How old is it? The BMW i3 has been sold in the UK since 2013
How much does it cost?* Prices start from £11,000
What’s good about it? Concept car styling, beautiful interior, clever packaging, great to drive
What’s not so good? Small boot, awkward rear doors, firm ride
What’s the BMW i3 like?
You’ll find it hard to miss a BMW i3. After all, nothing else on the road looks like it. On the outside, its bluff nose, bubble-like profile and glazed tail with almost cartoon-like rear lights give it the air of a prop that’s been discarded from a science fiction series. Even today, seven years after its launch, it looks fresher and more radical than most new cars.
The pillarless doors mean entry is via a vast opening in either side, and once you’re in, the i3 just gets better, its large glass area, high ceilings and lack of a centre stack all contributing to a sense of light and airiness that’s unmatched elsewhere. The dashboard, a long, flowing wave finished in beautiful materials – the light wood you get with the ‘Loft’ interior is a particularly appealing choice – is crystal clear, and looks fabulous.
The i3 is fast, too. Not just fast for an electric car – with 168bhp on tap and a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds, it’s as quick as some junior hot hatches.
And it drives well. Despite that tall stance, it stays level in fast bends, there’s plenty of grip, and the nose turns in swiftly and cleanly. The pay-off for this, however, is a ride that might be too stiff for some – and even those for whom it isn’t might find it on the firm side of comfortable.
Is it big enough for my family?
If yours is a family of four, then yes – but any more, and you’ll be stuck, because the i3 is strictly a four-seater. And while the rear seats are big enough for children, adults might find their lack of knee room a pain.
What’s more, getting in and out can be tricky in a tight car park, because the rear doors are hinged at the back, and you need to open the front doors to access them – leaving you trying to squeeze in between the two open doors.
You get a neat little cubby for extra luggage beneath the bonnet, but you’ll need it because the main boot is pretty small – and thanks to the i3’s lightweight carbon-fibre roof, you can’t fit a roof rack to carry extra luggage.
How safe is the BMW i3?
When it was crash-tested in 2013 by Euro NCAP, the industry’s benchmark crash-testing organisation, the i3 scored four stars, which might sound good, but in fact it’s below average – most cars at the time were achieving five.
That said, its adult occupant result of 86 per cent wasn’t horrendous, though a child occupant score of 81 per cent is a little low. Where the i3 really fell down, however, was on pedestrian protection, where it scored 57 per cent.
Which is the best version to choose?
The earliest i3s came with a 22kWh battery, which allowed them to travel as far as 118 miles on a charge; if that wasn’t enough, you could specify a Range Extender (REx) version, which added a small petrol tank and a 647cc petrol engine, which was used as a generator when the battery ran down to roughly double that range.
In 2016, the battery was upgraded to 33kWh, which boosted range to 195 miles, again with a REx version available as an option, and in 2017, a facelift brought with it the new, faster i3 S, with a boost in power to 181bhp but a slight drop in range to 174 miles.
In 2018, the battery was upgraded once again – this time to 42.2kWh, giving a range of up to 223 miles for the standard car and 214 miles for the I3 S, and the REx version was discontinued.
Given this continual upgrading, we’d suggest you go for the newest i3 you can afford – though if budget is a factor, an early REx model probably offers the best compromise between range and cost.
Is the BMW i3 reliable?
The i3 has a decent reputation for reliability; it finished third out of the eight electric cars included in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, and managed a good score of 97.9 per cent. That said, a slightly lower score of 95.2 per cent in 2019 corresponds with a theory among i3 enthusiasts that earlier cars are somewhat less reliable.
The i3 got a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty from new, with the battery warranted for eight years, with a 100,000-mile cap.
What do I need to look out for?
The very earliest i3s – those from late 2013 or early 2014 on a 63- or 14-plate – are believed to suffer from a litany of glitches, according to some owners, so check carefully before buying one of these.
Later i3s are apparently less troublesome, but can still suffer from charging faults and problems with electrical controllers.
It’s worth noting that some i3 owners have reported dashboard warnings that come on and then disappear again, and are therefore only traceable by having a fault code reader attached to the car. It might be worth having this check done before agreeing to buy the car, to check there aren’t any historic faults that haven’t been rectified.
How much should I pay for a BMW i3?*
Prices start at about £11,000 although it’s best to budget a bit more than that, as the good ones tend to start at around £13,000 or so.
REx models tend to fetch more than the basic electric-only cars, though as these also tend to be used for longer-distance journeys, there are more cheap, high-mileage examples around.
A later, 33kWh model will start at around £17,000, while a facelifted car starts at £20,000 or so. If it’s an S you’re after, meanwhile, you’ll need to set aside at least £23,000, and if you want to upgrade to the latest i3 with the 42.2kWh battery, be prepared to pay at least £24,000.
We found: 2017 i3 33kWh REx, 26,000 miles, full service history, £17,995
Why should I buy one?
Like all modern electric cars, the BMW i3 is silent and smooth, but it’s swifter than most, and more enjoyable to drive.
What’s more, it looks like it’s come from the future, while inside it boasts one of the most tactile and aesthetically pleasing interiors around.
What alternatives to the BMW i3 should I consider?
It might be more conventional – and, arguably, less attractive – but the Nissan Leaf is a more practical bet, with more room for the family, and it’s cheaper to buy, too.
Alternatively, the Renault Zoe is a great urban runaround, if that’s all you need.
And for the price of a two-year-old i3, you can buy a brand-new MG ZS EV, which is also worth looking into.
*Prices correct at time of writing (September 2020)