Sign Up
GeriRoute.com helps you connect and share with the people in your life.

2017 BMW i3 EV 001.jpg

BMW’s i sub-brand was announced in 2011, but its first product, the i3, didn’t launch until the second half of 2013. BMW’s first mass-produced battery-electric vehicle, the i3 was followed quickly by the i8 hybrid sports car. The i3 is a funky hatchback with rear-hinged back doors, integrated taillights hidden behind a glass panel, a carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic structure, and concept-car styling inside and out. A lithium-ion battery pack is housed in the floor, and a rear-mounted electric motor drives the rear wheels.

Although it wasn’t the first large-scale, consumer-focused modern EV from a major manufacturer (that would be the Nissan Leaf), the i3 joined Tesla’s Model S as one of the first mass-produced luxury electric vehicles. Today, the versions on sale are essentially the same as the initial models, save for range capability.



Why We Tested It and How It Performed: Although a 2018-model-year refresh has already been announced for the i3, we hadn’t yet tested a fully electric pre-update, post-capacity-increase model, and so we strapped our test gear to a 2017 i3 EV in the entry-level Deka World trim. With only the $1000 Parking Assistance package (rearview camera and parking sensors) added, our test example came in at $46,445.

BMW calls the i3 a “megacity vehicle,” spin intended to excuse the car’s relatively short range while also touting the small, light, practical, and efficient car as being made specifically for urban environments. Initial powertrain options were the EV with a 21.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an EPA-rated range of 81 miles, or a model with the same battery and motor supplemented by a 647-cc inline-two-cylinder gasoline generator. This “range extender” engine, which creates energy only to put back into the battery pack and never directly powers the wheels, boosted the range to 150 miles, according to EPA ratings, with its 1.9-gallon fuel tank.

For 2017, BMW upped the battery pack’s storage to 33.2 kWh without changing the size of the pack (it is heavier, however). The higher-density batteries significantly upped the range, to an EPA-rated 114 miles. The range-extended model—which we’ve already tested—also received the bigger battery pack and an additional half-gallon of fuel capacity, the net result of which is a total EPA range of 180 miles (97 on electricity alone).



Carrying 65 pounds more than the 2014 i3 EV we tested, the 2017 model returned 111 MPGe overall and 101 MPGe on our 75-mph highway loop. The 2017 i3 was a tick slower than the older model, with a 6.6-second zero-to-60-mph time and a 15.5-second quarter-mile pass at 87 mph. Braking from 70 mph to a stop took 177 feet, significantly worse than the previous car’s 163 feet, but skidpad grip was nearly the same at 0.77 g on Bridgestone EP600 all-season rubber.

What We Like: In a segment that lacks flair, the BMW i3 has plenty. The exterior is polarizing, with its upright body, puggish mug, and floating roof, but the cabin has genuine panache, lending it credence as the only truly premium small EV on the market. An unusual turn-dial column-mounted gear selector, two tablet-style screens (one for infotainment, one that serves as the gauge cluster), swaths of beautiful open-pore wood (on uplevel Giga World and Tera World trims), and stylish eco-friendly materials create a pleasing and futuristic environment. We wish BMW approached the creation of its other vehicles’ interiors with similar thinking. Also, like most electric cars, the i3’s immediate throttle response and instant torque make it spunky to drive at low speeds, while strong regenerative braking is great for lazy, one-pedal motoring around town.

What We Don’t Like: Even with the more potent battery pack, the i3’s range is not competitive with lower-priced electric vehicles from other automakers. The Chevrolet Bolt covered 190 miles on a single charge in our testing (it’s rated by the EPA at 238 miles), while the Volkswagen e-Golf is rated for 125 miles and the 2018 Nissan Leaf is projected to offer about 150 miles of range.



Aside from the off-the-line acceleration, the i3 isn’t particularly exciting to captain. It feels isolated from the road, even as it displays admirable dynamics and a reasonably plush ride. The car’s skinny tires and upright seating position can also create a false impression of tippiness that discourages any sort of hard cornering, at least until you get used to it.

The 2018 model will address some of these issues with the introduction of the sportier i3s. That’s not the plural of i3; the s stands for sport. The i3s is 0.4 inch lower, has a 1.6-inch-wider track, and sees its output increase to 184 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque. The model also will have wider 20-inch wheels and retuned springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars. BMW says it will have an altered traction-control system that will allow some tail-out attitude, too. It likely will not cause shallow breathing, but improved driving dynamics are always welcome.

Verdict: An EV with modest range, dressed up in a premium package for a premium price.

Specifications >

VEHICLE TYPE: rear-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door hatchback

PRICE AS TESTED: $46,445 (base: $44,450)

MOTOR TYPE: permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 170 hp, 184 lb-ft; 33.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack

TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive

DIMENSIONS:
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Length: 157.8 in
Width: 69.9 in Height: 62.1 in
Passenger volume: 84 cu ft
Cargo volume: 15 cu ft
Curb weight: 2918 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.6 sec
Zero to 90 mph: 18.2 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.7 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 2.5 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.4 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.5 sec @ 87 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 91 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 177 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.77 g

*stability-control-inhibited

C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 111 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 101 mpg
Highway range: 90 miles

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 118/129/106 MPGe
Range: 114 miles
Attachments
Captcha Challenge
Reload Image
Type in the verification code above