2018 BMW i3

2018 BMW i3 Review

A quicker, sharper-driving variant marks the biggest change for the BMW i3 in 2018.
4.5 star edmunds overall rating
author
by Jason Kavanagh
Edmunds Editor

The BMW i3 is probably one of the most innovative cars on the road today. That's true even though it's currently in its fifth model year. BMW pioneered the use of carbon fiber as the basis for the production car's structure to save weight. And it paid off: The i3 is quite lightweight for a battery-electric car, abetting its agile nature and quick acceleration. Other manufacturers still have a ways to go to catch up to BMW in this choice of material.

The i3's styling is polarizing; of that there is no doubt. But it looks like no other car on the road and has a cabin that is truly striking and upscale. It's functional, too, with a breezy, spacious feel and easy backseat access thanks to the rearward-hinged rear doors. These doors can turn into a bit of a hassle in tight parking lot quarters, however.

You've got a new choice for an i3 this year: the i3s. It boasts a more powerful electric motor, a sport-tuned suspension, and wider tires to improve performance and handling. BMW is still offering the Range Extender version, too, which has a tiny gasoline engine (and fuel tank) that serves as an electric generator. It gives you a little more range once the battery runs out of juice, but the main appeal is peace of mind.

From a logical standpoint, the 2018 BMW i3 doesn't fare all that great in relation to its main competitors. You can get more driving range from the Chevrolet Bolt and the Nissan Leaf, for instance, and both cars are less expensive to boot. But the BMW earns back some emotional points by being a nicer car to drive and spend time in. The same could be said for Tesla's new Model 3, however. It matches the i3 for premium design and performance and, as the kicker, offers potentially two or three times the driving range.

Notably, we picked the 2018 BMW i3 as one of Edmunds' Best Electric Cars for this year.



what's new

For 2018, the BMW i3 now has an additional version, the i3s, which is quicker and sharper-handling than the base i3. Last year's entry-level 60 Ah version of the i3 has been dropped. For every 2018 i3, BMW has restyled the front and rear bumpers slightly, and the windshield pillars are now black instead of body-colored. Full LED headlights are now standard. Inside, there's an updated version of the iDrive infotainment system with a 10.3-inch screen optionally available. A dual-voltage (120V/240V) charging cord is available this year as well.

we recommend

While we prefer the sharper handling and acceleration of the i3s, our recommendation is to stick with the base i3 for its lower price and incrementally higher range. Take the money you save and apply it to getting the Technology + Driving Assistant package and Apple CarPlay option. You'll have a far more capable infotainment system and still come out ahead. The Range Extender might appeal to increase your peace of mind, but it adds substantial weight and cost to the bottom line.




trim levels & features

The 2018 BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers that's available in i3 or i3s trim, both of which are battery-electric, or you can have either one additionally equipped with a gasoline-powered Range Extender. All four versions are equipped with a 33-kWh battery.

Base i3 models are equipped with an electric motor (170 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque) that drives the rear wheels. With the same battery as last year's model, there's enough energy for an estimated 114 miles of range. It comes well equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and Level 3 DC fast-charging capability. Inside, the interior upholstery is cloth (Deka World) and it comes with keyless entry, rain-sensing headlights, adaptive cruise, heated front seats, Bluetooth, HD and satellite radio, and BMW's basic Business navigation system with a modest 6.5-inch display screen.

New this year is the i3s, which has more power and sharper handling than the i3. The electric motor in the i3s cranks out 184 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque, which shortens its sprint from zero to 60 mph to 6.8 seconds (0.4 second quicker than the base i3). Compared to the i3, the i3s' ride height sits 0.4 inch lower, and its fenders, track width (the distance between the center of the tires), 20-inch wheels and performance tires are wider. The wider, stickier tires come with a modest penalty — maximum range drops to 107 miles.

The only difference between the all-electric and the Range Extender versions is, quite simply, the range-extending, 0.6-liter two-cylinder gasoline generator, which is the same as last year's. Because the Range Extender is heavier, these models don't travel quite as far when operating on electricity alone, maxing out at an estimated 97 miles. A 2.3-gallon fuel tank enables a combined range of 180 miles for both Range Extender versions of i3 and i3s models.

All models can be equipped with the Technology + Driving Assistant package, which adds advanced navigation with a widescreen display and advanced real-time traffic, all-speed adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with emergency braking. Opting for this package allows Apple CarPlay to be added, too.

For the i3, BMW offers three main upholstery packages — Mega World, Giga World and Tera World — that add combinations of leather and wool or full-leather upholstery plus different wheels and interior trim. Stand-alone options include parking sensors, 20-inch wheels (for the regular i3), a premium Harman Kardon audio system and a sunroof.



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 2017 BMW i3 w/Range Extender (battery electric w/0.6L 2-cyl. gasoline generator | 1-speed direct drive | RWD).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the current i3 has received some revisions, including an updated infotainment system and a revised stability control calibration. Our findings remain broadly applicable to this year's i3.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall4.5 / 5.0

Driving

5.0 / 5.0

Acceleration4.5 / 5.0
Braking5.0 / 5.0
Steering4.0 / 5.0
Handling4.5 / 5.0
Drivability5.0 / 5.0

Comfort

4.0 / 5.0

Seat comfort4.0 / 5.0
Ride comfort3.5 / 5.0
Noise & vibration3.0 / 5.0
Climate control3.0 / 5.0

Interior

4.0 / 5.0

Ease of use4.0 / 5.0
Getting in/getting out3.0 / 5.0
Driving position3.0 / 5.0
Roominess4.0 / 5.0
Visibility4.0 / 5.0
Quality5.0 / 5.0

Utility

4.0 / 5.0

Small-item storage5.0 / 5.0
Cargo space3.5 / 5.0

Driving

edmunds rating
The BMW i3 is a surprisingly good all-around performer. The new car gains about 122 pounds, but it doesn't upset the finely balanced handling and responsive steering. With the larger battery, the i3 is a touch slower to 60 mph, but braking has improved from an already impressive precedent.

