BMW i3: NGC Electric Drive

NGC Verdict

BMW has certainly thought outside the box designing the i3 and the result is a desirable city car that’s a little bit special. The all-electric i3 handles well around town and is packed full of technology, all in a boldly styled, almost futuristic package. However, all this comes at a price with the i3 starting at £25,980 (including plug-in-car grant).

The lack of a fifth seat in the rear might put some people off and while the carriage doors look good, they’re somewhat impractical for day-to-day use. That said, if you’re looking for something a little bit different and futuristic, packed full of technology and from a well-known manufacturer the i3 could be for you.

What's the i3 like to drive?

The 168 bhp electric motor delivers instant torque to the rear wheel and as a result, the i3 packs a punch, accelerating from 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds. Officially, the i3 can reach a top speed of 93 mph. Negotiating city streets is breeze thanks to a high-set driving position and excellent all-round visibility. Our test car also included an array of optional parking aids making parking a doddle.

There’s more grip than you might expect from the narrow types which are designed to help reduce rolling resistance and maximise the driving range. However, at motorway speeds the i3 can feel twitchy. The regenerative braking system is particularly strong in the i3 and the ‘strength’ can only be adjusted by changing the drive mode. Even in its weakest mode, taking your foot off the accelerator causes the i3 to rapidly decelerate as if you were depressing the brake pedal, which takes a bit of getting used to.

Charging the i3

BMW i3

The i3 is fitted as standard with a Type 2 (Mennekes) charging inlet, capable of fully charging the i3 using a dedicated home or public charging point in around three hours. The test car was also fitted with the optional (in our view essential) Combine Charging System (CCS) for rapid charging in around 30 minutes. Alternatively, the i3 can be charged from a 3-pin domestic socket in around seven hours.

It worth mentioning at this stage that the i3 comes with the option of adding a small two-cylinder 647 cc petrol engine (which locates under one of the rear sets) and a two-gallon petrol tank together which provide an additional 80 miles to the electric only-range of just over 100 miles. While the ‘range extender’ option is there to reassure drivers who may be nervous about taking their first steps into electric motoring, we recommend the all-electric version for its simplicity and lower cost.

Would-be owners of the i3 should have off-street parking and charging capabilities either at home or work. Home charging points, which thanks to the EV Homecharge government grant, can be installed at low-cost or in some cases for free.

Relying solely on public charging infrastructure is a somewhat risky move (especially if the i3 was your only car). While not a reflection of the i3, we encountered the usual problems of public charging points being either out of order or being ‘ICEd’; EV speak for having the bays blocked by internal combustion engine petrol and diesel cars.

What does the i3 cost to own?

As already mentioned, and as you might expect with a premium brand, the BMW i3 isn't cheap. The entry level model which comes with plenty of equipment starts at £25,980 including the Plug-in Car Grant. The range extender option adds another £3,150 to the pure EV version.

Our test car with extras was £31,115 after the grant, which is considerably more than the i3’s potential electric competitors, the top spec Nissan LEAF and Renault ZOE. However, BMW calls this the i3 the first premium electric car and excluding the Tesla Model S we think this is a fair point as the i3 certainly trumps the LEAF and ZOE in terms of performance, build-quality and attention to detail.

As with all electric cars, running costs for the i3 are low at around three pence per mile; drivers regularly entering the Congestion Charge Zone can also avoid the £11.50 daily charge. In addition, the majority of public charging stations remain free to use once you pay a modest membership fee (although some fast and rapid points are now beginning introduce pay-per-use tariffs).

I3 connectivity and on-board kit

BMW i3

The standard i3 is as well-equipped, as you might expect from the premium German marque, and includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth hands free, sat-nav, DAB digital radio, multi-function steering wheel, rear parking sensors, automatic windscreen wipers, cruise control and the fantastic BMW iDrive infotainment system complete with 6.5 inch HD display.

Optional extras include an electric glass sunroof (£780) and three ‘interior world’ upgrades adding up to £2,000 to the list price. The Park Assist Package (£790) includes a high quality rear view camera, parking distance control and Park Assist. Heated front seats come in the £260 Winter Package.

