Review: BMW i3 (2013)


Available as a range extended version. Impressive performance and handling. Superb interior design. Eight year battery warranty. UK Car of the Year 2014.

Styling is best described as 'complex'. Boot is a touch on the small side.

BMW i3 (2013): At A Glance

You could very well be looking at the future of electric motoring. Or at least the beginning of the future. While BMW may not be first manufacturer to launch an electric car - we've already had the likes of the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe - the i3 represents a big change in the world of alternatively powered vehicles. If ever there was a car that could convince the sceptical about electric vehicles, this is it.

For starters, it's the first premium electric car designed from scratch and that quality shines through. The interior blends a modern and minimalist design with the solid build quality you'd expect from BMW. Yet it manages to feel distinct from any conventional BMW, helped by features like the clever coach doors.

The styling is unique too. It's fair to say it divides opinion, but it certainly stands out and makes a 1 Series looks decidedly dull.

There are in fact two versions of the i3 available - the standard electric powered model with a range of around 80 to 100 miles and a range extender model which has a little 650cc two-cylinder engine that provides power for the electric motor and extends the range to 180 miles.

What really marks the i3 out is the way it drives. It's amazingly capable on the road and despite its skinny tyres, the handling is mightily impressive.

You certainly don't feel like you're having to make any compromises because it's an electric car. It rides well too and thanks to its incredibly low weight - helped by the fact the body is constructed entirely from carbon fibre - it's fast. The electric motor provides 170PS and performance is similar to a MINI Cooper S.

Unlike the Leaf and the Zoe, you don't lease the battery in the i3 - it's all part of the cost of the car. And at £25,680 (including the Government grant) the i3 does look good value.

What does a BMW i3 (2013) cost?

List Price from £35,350
Buy new from £29,783
Contract hire from £307.72 per month

BMW i3 (2013): What's It Like Inside?

Length 3999–4011 mm
Width 2039 mm
Height 1578–1598 mm
Wheelbase 2570 mm

Full specifications

The rather odd styling of the i3 may not be universally popular but it the rather upright shape does mean plenty of interior space.

The real highlights are the clever coach doors which mean access is incredibly easy, especially for those getting into the back. Because of the strength of the carbon fibre body, there's no need for a central pillar, allowing BMW to take advantage of the Ford B-MAX style pillarless design.

The interior is very spacious and even rear passengers get good headroom and reasonable legroom, helped by lightweight and slim seats. When you remember that this car is only four metres long it's even more impressive.

While this may be an electric car, BMW hasn't gone for a wacky interior, instead the i3 has a clean and classy design. It's not at the expense of practicality or usability either with good storage, an easy to use navigation/control system and well laid out buttons.

The cabin is dominated by the large screen on top of the dashboard - that has all the on board systems and menus as with any BMW with iDrive. While instead of standard dials, all the key driver info is displayed on a smaller screen behind the steering wheel. BMW has kept it nice and simple so you see your speed, trip and most importantly - your range.

The quality of the finish and the materials used is everything we've come to expect from BMW. It feels solid and durable, yet is still comfortable.

There are nice details too like such as where the carbon fibre has been left exposed in certain areas. It's certainly like nothing else on the road. There are also different 'themes' available for the interior such as Loft, Lodge and Suite. So for example Lodge includes eucalyptus wood trim and a wool fabric on the doors. It gives the rather minimalist interior a touch of warmth.

The boot isn't overly big at 260 litres but it seems larger when you're loading it up and there's more than enough room for everyday needs. - you can get a couple of cabin suitcases in there no problem. You can also drop the back seats for bigger objects.

Child seats that fit a BMW i3 (2013)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the BMW i3 (2013) like to drive?

Although a range of 80 to 100 miles may not seem that much compared to a conventional petrol or diesel car, the average UK commute is only 25 miles a day.

In theory you'd be able to drive your full charged BMW to work - top it up at a charging point if need be - and then drive it home before plugging it in. That sounds straightforward but the current electric car charging infrastructure in the UK needs to expand massively to make it a reality.