Acceleration

edmunds rating
The latest i3 with the range extender weighs 122 pounds more than its predecessor by our scales, so it takes 7.4 seconds to get to 60 mph instead of 7.1 seconds. It's still quick for an electric vehicle. And now it's only marginally slower when the running off the generator, a huge improvement.

Braking

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The i3 feels supremely stable when stopping hard, but you'll rarely encounter its natural pedal feel because of the i3's substantial off-throttle regenerative braking. Our i3 REX needed just 107 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is 4 feet shorter than its lighter predecessor and no less astounding.

Steering

edmunds rating
The 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 the i3 feel darty on the highway at speed, especially since it can also be susceptible to following grooves in the road.

Handling

edmunds rating
Don't let the skinny tires fool you. The i3 feels impressively coordinated and lively. It has a low center of gravity due to its lightweight carbon-fiber construction and batteries mounted under the floor, and the rear-mounted propulsion system gives it a slight rear weight bias that aids traction.

Drivability

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Without the need to shift gears, electric vehicles like the i3 make for utterly smooth acceleration and braking. A high level of natural off-throttle regenerative braking allows for one-pedal driving, which is both efficient, fun and less taxing once you get familiar with it.

Comfort

edmunds rating
The i3 has surprisingly comfortable seats, and the ride exhibits a level of polish you might not expect from such a small car. The basic climate system works well and is easy to use. The cabin is remarkably quiet until the battery runs down to zero and the two-cylinder gas generator kicks on.

Seat comfort

edmunds rating
The leather seats employ manual adjusters to save weight and electricity, but they have fixed lumbar support. The seats are thin and firm, as are the armrests, but they provide a surprisingly good level of comfort, though low on lateral support. The rear seats are decently comfy.

Ride comfort

edmunds rating
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 as plush.

Noise & vibration

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There's a touch of wind and road noise on the highway that's only noticeable because the electric motor is silent. That changes when the gas generator comes on after the battery is depleted, and it sounds like a tiny lawnmower is following you.

Climate control

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The climate control is single-zone only, with 2-degree adjustment increments for the cabin temperature. The seat heaters warm up quickly and offer even warmth across the seat surface. All the climate controls are very straightforward and easy to access.

Interior

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The i3's functional and friendly cabin is an inviting place to spend your commute, and a very space-efficient one to boot. It packs a lot of no-nonsense practicality but also oodles of style and innovative design.

Ease of use

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The nontraditional rotary shifter stalk is intuitive and easy to work once you use it a few times. There's the typical BMW iDrive controller and screen menus, which work well, and the steering-mounted controls that make for a slightly odd volume knob and preset placement.

Getting in/getting out

edmunds rating
The slightly elevated seat position makes for easy access, though the step-over is a little higher as well, and the reverse-hinged rear doors open wide to admit passengers or packages. But these can be tricky when backseat passengers are off-loading in parking lots because of the corral effect.

Driving position

edmunds rating
The seating position is upright with generous fore and aft adjustment and a tilt-and-telescoping steering column. The spring-loaded seat height adjuster requires pulling yourself up using the steering wheel or letting it rise before you sit. It's odd at first, but it's quicker than a ratcheting lever.

Roominess

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

Visibility

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The expansive forward and side visibility is aided by elevated seating position. The odd dip in rear door windows is useful, and the rear three-quarter blind spot isn't too bad. Rear parking sensors come standard; a rearview camera is optional.

Quality

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

Utility

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There's plentiful storage in the cabin, but the 15.1-cubic-foot trunk is small and a bit high due to the motor 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 storage

edmunds rating
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-size purse. The backseat passengers have dedicated center-mounted cupholders. The i3 is very space-efficient.

Cargo space

edmunds rating
The trunk is smallish at 15.1 cubic feet because the electric motor and generator are housed under the floor. This setup makes the loading height a bit high, too. The i3's high roof offsets these issues a bit, and the rear seats do fold absolutely flat. There's good usable space folding one or both.

Child safety seat accommodation

edmunds rating
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.

Technology

BMW's iDrive infotainment system has been updated for 2018, yet the outgoing system isn't shabby in terms of ease of use and options for redundant controls. The new iDrive system offers Apple CarPlay, too.

Audio & navigation

edmunds rating
The optional Harman Kardon system produces quality sound, though some may find it lacking in bass. Also, there's no AM radio tuner. The navigation system is easy to operate and allows destination input through voice, rotary dial or by touchpad character recognition.

Smartphone integration

Bluetooth and USB connections work as expected, and you can navigate to your music or other genres such as audiobooks and podcasts with the iDrive controller. You also have access to your smartphone's voice command through the car's voice control button by holding it down for about 4 seconds.

Driver aids

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The optional adaptive cruise control will bring the i3 to a complete stop, and it works well in stop-and-go traffic. It also comes with forward collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection.

Voice control

For 2018, iDrive 6's enhanced voice controls promise big improvements. Speech processing is now cloud-based and performed off-board, and the system supports natural language.

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.