BMW haven’t followed the trend of fitting touch screen displays into their cars. Instead, the i3 makes use of the intuitive, class-leading iDrive system making all aspects of connectivity easily understandable and quick to use (and comes highly recommended by the NGC team). The screen and its menus are driven by a circular dial just in front of the drivers arm rest.

The BMW, like many new cars, provides an app which controls certain aspects of the car including unlocking, sounding the horn or flashing the lights. Most useful, however, is the ability to check the cars charge status remotely.

How ‘green’ is the i3?

Aside from the all-electric power-train, BMW have paid special attention to the environmental credentials of the i3, and through the use of carbon-composites and recycled materials has achieved ISO certification for the vehicle’s manufacturing process. Both of the factories where the model is produced are also powered by 100% renewable energy.

According to our (independent) calculations the all-electric (and zero-emission) BMW i3 has a very green NGC Rating of just 22. While the range extended variant cannot be considered zero-emission, the emissions are ‘ultra low’ with official CO2 emissions of only 13 g/km and a NGC Rating of only 25.

Regarding the use of recycled and low-impact materials, around 25% of the plastic by weight used inside and out is derived from recycled materials; the textile seat covers are made from almost 100% recycled polyester and the interior wood is sourced from sustainably managed, European forests.

What's the i3 like to live with?

BMW i3

The i3’s real-world-range is somewhere between 80 and 100 miles on ‘eco+’ mode. Frustratingly, you must remember to switch into ‘eco+’ mode each time you power up as the i3 defaults to the considerably less energy efficient ‘comfort’ mode.

The BMW has a respectable boot with 50:50 split rear folding seats and a roomy interior, though the lack of a fifth seat might put off some buyers. BMW has adopted an ‘American style’ location for the drive-mode selector on the uppermost end of the steering column which makes mode selecting troublesome at times.

While the coach style door layout with no central pillar demonstrates the rigidity of the carbon composite body shell, the i3 is not quite a ‘five-door’ as a result. The rear doors don’t open independently of the front doors and are a pain in confined car parking spaces.

What will the neighbours say?

Although BMWs are commonplace on UK roads, the i3 with its bold styling is a head turner wherever you are. In our view, if you can push the budget, adding a set of optional alloys wheels will significantly improve the look over the standard wheel set. However, it is at night when the i3 provides a real spectacle as the interior and exterior light-up in electric blue on unlocking.

Once you have made an impression, look forward to the inevitable questions regarding cost, range and charging associated with any electric car. Once you've easily dealt with the facts, like us, there won’t be many people left unimpressed by the i3 in one way or another – it’s an EV that BMW can be proud to have in their range and you in your garage.

BMW i3 Key Facts

Model tested: BMW i3 125kW electric
Body-style: Five door Supermini
Trim grades: Standard, Loft, Lodge, and Suite
Engine/motor: 125 kW/168 bhp electric motor
MPG/CO2: 196 MPG equivalent (est) / 0 gCO2/km
EV Range/charging: 118 miles / Slow (3kW), Fast (7kW) and Rapid (50kW)
On-road price: From £25,980. Price as tested £31,115 (both after £5,000 Govt grant)
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage. Eight years/ 100,000 miles battery
In the showroom: Now

If not the i3, what else?

Strictly speaking, the only other battery electric supermini currently available is the Renault ZOE and with an OTR price tag of £27,435 for the top-spec model and an official range of 130 miles, it’s a good alternative, particularly if BMW’s high price tag or lack of a fifth seat is an issue.

Other pure electric vehicles around the same size, though not superminis, include small family cars such as the VW e-golf (from £26,145) and the Nissan Leaf (from £21,490). Both can be specified with similar equipment to the BMW but cost considerably less. They also include that additional fifth seat, proper doors and a bigger boot, though none are quite as special.

Peter Thomas

Author:Peter Thomas
Date Updated:27th Mar 2015

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