Used 2015 BMW i3 Review

Edmunds expert review

For electric vehicle shoppers desiring some sportiness and luxury-brand panache, the 2015 BMW i3 is a very compelling choice. That the i3 is also surprisingly practical only furthers its appeal.




What's new for 2015

The 2015 BMW i3 now gets heated front seats, satellite radio and an onboard DC fast-charging unit as standard.

Vehicle overview

Built with lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, driven by an electric motor (with an optional gasoline-powered range extender) and styled as if it rolled out from Ed Begley, Jr's future garage, the 2015 BMW i3 is truly one of the most distinctive vehicles on the road. These departures from the norm don't make this BMW any less likable, though. In actuality, the BMW i3 is a sharp-driving and very user-friendly vehicle that could work out well for a wide variety of EV car shoppers.

Introduced last year, the i3 features a mechanical undercarriage and battery housing constructed of lightweight aluminum, while the upper body structure is carbon fiber. This combination keeps the i3's weight down by hundreds of pounds compared to other electric cars, and less weight translates to improved efficiency and quicker acceleration. With its 170-horsepower electric motor driving the rear wheels, the i3 can scoot to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is impressively quick for an EV. The i3's relatively light weight and low center of gravity also contribute to nimble handling characteristics and strong braking power.

As is the case with any electric car, your first concern with the i3 is probably range. Similar to many other electric cars, the i3 gets an EPA-estimated range of 81 miles. While that's enough for most daily driving, you can also opt for the available gasoline-fueled range extender generator (REX in BMW parlance) that gives the i3 an additional 70 miles of potential range. It's a unique offering for this class of car, and certainly eliminates concerns about running out of juice while on the road. Performance does drop considerably when running on gas, though, and stopping every 60 miles or so to refuel is no way to tour the country.

Yet, even if you forget all about the high-tech construction and powertrain, the i3 is actually a nice car. There's a classy looking interior, solid build quality and an impressive amount of practicality. Open up the rear-hinged doors and you'll find there's enough space for full size adults, while the cargo area can hold a Costco-sized load of groceries thanks to the fold-flat rear seats. Even outward visibility is very good in the i3.

Once you start to cross-shop the 2015 BMW i3 with its competitors, you'll see just how appealing it is. True, it is more expensive than EVs like the 2015 Nissan Leaf or 2015 Ford Focus Electric, but the i3 does offer a lot of superior attributes in return. Among this group, the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf comes closest to matching the i3's quality. On the other end of the scale is the 2015 Tesla Model S, which is fantastic but also significantly more expensive. The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive is the i3's most direct rival. It's more spacious than the i3 but less efficient, not as upscale and only available in a few select states. All things considered, we highly recommend checking out the Edmunds "A" rated 2015 BMW i3.




Trim levels & features

The 2015 BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers. It is offered in equally equipped full electric and Range Extender models. Both come in three different trim packages: base Mega World, Giga World and Tera World.

The entry-level Mega's list of standard features includes 19-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting (automatic headlights, taillights and running lights), automatic wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, cruise control, automatic climate control, heated front seats, "SensaTec" premium vinyl and cloth upholstery, 50/50-split folding rear seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a navigation system, the iDrive electronics interface with a 6.5-inch screen and a sound system that includes a USB audio interface, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite/HD radio. A DC fast-charging port is also included.

Stepping up to the Giga model gets you distinctive 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition and entry and upgraded interior upholstery and trim. The top-of-the-line Tera only differs from the Giga with its own unique 19-inch alloy wheels and full leather upholstery.

Options include a Technology + Driving Assistant package that features adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go capability), a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic braking for frontal collision mitigation, an upgraded navigation system (with a wider screen and enhanced EV-related information), real-time traffic and BMW's Online and Apps services.

The Parking Assistant package adds front parking sensors, a rearview camera and an automated parallel parking feature. Stand-alone options include 20-inch wheels and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.



Performance & mpg

The 2015 BMW i3 is powered by a 125-kilowatt electric motor fed by a 22-kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the floor. Whether you go with the regular i3 or with the Range Extender (REX) version, the resulting 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque is sent to the rear wheels.

The i3 Range Extender model incorporates a small two-cylinder gasoline engine (with a 2.4-gallon fuel tank) that serves as a generator to supply recharging electricity to the battery pack. So equipped, the i3's range rises to about 150 miles. This range is still much less than genuine plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt or Ford Fusion Energi provide, however.

In Edmunds performance testing, an i3 without the range extender went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, making it by far the quickest electric vehicle we've tested other than the more expensive Tesla Model S. Because of the extra weight of the two-cylinder electric generator on board, the 0-60 time for the i3 REX slows to 7.1 seconds. When the battery is depleted and the i3 REX relies on the generator, the 0-60 time slows dramatically to 13.7 seconds.

