Sharp handling, rapid acceleration and unique interior styling have made us fans of the BMW i3 since its debut. For 2017, the i3 gets an optional larger battery that extends its range and makes this eco-commuter an even more compelling purchase.
The i3 was built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, freeing its stylists from the need to make room for a bulky gasoline engine and fuel tank. Instead, the i3 was shaped around its battery and a compact electric motor, giving it a unique profile. BMW wanted to make the car as light as possible and manufactures the body shell entirely of carbon fiber, a material stronger than steel yet lighter than aluminum.
We like the i3's unconventional interior. The controls are laid out in an intuitive fashion, and the driving position is excellent. The backseat is roomier than you might expect, though entry is a two-step process because you must first open the front doors before the rear-hinged back doors. The trunk is rather small at 11.2 cubic feet, and because the drive motor and optional range extender are placed under the trunk floor, the loading height is rather high.
All i3s are powered by a 170-horsepower electric motor that drives the rear wheels. For 2017, the base i3 offers a new battery with a 114-mile range. Last year's battery, a 60-Ah (amp-hour) model offering 81 miles of range, is also still available. It's also slightly cheaper and offers simulated leather upholstery, compared to the cloth seating in the base model with the newer battery.
BMW also offers a Range Extender trim level, which has a tiny 0.6-liter two-cylinder gasoline engine fed by a 2.5-gallon fuel tank. When the battery runs low, the engine generates power to extend the i3's total range to 180 miles. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, which can run at full speed and to its full range under gasoline power, the i3 has an engine that is really just a get-you-home measure. By design, it's insufficient for interstate travel.
The i3's performance is surprisingly good. We've timed it from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, which is very quick for an electric car. The range extender adds 265 pounds of weight, but it has a minimal impact on performance; the i3 with the range extender gets up to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. The super-skinny front tires might cast doubt on the i3's handling prowess, but with a low center of gravity and perfect 50-50 weight balance, the i3 is a very entertaining BMW. The short wheelbase makes for great maneuverability, but the steering feels jumpy and sensitive on the highway.
The i3 is offered in 60-Ah, base and Range Extender models, all distinguished by battery size and range. There are options, but it's a modest list by BMW standards. Use Edmunds' incomparable shopping tools to help you find the perfect BMW i3.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.