2017 BMW i3

2017 BMW i3 Review

A bigger battery makes the 2017 BMW i3 a far more compelling eco-commuter than ever before.
4.5 / 5
Edmunds overall rating
author
by Dan Edmunds
Edmunds Editor

Edmunds expert review

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.



What's new for 2017

For 2017, the BMW i3 enters its fourth year of production largely unchanged except for one major advance: the availability of a larger battery. Now with 45 percent more usable storage capacity, the pure plug-in i3 can go an estimated 114 miles on a charge, an increase of 33 miles. The Range Extender version, which comes exclusively with this bigger battery, enjoys a 30-mile range increase. But the enlarged battery does cost more, so to partially offset the price the models with the enlarged battery now come standard with a new lower-cost Deka World cloth interior, with last year's baseline Mega World imitation-leather and cloth upholstery becoming an extra-cost option. A new optional sunroof is also available.

We recommend

This year's addition of a larger battery makes it less necessary to opt for the Range Extender version. Now with 114 miles of electric range, the pure electric i3 base model has more than enough to satisfy your daily needs. And we figure the money we'd save by not getting the Range Extender would be better spent on the Technology + Driving Assistant package (enhanced widescreen navigation, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking) and one of three available interior upgrades.



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.



Trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions, although trim levels share many aspects. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of the 2014 BMW i3 w/Range Extender (battery electric 1-speed direct drive w/0.6L 2-cyl. gasoline generator)

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.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall4.5 / 5

Driving

5.0 / 5

Acceleration5.0 / 5
Braking5.0 / 5
Steering4.0 / 5
Handling4.5 / 5
Drivability5.0 / 5

Comfort

4.0 / 5

Seat comfort4.0 / 5
Ride comfort3.5 / 5
Noise & vibration3.5 / 5
Climate control4.5 / 5

Interior

4.5 / 5

Ease of use4.0 / 5
Getting in/getting out3.0 / 5
Driving position5.0 / 5
Roominess4.0 / 5
Visibility4.0 / 5
Quality5.0 / 5

Utility

4.0 / 5

Small-item storage4.0 / 5
Cargo space3.0 / 5

Technology

4.5 / 5

Audio & navigation4.0 / 5
Smartphone integration5.0 / 5
Driver aids5.0 / 5
Voice control3.5 / 5

Driving5.0

The BMW i3 is a surprisingly good all-around performer, and the i3 REX is no exception. The range extender adds 265 pounds, but it doesn't upset the finely balanced handling and responsive steering. It's a touch slower to 60 mph, but 7.1 seconds to 60 mph is still quick in the EV segment.

Acceleration5.0

Our i3 with the range extender weighs 265 pounds more than a regular i3, so it takes 7.1 seconds to get to 60 mph instead of 6.6 seconds. But this is still quick for an EV. It's much slower when the generator is making juice, though, because the range extender mainly functions as a backup system.

Braking5.0

You'll rarely engage the smooth, predictable-feeling brake pedal because substantial off-throttle regenerative braking handles most routine stops in a very engaging way. The Range Extender needs 111 feet to make a panic stop from 60 mph, just 2 feet more than a regular i3 and no less astounding.

Steering4.0

Quick, responsive steering and a short wheelbase add up to an ultra-tight turning circle and excellent city maneuverability. But these same attributes can make it feel a bit darty on the highway at speed, especially in places where the surface is grooved to dissipate rainwater.

Handling4.5

Don't let those skinny tires fool you. This one is impressively coordinated and exhibits supremely balanced cornering behavior because of its 50/50 weight balance, rear-wheel drive and low center of gravity.

Drivability5.0

Zero-shift electric vehicle behavior makes for utterly smooth acceleration and braking. The high level of natural off-throttle regenerative braking allows for one-pedal driving, which is both very efficient and loads of fun once you get the hang of it.

Comfort4.0

The seats and seating position are surprisingly comfortable, and the ride exhibits a level of polish you might not expect. It's very quiet, too, in all-electric mode. But you'll hear the gas generator if the battery runs out of juice and the i3 switches to extended-range mode.

Seat comfort4.0

Supportive and comfortable leather seats employ manual adjusters to save weight and electricity. Telescopic steering wheel has a big adjustment span, assuring a good driving position for tall and short alike. The elevated backseat is pretty comfy, too.

