The funky-looking, technologically advanced i3 became BMW’s first mass-produced, all-electric car several years ago.
Looking at i3’s tall profile and narrow tires, you will quickly realize that it is not a typical BMW performance car. Instead, the i3 is manufactured for eco-minded consumers who live in urban areas.
The first i3 models offered a driving range of either 81 miles or 150 miles, depending on how they were equipped.
For 2017, an optional larger battery pack increases i3’s driving range to 180 miles.
Yes, there are other electric cars offered with greater driving ranges, but the BMW i3 provides a pleasingly unique driving experience. The i3 is quite stable and a bit lighter than its rivals due to its aluminum chassis and carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body.
i3 is powered by a 170-horsepower electric motor driving the rear wheels and it gets its “juice” from either a 60 amp-hour or newly available 94 amp-hour high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack.
Driving range is 81 miles or 114 miles, depending on the battery pack selected.
A Range Extender (REx) option is available. It adds a 650-cubic-centimeter, two-cylinder engine and 2.4-gallon fuel tank to extend i3’s driving range from 114 miles to 180 miles.
The small REx engine powers on automatically when i3’s battery pack runs low. Instead of driving the wheels, this gasoline-powered engine spins a generator to provide additional electrical power.
While the REx option increases i3’s driving range, it still does not make i3 practical for cross-country touring. For 2017, the REx option is only available for models with the larger 94 amp-hour battery pack.
The i3 accelerates smoothly and quietly. There is plenty of power available. 0–60 mph happens in an impressive 7.0 seconds.
Like other electric vehicles, the i3 provides regenerative braking. What that means is that when you release the accelerator pedal, or step on the brake pedal, the electric motor becomes a generator, slowing the car down and recharging the battery pack.
However, i3’s regenerative braking is more aggressive than its competitors’. In fact, when lifting your foot from the accelerator pedal, the i3 will come to a complete stop without your ever depressing the brake pedal.
It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it becomes easy to regulate the accelerator pedal between accelerating, cruising and braking, all without touching the brake pedal. I only needed the brake pedal for more forceful stops.
i3’s cabin remains quiet when driving around town. At highway speeds, I noticed some wind and road noise. For models with the optional REx, noise levels further increase when the REx’s engine comes online. This rear-mounted engine sounds similar to a generator on an RV.
The four-seater is short on leg room for rear passengers when the front seats are fully rearward. i3’s rear seats are accessed via rear-hinged doors that cannot be opened without first opening the front doors. And you have to close the rear doors before closing the front doors.
Pricing for the i3 begins at around $42,000, but it can soar to well over $50,000 when fully equipped.