Used 2016 BMW i3 Hatchback Review
If you're an electric vehicle shopper desiring some sportiness and luxury-brand panache, the 2016 BMW i3 is a very compelling choice. You'll find this hatchback is surprisingly practical, even if its range doesn't top the competition. Let's take a closer look at this unusual-looking choice.
The 2016 BMW i3 is the pug of the BMW family — short, stout, flat-nosed and cute in an ugly sort of way. It's also a versatile all-electric city car that operates either on battery power alone or with an optional range-extending gasoline generator. All the while, it cradles up to four occupants in a luxurious and avant-garde cabin. The i3 even serves up downright respectable acceleration and handling that help it leave most EVs in the dust.
After a full charge, the 2016 BMW i3 can go up to 81 miles on battery power.
This is a city car, though, designed and intended primarily for short to medium-length trips. Range is estimated at up to 81 miles per battery charge, but like any electric car, the i3 is highly sensitive to changes in terrain, driving style and even ambient temperature. The special i3 REX (for Range Extender) model includes the aforementioned gasoline generator, stretching total range to 150 miles. The generator can be buzzy, however, and and its extra weight cuts the all-electric range to 72 miles.
Still, the 2016 BMW i3's blend of EV functionality, available extended range, daring style and easy athleticism make it a uniquely appealing proposition. The Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric are cheaper, but they lack the BMW's performance and panache. The Volkswagen e-Golf perhaps comes closest to matching the i3's upscale vibe, while the Mercedes B250e is the i3's most direct rival, but none of the above can compete with the i3 REX's extra range. All things considered, it's easy to recommend the Edmunds "A" rated BMW i3.
trim levels & features
The 2016 BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers. It is offered in similarly equipped full-electric and Range Extender (REX) models. There are three different trim packages: base Mega World, Giga World and Tera World.
The 2016 i3's feature-packed dashboard layout is unlike that of any other BMW.
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 manually adjustable front seats; "SensaTec" premium vinyl and cloth upholstery; 50/50-split folding rear seatbacks; 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 central screen; and a sound system that includes a USB port, 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 interior materials, including 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 2016 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 the i3 REX, the resulting 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque is sent to the rear wheels.
For the standard i3, the EPA projects 81 miles of range and a combined city-highway efficiency of 124 MPGe. The i3 Range Extender model incorporates a small two-cylinder gasoline engine (with a 2.4-gallon fuel tank of which only 1.9 gallons is usable in order to qualify the REX for California's zero-emissions vehicle status) that serves as a generator to supply recharging electricity to the battery pack. So equipped, the i3's range rises to 150 miles and overall efficiency falls to 117 MPGe. This range is much less than what you get with plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt or Ford Fusion Energi.
In Edmunds performance testing, an i3 without the range extender went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, a very quick time for an electric vehicle. Because of the extra weight of the two-cylinder electric generator, 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.
The 2016 i3 has plenty of scoot in EV mode, though the i3 REX slows to a crawl once its charge is depleted.
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 with some higher-speed highway driving in the mix. 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, an i3 REX went 87.6 miles on a single charge before the engine generator came to life.
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 and various smartphone-app systems can help in locating public charging stations, and the standard DC fast-charging system can recharge the battery in just 30 minutes at one of the growing number of quick-charge stations being installed around the country.
Standard safety features on the 2016 BMW i3 include antilock disc brakes (with brake drying), stability and traction control, front-seat side and knee 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. The Technology + Driving Assistant package is equipped with 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 wearing 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.
While virtually all battery-powered cars offer snappier acceleration than most people expect (thanks to the instantly available torque that's characteristic of electric motors), their acceleration times usually end up being pretty humble. Not so with the 2016 BMW i3, which sprints to 60 mph as quickly as some sport sedans. The i3's regenerative braking system is pretty strong, so the car slows dramatically whenever you lift your foot off the accelerator. While this can be disconcerting at first, you'll get used to it, eventually using the brake pedal only when you need to stop more aggressively. It actually makes stop-and-go traffic far more pleasant.
If you're looking for an electric car that's fun to drive, the 2016 BMW i3 belongs at the top of your list.
With an i3 REX, 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 REX is much slower when relying on the generator, and the generator's motorhome-like noise is unavoidable, buzzing away beneath the rear cargo compartment like a sewing machine gone mad.
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 lower speeds, making it a natural at navigating crowded urban streets and slipping into tight curbside spots that owners of larger vehicles have to pass up. 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.
Like the exterior, the interior of the 2016 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 generously telescoping steering wheel. The 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.
For a small hatchback, the 2016 BMW i3 offers big passenger space in back, and the reverse-opening rear doors are a cool touch.
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 the front side doors in order to swing the rear access doors open. 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. The numbers don't tell the whole story here; this is a handy little hatchback.
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.