Read the 2014 BMW i3's introduction to our long-term fleet.
See all of the 2014 BMW i3's long-term updates.
What We Got
The 2014 BMW i3 was an all-new vehicle that was a complete departure for the brand. Built out of carbon fiber, aluminum and plastic, the i3 was designed to be a pure electric car from the beginning. It was a big deal, so we decided to give it a try and see if it really was as groundbreaking as BMW claimed.
The MSRP on an i3 was $42,300. It included an electric motor with 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. We wanted one with the optional two-cylinder, range-extending gasoline engine. That gave us up to 150 miles of total range, according to the EPA. This increased the MSRP to $46,150.
Optional equipment on our test car came at considerable cost. First we opted for the Tera World trim ($2,700), which added full leather, keyless entry and satellite radio. The Parking Assist package ($1,000) included parking assist and a rearview camera. The Tech + Driving Assist package ($2,500) combined adaptive cruise control, BMW apps and navigation with real-time traffic. Stand-alone options were the 20-inch wheels ($1,300), a Harman Kardon sound system ($800) and heated front seats ($350).
As-tested MSRP for our vehicle was $54,800, which we negotiated down to $49,999. It was not an inexpensive car. Then again, considering the level of technology and materials that went into building the i3, it wasn't very expensive at all. Here's how it fared.
"For starters, it drives well. It accelerates up to highway speeds quickly, and the suspension feels sufficiently refined over L.A's buckled concrete freeways. You're aware that the tires are small and narrow, but the car doesn't feel frail." — Ed Hellwig
"The i3 is responsive, instantaneous and linear. It does its best work in the city when you want to get out of the way in a hurry, the trade-off being that it feels relatively blunted at freeway speeds.... I always floored it whenever I got the chance, like in HOV lanes, on freeway on-ramps, leaving Priuses in the dust, and at traffic lights going up against antsy Honda Civic drivers. The i3 is the point-and-squirt champion." — Caroline Pardilla
"I did experience the range extender's limitations.... No matter what I did with the accelerator, my speed gradually dropped from 74 mph down to 56 mph by the time I reached the summit. It would've kept going down had the grade been any higher or steeper." — James Riswick
"We can say with confidence that during this two-month period, we ran 1,656.6 miles on electricity and 52.4 miles on gasoline... our 1.722 gallons of gasoline burned at a rate of 30.4 mpg. The EPA's fuel economy rating for the i3 range-extender (REX) is 39 mpg.... Our 1,656.6 miles of electric driving consumed 468 kWh, which works out to an average electricity consumption rate of 28.2 kWh per 100 miles. The i3's EPA electricity consumption rating is 29 kWh/100 miles, so we're doing better than predicted here." — Dan Edmunds
"Stuffed under the i3's trunk floor is a 647cc two-cylinder gasoline engine that serves as an emergency backup should you need to go beyond the i3's electric range. It's a safety net, not the makings of a true plug-in hybrid, as its rinky-dink 2.4-gallon tank means you'd be hard-pressed to drive very far." — James Riswick
"...in the city, over speed bumps, potholes, construction grates and intersection gutters, the i3 bounced quite a bit. The entire cabin seemed to move as one piece, communicating road surface changes with dramatic hops. Some of this comes down to the road quality and the i3's suspension calibration (it's stiff but not unyielding), but there are other factors, too. We've got the optional 20-inch wheels.... I'd opt for the standard 19s as a baseline solution but I'm not sure that would solve the problem entirely." — Travis Langness
"The driving position is akin to being at the helm of a small minivan, and I love that. You can't see to the tip of its nose, but there's superb visibility in all directions and an amazing sense of space in the cockpit. It's a different feeling than in any other BMW, but it's not different to the point of being weird." — Erin Riches
"Last week I learned that it means the i3's 'trunk' can handle four 19-inch-diameter billet wheels of various widths pretty easily. Make that very easily, with plenty of height space and some floor space left over." — Scott Oldham
"I still contend that the i3 is a pretty perfect vehicle for retirees. It's just fine for golfers of any age as well, perhaps even for those who have to sit in 45 minutes of L.A. traffic for some Tuesday night twilight golf." — James Riswick
"The interior feels huge. Between the glass area and the dashboard design, the i3 gives you the impression that it's much bigger on the outside. It's a nice feeling when you're surrounded in traffic." — Ed Hellwig
"Suicide doors are an issue if you're parked next to something (e.g. a car, a wall, a rhinoceros, etc.) and have a rear passenger that would like to be let out. BMW anti-mobster technology requires that the front-hinged front door be opened before the rear-hinged rear door latch can be operated. This promotes a natural barricade situation when the doors are open, leaving the driver and rear passenger to coordinate a rather ungraceful exit strategy." — Jonathan Elfalan
Audio and Technology
