BMW i3 (2013 – 2022) Review

BMW i3 (2013 – 2022) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
The BMW I3 still looks and feels modern nearly a decade on, with a cleverly-designed and classy interior, enjoyable driving experience and good acceleration. Its range, ride quality and practicality do mark it out as an older model now, however.

+Fun handling and nippy performance. Light, airy and high quality cabin with easy to use tech. Distinctive looks.

-Lacks practicality. Range is off the pace next to newer rivals. Early versions have a choppy ride.

New prices start from £36,350
Insurance Groups are between 21–29
On average it achieves 69% of the official MPG figure

Think the BMW i3 still looks modern and distinctive now? Now think back to 2013 when it first came out and you'll get some idea of how radical and forward-thinking it was. Aside from the similarly futuristic Tesla Model S, it was only really the rather unexciting Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe occupying the mass-market electric car sector then. Things have moved on quite a bit, but the quirky i3 is still very appealing as this review will show. 

BMW’s approach to creating a small electric car showed serious intent and real forward thinking at a time when EVs weren't exactly mainstream. The compact i3 was designed alongside the hybrid BMW i8 sports car, and both are made from carbon fibre for light weight and strength, with BMW even building a new factory to manufacture the base material.

Other than the Model S, which had only just arrived on the scene, the BMW i3 was pretty much the first premium electric car on the market. It looks totally different to any other BMW (in fact anything else on the road) with its quirky and bold exterior design. While it was certainly controversial in the early days, harming sales, the striking look has aged well and sales improved as time went on. 

There's nothing controversial about the cabin. BMW mastered the minimalist look before it was cool, but unlike Tesla there's still plenty of design flair and an infotainment system that doesn't rely on a touchscreen for every single feature - BMW's iDrive rotary controller is still superbly easy to use. The bright, airy interior is also full of upmarket materials (some of them recycled) with excellent build quality. 

You'll have no complaints regarding space up front, but the rear-hinged rear doors can only be opened if if the fronts are. Once back there it's not exactly roomy by the standard of today, either, but a couple of adults will be fine for shorter journeys, and kids will be fine. The boot is supermini-sized, however. 

At launch the i3 was offered with a modest 22kWh battery in pure EV form, giving a range of up to 120 miles (75-80 miles in the real world) on a full charge. There was also a range-extending hybrid version (badged REx) with a little 650cc two-cylinder engine able to provide power to the electric motors when the battery is depleted, although with a nine-litre fuel tank it only added about 80 miles of range. 

In 2017 all versions of the i3 were fitted with a larger 33kWh battery pack to boost the range in the face of newer rivals, while in 2018 the i3S came along. With more power, stiffer suspension and bigger wheels and tyres, it added some driver appeal at the expense of comfort. 

In 2019 BMW uprated the battery capacity once again, with a 42.2kWh battery as standard boosting the range up to 193 miles (160-odd real-world), while the REx model is no longer offered in the UK.

What really marks the i3 out is the way it drives. If you’re new to electric cars it will be something of a revelation, as it is not only undemanding to drive but also a great deal of fun. The ride is firm, especially in early cars, but it is well-damped. 

The i3 is easily one of the lightest electric cars on sale - it's up to 500kg lighter than a Volkswagen ID.3 - thanks to its unique carbonfibre construction. That means despite its modest power it's pretty rapid away from the line. Alright, so it's not a Porsche Taycan but it's easily one of the fastest electric cars below £50k. 

Looking for a second opinion? Why not read heycar's BMW i3 review.


Ask Honest John

What's the best used EV for around £12,000?

"As a family we have an Audi Q4 (my wife’s work car) and a Land Rover Discovery Sport (now 6 years old). I would love to be completely EV, but the 3+ long trips to the Alps we do each year with skis, bikes etc plus the need for an occasional 7 seater and something to cross the odd field means the Discovery stays. My work mileage has gone up recently and in daily running around I’m doing 400 miles a week. So I’m done my sums and come to the conclusion it’s better to buy a used EV for my daily drive. On a budget of £12-13k, what is the best buy - VW e-Golf, Nissan Leaf or BMW i3? Most driving is on rural A and B roads with some city driving. "
A used electric car is ideal for someone with your requirements. A Nissan Leaf would be the sensible choice - there are lots available, while the 40kWh battery provides an official range of 168 miles. They're a bit bland, though, and the interior of the Volkswagen e-Golf is leagues ahead. We ran an e-Golf for six months and really rated it - it's essentially a seventh-generation Golf (one of the best family cars of its era), with improved refinement and lower running costs: All that said, my money would go on the BMW i3. The i3 has a huge amount of character and a really cool cabin. They command a premium on the used market, though, so you'll be looking at an older one for the money. Avoid range-extender models as they're more likely to go wrong. And if you want to broaden your search further... the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is worth a look, too. It's very comfortable and represents excellent value for money on the used market.
Answered by Andrew Brady

What's the best small plug-in hybrid?

"I'm elderly and being blinded with science. I want a small plug in hybrid whose battery will not cost a fortune when it dies as my available cash is about £15,000 for a used car. Automatic and with cruise control but not difficult to get in. Any recommendations please?"
There aren't many small plug-in hybrids available. They have to be fairly big by design - a small car can't accommodate a petrol engine, an electric motor and the batteries for a PHEV. Have you considered a BMW i3 Range Extender? It's more of an EV than a PHEV - basically, it only has a very small petrol engine which is used as a generator when you run out of electricity. It's a great introduction to electric motoring, though, and an interesting little car to drive. It is quite complicated, so it's worth investing in a decent aftermarket warranty ( Alternatively, a conventional 'self-charging' hybrid might be a better option for you. A Toyota Yaris Hybrid is an exceptionally reliable little car that's also very efficient and easy to drive. Icon models and above get cruise control.
Answered by Andrew Brady

How much is a replacement battery for a BMW i3?

"How much is a replacement main battery for a range extender BMW i3 on a 66 plate? "
It is difficult to get a precise cost for this, as it depends on an estimate from an individual garage because this is unlikely to be something you can carry out at home. We have seen the price of used battery packs for anything between £6000 and £9000, while previous estimates for the battery and replacement work would exceed £10,000. It is worth pointing out that the BMW warranty for the i3 is eight years or 100,000 miles, and at this point it should be offering a minimum state of health of 70%.
Answered by David Ross

Do electric cars have an emergency manual charge flap release?

"Do any electric cars have an emergency (manual) charge flap release? "
This is becoming a more common feature on electric cars, which could prove to be handy in the event that the car has a complete power failure. Cars which have this feature fitted include the Volkswagen ID3, BMW i3 and X5e, Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf. If you're looking to buy an electric car with this feature a quick look at the owner's manual will tell you if an emergency release is fitted and how it is operated.
Answered by David Ross
More Questions

What does a BMW i3 (2013 – 2022) cost?