s model which has more power but also a slightly reduced range – it’ll officially to go 175 miles between charges. However, BMW thinks that in the real world the i3s will also cover around 160 miles, matching the standard model.

Don’t go thinking the i3’s a sluggish eco car only suited to plodding to the shops – the standard model’s 170hp electric motor delivers almost instant bursts of acceleration helping it sprint from 0-62mph in a thoroughly respectable 7.3 seconds. The i3s is even quicker, with its 184hp electric motor cutting that sprint time to 6.9 seconds.

Charging the i3 takes approximately 10 hours from a household three-pin socket but you can top up its batteries from nearly flat to around 80 per cent in just half an hour using a 50 kWh public fast-charge point.

You don’t have any gears to worry about in the i3 – you simply select neutral, forward or reverse using the rotary dial beside the steering wheel.

Its small size makes it a breeze to manoeuvre through tight city streets and its large windows mean you get an excellent view out. As a result, there aren’t any awkward blind spots to worry about at junctions and the standard-fit rear parking sensors make it a doddle to squeeze into tight parking spots – even without the optional self-parking system that’ll steer you into a bay or parallel spaces.

Unfortunately, the i3’s rather stiff suspension and large alloy wheels highlight bumps in the road rather than iron them out. As a result, it’s not quite as comfortable on rutted roads or around town as a Nissan Leaf and large potholes can send an unpleasant thud through the cabin.

It settles down at motorway speeds, however, and its electric motor doesn’t hum quite as loudly as in the likes of the Leaf and Zoe. You get cruise control as standard to help make long drives a bit more relaxing but you’ll hear quite a bit of tyre noise at speed – especially if you pick the i3 S model with its sports suspension and larger 20-inch alloy wheels.

The BMW i3 earned a four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP back in 2013. This means it won’t provide quite as much protection in a crash as the five-star-rated Renault Zoe but it’s still reasonably safe for a small family car.

For greater peace of mind, you’ll want to spend extra on the Driving Assistance Plus package. It comes with automatic emergency braking to help prevent low-speed collisions and adaptive cruise control that’ll maintain a safe distance to other cars in front before returning to a preset speed once the road’s clear.

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