In Edmunds testing on our suburban electric vehicle evaluation route, the i3 went 95.8 miles on a single charge. This is a few miles shorter than other, similarly priced EVs, but still acceptable for most commutes. We also confirmed the EPA's estimate that the i3 will average a range of about 80 miles. Switching to the Eco Pro or Eco Pro+ modes can eke out a few extra miles of range, but you have to live with dulled accelerator response and/or weakened air-conditioning. For the i3 Range Extender, the EPA says electric-only range drops to 72 miles. In Edmunds testing, the i3 REX went 87.6 miles on a single charge before the engine generator came to life.

The EPA rates this powertrain's efficiency at 27 kWh used per 100 miles driven (29 kWh/100 miles for REX). Remember: the lower the number here, the better. For comparison, the Nissan Leaf is estimated to use 30 kWh per 100 miles and the Tesla Model S with a 60 kW battery pack is estimated to use 35 kWh per 100 miles.

Full recharging times from a depleted battery range from more than 20 hours when plugged into a normal 110-volt household outlet down to about four hours using a 240-volt outlet. The i3's navigation or smartphone app systems can help in locating ChargePoint public charging stations, and the i3's DC fast-charging system can fully recharge the battery in just 30 minutes (assuming you have access to one of these rare charging stations).

Safety

Standard safety features on the 2015 BMW i3 include antilock disc brakes (with brake drying), stability and traction control, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard are BMW Assist eCall and Remote Services, which include automatic collision notification, an emergency request button, stolen vehicle recovery, remote door unlock and a remote control smartphone app.

Rear parking sensors are standard, and a rearview camera and front parking sensors are available as options. Among its other add-ons, the Technology + Driving Assistant package includes adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system and forward collision warning (with pedestrian detection) that includes automatic braking for frontal collision mitigation.

In Edmunds brake testing, a standard i3 came to a stop from 60 mph in 109 feet, which is superb for a car equipped with low-rolling-resistance tires. Naturally, the i3 with the range extender is a heavier car (by about 300 pounds), but with the same tires it came to a stop from 60 mph in just 111 feet.

Driving

While virtually all battery-powered cars offer snappier acceleration than most people expect (thanks to the instantly available torque characteristic of electric motors), the 2015 BMW i3 turns out to be even quicker than the norm. The regenerative braking system is pretty strong, so the i3 slows dramatically whenever you lift your foot off the accelerator. While this can be disconcerting at first, you find yourself adapting quickly enough that you'll eventually wind up using the brake pedal only when you need to stop more aggressively. It makes sitting in stop-and-go traffic far more pleasant.

With a REX-equipped i3, you'll never have to worry about running out of electric power and getting stranded on the road. As soon as the battery pack gets low, the gasoline generator automatically turns on to provide enough power to keep you going. But this is more of a safety net than a true propulsion mode. The i3 is noticeably slower when relying on the generator, and the motorhome-like generator's noise is unavoidable.

Because of its skinny tires and higher than average ride height, the i3 can't match BMW's traditional models in terms of handling prowess. But its tight turning circle, precise steering and small size give it a decidedly nimble feeling at slower speeds, making it a natural at navigating crowded urban streets and slipping into tight curbside spots owners of many larger vehicles have to drive right on by. Ride quality is also more livable than other cars this size, though the i3's narrow tires are a bit susceptible to following grooved highway pavement.

For more driving impressions, check out our long-term test of a 2014 BMW i3.

Interior

Like the exterior, the interior of the 2015 BMW i3 is distinctive and modern. The space is remarkably quiet and the look is stylish, with its thin flat-panel display screens and shifter pod mounted next to the far-telescoping steering wheel. The different trim packages, or Worlds, each provide a different ambience due to their unique mix of renewable, recycled and otherwise eco-friendly materials. As unusual as the cabin is, though, there's still a typical BMW array of climate and infotainment controls. The latest version of BMW's iDrive controller is pretty easy to use thanks to straightforward menus, crisp graphics and quick processing times.

The front seats are comfortable and their raised positioning gives the driver excellent outward visibility. In back, the two-person rear seat offers decent legroom and plenty of headroom. There's also a wide opening to get in and out of (or put your personal items on one of the backseats) thanks to the i3's rear-hinged access doors. But getting in the back is a two-step process, as you must open both side doors to get back there. Also, getting in and out of the backseat isn't easy for taller passengers, as the i3's opening isn't all that tall.

Cargo capacity is on the small side, with just 11.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a total of 36.9 cubic feet with those seats folded down. Unlike in most EV competitors, though, the rear seats fold flat and the trunk space itself is unfettered by oddly shaped, protruding panels. We also like how there's plenty of interior storage for water bottles or other small items.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.