"First of all, its [self-parking feature is] not very intuitive. I had to use another feature, an onboard user's manual with tutorial videos, to find out how to activate it. Then, it took several tries before I hit the buttons in the right sequence to use it. But once in action, it was spectacular. It turned into the empty spot perfectly and used the park distance feature to center the car perfectly." — Phil Reed
"The center display screen in our long-term i3 is one of the best I've ever seen. The resolution is crisp, the screen is barely affected by sunlight and the rearview camera provides an impressive amount of detail." — Travis Langness
"Two minutes later, I safely crossed all lanes and found an off-ramp wide enough to get out and assess the situation on the driver's side. When I stopped the car, the monitor displayed 0 psi. I hoped the system was malfunctioning. Then I saw the wheel resting on the road with only a thin band of rubber separating the two." — Cameron Rogers
"'Is there any way to fix a broken plug on my BMW i3's 120-volt home charger?' I asked hopefully. The third prong, the ground, snapped off. 'Sorry, no,' replied Sergio from behind the parts counter. 'You'll need a whole new cord unit. Let me see if I have one in stock....' I paid the cashier the full $648.91 and sadly went back out into the afternoon heat." — Kelly Hellwig
"This was the first time I had experienced the range extender, which sounds a bit like someone is running a sewing machine in the trunk." — James Riswick
"The i3 slalomed through the curves with nary a hint of body roll. The comfortable front buckets kept both driver and passenger firmly in place. And those tall, skinny, low-rolling-resistance Bridgestones (155/60/R20s up front and 175/55/R20s at the rear) never lost their grip, although I didn't push them to their limits." — John O'Dell
Maintenance & Repairs
Routine service is dictated by the onboard computer. The first and only service for our i3 came at about 9,700 miles. It included an oil and filter change and safety inspections, and cost us nothing under BMW's 4-year/50,000-mile complimentary maintenance program.
Two unexpected incidents fell beyond the scope of normal maintenance but tapped into our pocketbook nonetheless. A blown tire on the freeway sent us shopping not only for a new tire ($208) but also a replacement tire inflator and sealant kit ($51). We also had to purchase a new 120-volt charge cable ($649) when suspected vandals forcibly extricated ours from a wall socket.
Just one recall was issued on our i3 in the past year, for the passenger airbag.
Fuel Economy and Resale Value
Observed Fuel Economy:
Tracking fuel economy for our i3 with range extender required a lot of discipline. Some unusable information was inevitable, explained here. Still, we captured electricity and gasoline usage from 9,114 miles of our 10,400 total miles over the past year. Here's what we found.
EPA fuel estimates for the i3 were 39 mpg combined on gasoline. We averaged 28.5 mpg over the course of burning 29.8 gallons of fuel, which was quite a bit behind the EPA figure. But this comprised less than 10 percent of our total miles.
Our i3 ran on electricity for 90.7 percent of our test. During our most electric-heavy stretch, the BMW traveled 1,657 miles on charged particles and 52 miles on gasoline. That was 1,709 miles and two months without a drip of gasoline. And the one time we did fill up, it took just 1.7 gallons.
Resale and Depreciation:
We purchased our i3 with range extender for $49,999. After one year and 10,400 miles, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued the BMW at $33,300 based on a minimal number of i3 sales available for comparison at the time. Given the tiny market for EVs in general, we weren't that surprised to find little interest in our used i3.
Following a prolonged period on the market, we sold the car for the best price offered, a disappointing $26,000 from CarMax. Even after subtracting the $2,500 California rebate from the purchase price, our i3 still depreciated 45 percent. That's the worst ever for our long-term fleet, but it's slightly skewed by the fact that the i3 also qualifies the original purchaser for a $7,500 tax credit, a factor that doesn't enter into the equation.
Pros: Excellent visibility, spacious feel to the cabin, high-quality interior materials, quick acceleration, solid handling, expandable cargo area, range-extending engine alleviates range anxiety, free four-year/50,000-mile scheduled maintenance.
Cons: Rear suicide doors are inconvenient in tight spaces, small gas tank limits maximum range, higher-than-average depreciation, no AM radio.
Bottom Line: This is a practical, well-built electric car that's more than just a BMW with a battery in it. The addition of the range-extending engine effectively eliminates the range anxiety issue that plagues most pure EVs and turns the i3 into a reliable daily driver with few compromises.
|Total Body Repair Costs:||None|
|Total Routine Maintenance Costs:||None (over 12 months)|
|Additional Maintenance Costs:||$907.35|
|Non-Warranty Repairs:||Replace damaged tire, replace tire inflator and sealant kit, replace damaged 120-volt charge cable|
|Scheduled Dealer Visits:||1|
|Unscheduled Dealer Visits:||2|
|Days Out of Service:||None|
|Breakdowns Stranding Driver:||None|
|Percentage of time on Electricity:||90.7%|
|Total Gasoline Used:||29.8 gallons|
|Average Gasoline Fuel MPG:||28.5 mpg|
|Best Combined Electric/Gas Range:||1,709 miles|
|True Market Value at service end:||$33,300 (private-party sale)|
|What it Sold for:||$26,000|
|Depreciation:||$21,499 (45% of paid price)|
|Final Odometer Reading:||10,400 miles|
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.