BMW i3 Review: The Electric Car for You?

The BMW i3 is a zippy electric car with a solid 125-mile range to whisk you from home to work or school or errands. With a starting on-the-road price starting under £29,000 (with £4,500 government grant) the i3 is a mid-range EV—more expensive than the Renault Zoe and the Nissan Leaf but cheaper than Tesla models. What the car lacks in boot and interior space (seating only 4 people), the car makes up for in design and performance, accelerating nearly 8% quicker than the Leaf and 46% quicker than the Zoe.

Pros...

  • 0 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds
  • Driving range around 125 miles
  • Optional Range Extender for a further 81-93 miles of range

Cons...

  • 260 litres of boot space

Review: Is the BMW i3 the Right Car for You?

The BMW i3 is a fun, all-electric car with a driving range around 125 miles on a full charge. Given most of us drive far less on any given day, 125 miles of range is plenty to get you through the day before returning home to charge each night. An optional Range Extender combustion engine boosts this range up to 194 miles for those who worry about running out of charge or expect to make frequent longer journeys.

You can drive an i3 home from around £28,800, net of the £4,500 government grant. In addition to the price of the car, you'll probably end up paying another £640+ for a faster-charging home wallbox charging system and £165—£237 for a rapid-charge blue cable to be used at fast public charging points, bringing the price closer to £30k for a standard i3. While this is half the price of a Tesla S 75, it is 15—25% more than a comparable Nissan Leaf or a Renault Zoe.

chart comparing the starting on-the-road prices of UK electric cars
BMW i3 Prices Compared to Other EV Prices

The BMW i3 is in fact the smallest of UK all-electric cars, with only 260 of under-shelf boot storage and seating just four people. All EVs tend to be small, in order to make them lighter and therefore able to drive longer on a single charge. Those needing an EV with a bit more boot space and seating for five may want to considering the Nissan Leaf, which offers 40% more boot storage.

Expect low running costs around 3.6p per mile, much less than the 15p per mile or so you'd pay in petrol with a BMW 120 i Sport. If you pay the average of 16.6p per kWh for electricity, you can expect each full charge to cost around £4.50. If you have an economy 7 meter you may pay as little as 10p/kWh at night, reducing your running costs to 2.2p/mile or £2.70 per full charge. To learn more about EV running costs, see our article How Much Can You Save with an Electric Car?.

As with other electric cars, precondition the car before you get in—not only will your car be cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but you'll extend the driving range by reducing reliance on heat and air con once you unplug.

BMW i3 Features

  • Average 125 mile range
  • Running costs around 3.6p per mile
  • 126 MPGe (MPG equivalent), approximately
  • 40 min to charge from 0-80% on rapid 50 kWh DC charger
  • 5 hours for full charge on 7.4 kWh home wallbox

Range & Battery

The BMW i3 comes with a 27 kWh (net) battery capacity, delivering a real-life driving range around 125 miles on a full charge. The car's range is variable and will depend on factors including driving speed, temperature, driving mode (Comfort, Eco Pro or Eco Pro Plus) and whether or not you use the heat/AC. The table below illustrates how range will vary based on these conditions.

BMW i3 Comfort Mode Driving Range20 mph50 mph
109 miles109 miles
20°124 miles113 miles

These driving ranges will be sufficient to transport the average person around for daily errands, school runs and commutes. If you ever become short of range or have a longer trip in mind, there are ways to eke out a few extra miles from your BMW i3: turning off the heat/AC or switching to the more efficient Eco Pro or Eco Pro Plus modes. The following chart shows how turning off your heat/AC extends the driving range of the i3, in both summer and winter conditions.

chart showing how heat and Air Con impact an EV's driving range
How Heat and Air Con Impact Driving Range

Extra Driving Range from Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus Modes

You'll be most likely to use the energy-efficient Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus modes when driving long distances, trying to maximize range between charges. To see how much extra mileage the i3 can get from the different driving modes, we considered a winter scenario in which the battery depletes faster in the cold, driving a distance at 50 mph. The table below shows how mileage ranges vary by driving mode.

