We were fans of the BMW i3 when it came out because of its nimble handling, eager acceleration and distinctive interior styling. That's all present in the 2017 BMW i3, but now it has a bigger battery for improved all-electric range. If you're looking for a premium yet practical EV, the i3 is your car.
Most would rightly conclude that the BMW i3 is some kind of eco-car when gazing at its unconventional styling. But there's more to this electric vehicle than skinny tires and compact dimensions.
In designing the i3 to be a dedicated electric vehicle at the outset, BMW went to great lengths to maximize the potential of the car's electric motor and battery pack. And so it is a featherweight car whose body shell is made entirely of carbon fiber, a racing-derived material that is stronger than steel yet lighter than aluminum. The result is spirited acceleration, more range for a given size of battery and an uncommonly low center of mass that fosters the i3's nimble handling.
The optional Range Extender's gasoline engine generates electricity once the battery runs low, but please don't compare this to a Chevrolet Volt. BMW is aiming for a higher electric vehicle classification than the Volt, so its tiny 0.6-liter two-cylinder engine and 2.5-gallon gas tank are intentionally insufficient for interstate travel.
trim levels & features
The 2017 BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers. The case for the i3 is even stronger this year because of the introduction of a larger battery that significantly extends its electric driving range. Two of this year's three trim levels have that bigger battery, namely the base and Range Extender versions. But the enlarged battery does cost more, so last year's smaller one is still available in the new 60 Ah version ("60 Ah" refers to the amp-hour capability of the battery).
Compared to last year's base i3, the only thing different about the 60 Ah model is the name. Apart from that it is a pure carryover model with the same 170-horsepower electric motor that drives the rear wheels. It's fed by a 22-kilowatt-hour battery that provides enough power for an estimated 81 miles of range. As before, it comes well equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, rear parking sensors and Level 3 DC fast-charging capability. Inside, it retains the Mega World imitation-leather and cloth upholstery, and it comes with automatic climate control, heated front seats, Bluetooth, FM, HD and satellite radio, and BMW's basic Business navigation system with a modest 6.5-inch display screen.
Paradoxically, the base i3 is the next rung up the ladder, owing to the extra cost associated with its larger 33-kWh battery (which provides 114 miles of estimated range). The only visible external clues are its upgraded wheels and tires, which are also wider in back. You get keyless ignition and entry with this version, but interior upholstery is cloth (Deka World), with the 60 Ah trim's Mega World imitation-leather interior available as an upgrade. The otherwise-identical basic navigation system is bolstered with enhanced real-time traffic data.
The only difference between the base and the Range Extender is, quite simply, the range-extending 0.6-liter two-cylinder gasoline generator, which is the same as last year. Because the Range Extender is heavier, it travels an estimated 97 miles on electricity. An incremental increase in fuel capacity this year — 2.4 gallons instead of 1.9 gallons — enables a combined range of 180 miles of driving range.
All models can be equipped with the Technology + Driving Assistant package (advanced navigation with a widescreen display and advanced local search, all-speed adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking) or the Parking Assistant package (rearview camera, added front parking sensors, automated parking). In addition to the interiors already mentioned, any can be equipped with leather and wool or full-leather upholstery. You can also add 20-inch wheels, a premium stereo upgrade or a new power glass sunroof, the latter being the only option you can't add to the 60 Ah version.
NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current BMW i3 has received some revisions, including more standard equipment (seat heaters, DC fast charging and automatic wipers). The most significant change is the new larger battery that improves the all-electric i3's range to 114 miles, a 33-mile boost. Our Range Extender test car could go 72 miles on electricity and 150 miles total; a similar 2017 example goes 97 miles on electricity and 180 miles total. But our findings still remain broadly applicable to this year's BMW i3.
noise & vibration
ease of use
getting in/getting out
child safety seat accomodation
audio & navigation
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.
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