Still if you do work somewhere progressive enough to have electric car charging points, or indeed if your daily commute isn't going to be more than around 80 miles, the i3 could work for you.

It's ideal if you work in a city and live close by. And if you occassionally need to go further afield, there's BMW Access. This scheme costs from £40 a year and gives you 700 points to redeem against the use of other BMW cars - as an example a 1 Series is 100 points for one day. It's good value when you compare it to hiring a car.

Charging the i3 is straightforward. The easiest way is a charging point, the kind that are becoming more common in shopping centre multi storeys, or via a BMW i Wallbox which you can get fitted at home if you have the space.

It costs £315 including installation and does allow you to lock it - so that no on can use it when you're not there and equally no one can unplug your car when it's on charge. A standard fast charge via either of these can recharge the battery from zero to 80 per cent in around three hours.

You can also charge it from a standard three-pin domestic socket - although this does take eight to 10 hours. The quickest method is a DC Rapid Charge - you'll find these points at places like BMW dealers - and will provide an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes.

If you're covering around 8500 miles a year - the average now in the UK - you'd be looking at a monthly charging cost of around £21.

If you have an Economy 7 tariff this could drop to just £9 a month. The lithium ion battery has been designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle and comes with an eight-year 100,000 mile warranty. Cleverly it's a modular battery so if part of it fails, the whole thing doesn't have to be replaced.

Of course while a battery may have been designed to last for the lifetime of a vehicle only time will tell whether that's the case. The cost of a total replacement battery is unknown but rumoured figures for the Nissan Leaf put it at almost £20,000.

Of course the modular aspect means that replacement parts would be somewhat cheaper. But it's still an unknown quantity and one of the big question marks about electric cars.

But away from the battery itself, what's the i3 like on the road? The answer is surprisingly good. The i3 is the first production car to use carbon fibre for the passenger cell which helps compensate for the extra weight of the battery. As a result it weighs just 1195kg - that's not much more than a Volkswagen Polo - which benefits both performance and handling.

The electric motor provides 170PS but it's the 250Nm of torque available from a standstill which really makes the i3 impressive. From zero to 30mph it's amazingly rapid, making it perfect for town driving when you want to nip away from the lights. There's just one gear so you stick the i3 in 'D' and away you go. It pulls away in silence and keeps going with strong performance that doesn't diminish as you get faster.

The steering is tight and responsive plus the i3 grips very well considering how narrow the tyres are, so you can happily tackle corners at speed with plenty of confidence. The carbon fibre body is light but also very strong so the ride is also very good, even on particularly poor roads. The battery is located below the floor which means a low centre of gravity and very little lean in corners.

One thing that does take some getting used is the regenerative braking. When you lift off the throttle, the i3 doesn't coast, instead it's fitted with regenerative braking to recuperate energy. This is nothing new but it's the level of braking which is unusual. BMW says it's basically like one pedal driving, as it is possible to drive the i3 without actually touching the brake pedal.

It's a strange sensation at first - akin to driving with the handbrake still half on - but it does make you plan further ahead with your driving as you anticipate traffic and anything that would usually have you going for the brakes.

When the i3 is doing its regenerative braking, the brake lights do come on to warn people behind, although on the motorway this could soon become annoying for those behind as it appears you are constantly on and off the brakes.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
i3 - 7.2 s -
i3 120Ah - 7.3 s -
i3 94Ah - 7.3 s -
i3 94Ah Range Extender - 8.1 s 12–13 g/km
i3 Range Extender 471 mpg 7.9 s 13 g/km
i3s 120Ah - 6.9 s -
i3s 94Ah - 6.9 s -
i3s 94Ah Range Extender - 7.7 s 14 g/km

Real MPG average for a BMW i3 (2013)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

300–351 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the BMW i3 (2013)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

What secondhand electric cars would you recommend?

Are there any kind of secondhand fully electric cars for a budget of about £14,000?
A Nissan Leaf would be a good choice. You'll be able to get a 30kWh model in budget, comfortably capable of more than 100 miles between charges even in winter. Also consider a BMW i3, Kia Soul EV or Renault Zoe.
Answered by Andrew Brady
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