Ride comfort3.5

The i3's carbon-fiber structure is supremely rigid, which virtually eliminates shudder and shake on rough roads. The suspension does an admirable job of absorbing road imperfections and potholes, but no one would describe the ride here as plush.

Noise & vibration3.5

There's a touch of wind and road noise on the highway that's only noticeable because the electric motor is silent. That changes if the gas generator comes on after the battery is depleted; it growls like a motorhome generator, especially on hills.

Climate control4.5

Automatic climate control comes standard, and the system works well and employs simple controls that are positioned front and center. Electric-supplied heat comes up to temp quicker than in gasoline-powered cars that must wait for engine heat in the morning.

Interior4.5

The i3's functional and friendly cabin is an inviting place to spend your commute. There's a lot of no-nonsense practicality but oodles of style and innovative design, too.

Ease of use4.0

The nontraditional shifter stalk is actually intuitive and easy to use once you use it a few times. The typical BMW iDrive control and screen menus work well, and the steering-mounted controls make up for an odd volume knob and preset placement.

Getting in/getting out3.0

It's pretty easy for the driver to get in and out despite a somewhat wide doorsill. The reverse-hinged rear doors open wide. But getting in the back is a two-step process, as you must open the front side doors in order to swing the rear doors open.

Driving position5.0

The front seats are manually adjustable to save electricity, but they're easy to set and the adjustment range is generous. The same is true of the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The gauges are easy to see through the wheel. The result: a great driving position for just about everyone.

Roominess4.0

There is legitimate room for four adults to fit comfortably inside the i3, with adequate leg- and headroom all around. Rear occupants may eventually notice it's a tad narrow back there, but as an electric vehicle, the i3 isn't a long-distance interstate cruiser anyway.

Visibility4.0

Expansive forward and side visibility is aided by the elevated seating position. The odd dip in the rear door window is useful in this respect, and the rear three-quarter blind spot isn't too bad. Rear parking sensors come standard, but front parking sensors and a rearview camera are optional.

Quality5.0

The i3 costs more than the EVs it competes with, but the interior quality and modern design more than justify the extra cost. There's an intriguing mix of high-quality and eco-friendly materials. Typically solid BMW switchgear.

Utility4.0

Plentiful storage in the cabin, but the 11.2-cubic-foot trunk is small and a bit high because the motor is under the floor. Rear-hinged doors are mostly a boon to attending to kids in car seats; they're especially good for forward-facing seats but less ideal for some bulkier rear-facing ones.

Small-item storage4.0

The i3 has big door bins, a decent amount of dash storage and a small but useful in-armrest bin. And there's sufficient open space under the flip-up center armrest for a medium-sized purse. Backseat passengers have dedicated center-mounted cupholders.

Cargo space3.0

The trunk is smallish, at 11.2 cubic feet, because the electric motor and generator are housed under the floor. This makes the loading height a bit high, too. The i3's high roof offsets these issues somewhat, and the rear seats do fold absolutely flat. There's good usable space if you fold one or both.

Child safety seat accommodation4.0

Reverse-hinged doors give uncommonly good access to front-facing seats. Access to some bulky rear-facing ones can be tough, and the open rear door may impede stroller access to the hatch. The two car seat positions benefit from LATCH and Isofix anchors that are easily accessed under plastic covers.

Technology4.5

The i3 comes across as a very technology-rich machine in standard form, and just one package — the Technology + Driving Assistant package — gets you the upgraded navigation and the most desirable active driving aids. Get the Parking Assistant package for a rear camera and automated parking.

Audio & navigation4.0

Standard Business navigation has a small screen and basic functionality. We got the optional Professional navigation because of its broader screen, hard-drive map data and more advanced BMW online services. Audio system has FM/satellite/HD radio, Bluetooth and USB, but no AM radio or CD slot.

Smartphone integration5.0

Phone pairing for Bluetooth phone and audio is easy, and the USB-iPod music interface is easy to manage via the iDrive controller, particularly with the larger interface screen of the Professional entertainment and navigation system.

Driver aids5.0

The optional adaptive cruise control via the Technology + Driving Assistant package is a good example of the breed as it works all the way down to a full stop. Forward collision warning with collision mitigation braking comes with it, too. Automated parallel parking system is available separately.

Voice control3.5

Works fairly well, but like many such systems, it does not recognize all names, particularly if they're not rooted firmly in English.

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.