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BMW i3 (2013–)

Last updated 30 August 2017

Video Road Test

Kerb weight 1195–1365 kg
Warranty
Servicing 18,000 miles

Full specifications

Driving

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.

Engines

Engine MPG 0-62 Top speed CO2
i3 - 7.2 s 93 mph -
i3 94Ah - 7.3 s 93 mph -
i3 94Ah Range Extender 100 mpg 8.1 s 93 mph 12 g/km
i3 Range Extender 471 mpg 7.9 s 93 mph 13 g/km
 

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