Review: 2016 BMW i3

The 2016 BMW i3 is an intriguing example of how risk-taking can pay off for an independent automaker. By building an electric vehicle on its own unique platform, without a simple way to spread development costs out over a wider swathe of models, BMW was certainly betting big that its traditional audience would swoon for the decidedly avant-garde subcompact hatchback.

It was an inspired decision, because not only has the BMW i3 proved to be popular amongst luxury buyers, but it's also shown that it's possible to build a relatively fun-to-drive EV without asking for a six-figure window sticker. Priced at $45,300, the i3 is relatively affordable for a BMW, and although it's more expensive than non-premium competitors like the Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf, it offers a driving experience that's dynamically a cut above. It manages to do this, too, while delivering a very usable amount of battery range coupled with a surprisingly spacious - and elegant - interior.

Pros

  • The BMW i3's 125-kilowatt motor produces 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and thanks to the instant delivery associated with electric power plants you can access all of that twist as soon as you dip into the accelerator. As a result, the rear-wheel drive i3 feels fairly quick around town and offers respectable passing power on the highway.
  • A 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack stores enough juice to give the BMW i3 an advertise range of 130 kilometres on a single charge. If you opt for the range-extending gas generator option (REX), battery-only driving drops to about 115 km, but you pick up roughly another 125 km with the genny running. We managed 147 km of battery alone on our REX-equipped tester thanks to the car's aggressive regenerative braking system, blowing past the official range number with ease.
  • The BMW i3's cabin is a sight to behold, with two floating LCD screens serving as infotainment and gauge cluster displays perched above a flowing wood dashboard. High-end accents abound throughout the i3's passenger compartment, and the surprisingly accommodating rear seat is easy to access via the second set of rear-hinged doors offered by the car.

Cons:

  • The REX is fairly noisy and not all that smooth, and its fuel tank is quite small. If you plan to take a long trip, you'll be stopping to fill up fairly regularly. The i3 was designed primarily for city driving, and unless your commuting needs reflect that, you might want to consider a plug-in hybrid vehicle instead of the BMW.
  • Thin tires combined with a tall profile make the BMW i3 prone to swaying in the breeze at highway speeds. You'll have to stay on your toes which driving the hatchback at speed to make sure you don't stray out of your lane.
  • The rear-hinged doors slice open the BMW i3's side quite well, but there's a price to be paid. They can't be used unless the front doors are already open, which can be a hassle for passengers who have to also undo their seatbelt to let in a backseat rider. If you're in a tight parking spot it can be difficult to even pull open both sets of doors wide enough to get into the car, a common problem for rear-hinged designs.

2016 BMW i3

 

ENGINE

125-kW electric motor

OUTPUT

170 hp / 184 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION

Direct drive

0-100 KMH

7.2 Seconds

TOP SPEED

N/A

Battery Range

130 km

WEIGHT

1,272 kilograms (2,799 lbs)

SEATING CAPACITY

4

CARGO VOLUME

1,044 litres (36.9 cubic feet)

BASE PRICE

$45,300

AS-TESTED PRICE

$55,900

 

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