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
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 125 miles between charges, but in real-world conditions you can expect it to manage closer to 100 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.
If you regularly cover longer distances you’ll want to consider the model with a built-in range extender. This system uses a small petrol engine and generator tucked under the boot floor to recharge the BMW’s batteries on the move. It helps boost the i3’s total range to a more usable 206 miles and only produces a slight hum as you drive along. It’s barely noticeable at slow speeds and fades into the background completely on the motorway.
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
Even once the batteries have run out of juice, the range extender can power the i3 along quite happily and return around 50mpg in normal driving conditions. Unfortunately, the tiny nine-litre fuel tank means you’ll have to stop every 80 miles to fill up but does make the i3 significantly more practical for everyday use than many electric vehicles.
Don’t go thinking the i3’s a sluggish eco car only suited to plodding to the shops – its 170hp electric motor delivers almost instant bursts of acceleration helping it sprint from 0-62mph in a thoroughly respectable 7.3 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 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 £790 self-parking system that’ll steer you into bay and parallel spaces.
Unfortunately, the i3’s rather stiff suspension and large 19-inch 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 hand over an extra £790 for the Driving Assistance Plus package. It comes with automatic emergency braking to help prevent slow-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.