Driving ModeDriving Range @ 50 mph in Winter
Comfort109 miles
Eco Pro118 miles
Eco Pro Plus126 miles

Charging

There are many options for charging a BMW i3: charging at home on a domestic socket, at home on a faster Wallbox, at a public charging station or a rapid charging point. Depending on how you charge, you may or may not need to use one of the i3's cables. Generally speaking, a home wallbox and DC stations have their own tethered cables; using a domestic socket or a public charging point may require the use of a blue or black BMW cable, as described in the following table.

Charging LocationsApprox Charge RateDo You Need a Separate Cable?If so, which one?Approximate Time for 80% Charge
Normal Domestic Socket2.3kWhyesStandard Black Domestic Cable10 hours
Wallbox7.4kWhnoUnder 4 hours
Public Charging Stationvariablemaybe(Optional) Blue Fast Charge CableAround 4-5 hours
Rapid Charge Station50kWhno40 minutes

BMW i Wallbox

The BMW i Wallbox enables 60 - 70% faster charging at home than a domestic socket at a cost from around £640 (including installation and reflecting the £700 OLEV government subsidy) for the basic Wallbox Pure model. The Wallbox unit is mounted on a wall of your house or garage and hooked up to your electrical system. In most cases, your home will have a single-phase supply resulting in a charging output of 7.4 kW. Homes with a three-phase supply have a higher charging output of 11 kW resulting in a faster charge. While the Wallbox can be installed by any qualified electrician, you may only be eligible for the subsidy if you use the BMW i Wallbox Installation Service.

Two upgraded wallboxes are available or coming soon: Wallbox Pro and Wallbox Connect. The Wallbox Pro has an LCD touch display and can store charging history across multiple users; prices start from £1,380, net of the government subsidy. Wallbox Connect is coming out in July 2017 and will be Wi-Wi enabled to integrate with compatible smart homes systems such as Loxone and MyGEKKO.

For more information about BMW i Wallbox, see the Chargemaster website.

Performance

The BMW i3 accelerates from 0-62 mph in 6.9 seconds and can achieve a top speed of 150 km/hour (approximately 95 mph).

Eco Pro Mode

In Eco Pro mode you have the option to reduce the maximum top speed, turn off seat heating and limit heating and air con function in order to reduce power consumption. It's possible to extend range by 15% in Eco Pro mode.

Eco Pro + Mode

If you need to extend the range of your i3 even further, you can use the ECO PRO + mode. You might get an extra 25% of driving range over Comfort mode. Eco Pro + will switch off all unessential comfort features (e.g., heating, air con and heated seats), reduce acceleration and limit your top speed to 56mph. Driving at 50 mph in Eco Pro + mode in the summer, your i3 should give you 136 miles of range.

Brake Energy Regeneration

A common EV feature, the i3 includes brake energy regeneration to recycle energy when decelerating in order to recharge the batteries. So, when you lift your foot off the accelerator the car regenerates some of the energy back into the battery as the car slows down.

Optional Range Extender (REX)

The optional Range Extender will increase the driving range of an i3 from 125 to 194 miles on a full charge + one tank of fuel. Anyone particularly worried about running out of charge may prefer to invest in the Range Extender option (REX). An i3 with Range Extender includes a small combustion engine that runs on unleaded petrol. This engine acts as a generator to charge the car's battery—even using the engine, the car continues to drive electrically. The Range Extender option increases the starting on-the-road price of an i3 by £3,200, for an all-in price from £31,720.

Trim

There are four trim combinations available for the BMW i3. The Atelier comes as standard. Upgrades will cost: £1,000 for the Loft, £1,500 for the Lodge and £2,000 for the Suite.

Atelier with dark grey cloth seats
Loft with light grey cloth seats
Lodge with wool and leather upholstery, eucalyptus wood interior trim
Suite with leather upholstery, eucalyptus wood interior trim

The i3 includes some of the following standard and optional equipment.

Features
Standard EquipmentAC and DC Rapid charging with a capacity up to 50kW, Cruise control, BMW Navigation
Optional EquipmentElectric glass sunroof, Harman/kardon loudspeaker system, Navigation system—BMW Professional Multimedia, including 10.2" LCD colour display with split-screen function, 20GB of memory and iDrive Touch Controller.

Space & Practicality

Be aware that the i3 has the smallest interior space of any of the EVs in the UK market. The BMW i3 seats 4 people—2 in front and 2 in the rear. Boot space is a modest 260 litres under the shelf, the same as the Smart fortwo coupe. With the rear seats folded the i3 provides 1100 litres of storage.

Prices

The starting on-the-road price for a fully-electric BMW i3 is £28,570, net of the £4,500 government grant. Including a Range Extender will add £3,200 to the price. Remember two additional costs you'll probably spring for. £1165 to £237 for an optional blue BMW I Public Charging Cable - which you'll want to buy for faster charging at public charging stations. And the BMW i Wallbox for faster home charging, which starts around £640 out of pocket.

Basic PriceVATTotal RetailOn The Road PriceOn The Road Price after Government Incentive
i3 94Ah£26,950.00£5,390.00£32,340£33,070£28,570
i3 with Range Extender£29,575.00£5,915.00£35,490£36,220£31,720

How the BMW i3 Compares to Other All-Electric Vehicles

To help you decide if the Nissan Leaf is the best car for you, we've compared the Leaf to a few comparable all-electric and petrol cars.

BMW i3 vs Renault Zoe

picture of blue Renault Zoe
Renault Zoe

The Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 battery offers the longest driving range of "affordable" electric cars, around 155 miles. Expect to pay a starting price around £20,000 for the smaller 22 kWh battery or £24,000 for the larger Z.E. 40 battery. (We exclude Tesla with market-leading ranges from 200 - 300 miles per charge come but a starting price over £60,000). The Zoe is not zippy, accelerating from 0 - 62 mph in a slow 13.5 seconds. Boot space is a decent 338 litres behind the rear seats. Not only can you save upfront by hiring the battery instead of buying it, but Zoe's home Wallbox is free, subject to conditions.

Quick Takeaway: If price is the all-important factor, the Renault Zoe offers lower starting prices, the option to hire the battery (reducing the initial purchase price by £5,600) and a free wallbox (saving another £640, or more). If you're happy to pay a good £6k - £10k more, you'll get more acceleration and sportiness from the i3.

BMW i3 vs Tesla S 75

picture of blue Renault Zoe
Renault Zoe

Despite being Tesla's "entry level" S model, the Tesla S 75 costs more than £60,000 and offers over 200 miles of driving range. Add to that an 894-litre boot, and you've got yourself a great road-trip car. Will be outside most people's budgets, though.

Quick Takeaway: If you've got money to burn, the Tesla S models are something to behold. Even on the smaller 75 kWh battery, you can practically drive from London to Manchester on a single charge. Plus, the Tesla S boot is nearly 3X as big as the i3's.

BMW i3 vs BMW 120 i Sport

picture of blue BMW 120
BMW 120

The BMW 120 i Sport petrol accelerates from 0 - 62 mph in 7.1 seconds, for an on-the-road starting price from £26,540. Boot space of 360 litres is comparable to a VW Golf. According to Spritmonitor, the BMW 1 series cars get on average 33 mph in real life.

Quick Takeaway:The BMW 120 i Sport and the i3 are similar in that they are small and sporty; both cars accelerate to 62 mph in just over 7 seconds. After the cost of wallbox and charging cables are taken into account, the upfront cost of the petrol 120 is a few thousand pounds cheaper than the fully electric i3. But we estimate that anyone driving the average of 8,000 miles per year would save nearly £1,000 in energy costs per year of ownership. Plus you won't owe any vehicle tax for the i3, saving approximately £135 per year vs the 120 i Sport.

Sources

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