The 2018 BMW i3 is available as an electric-only vehicle, or you can get the extended-range model which adds a two-cylinder gas engine and functions as a plug-in hybrid. Either way, it’s a hatchback that seats four passengers.
Yes, it’s a bit odd looking inside and out and definitely attracted attention during my week-long test drive. “What IS that? Is it really a BMW?” were common questions.
It’s available in i3, i3s, i3 with Range Extender, and i3s with Range Extender. The s trims offer sportier performance. The all-electric base model starts at $44,450 while the Range Extender models start at $48,300. Buyers may be able to take advantage of a $7,500 federal tax credit. All models have rear-wheel-drive.
The i3 and i3s models get about 114 miles of range. The i3 and i3s Range Extender models add a two-cylinder gas engine that increases the range to 180 miles. It takes about 4.5 hours to fully charge the battery with a level 2 charger, and up to 20 hours with a standard 110 volt plug.
The powerplant in the i3 is a single electric motor with a 33-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and a single-speed transmission that makes 170 horsepower. My tester has 184 hp and 199 lb.-ft. That may not sound like much on paper, but the i3 and i3s are quick off the line and can go from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 to 7.6 seconds, depending on the model. While the i3 is pepper than many other EVs, it’s not exactly an ultimate driving machine.
It takes some time to get used to the regenerative brake system. The moment you take your foot off the accelerator, the i3 feels as if it’s slowing to a stop. Basically, you quickly figure out how to drive using just the accelerator and no brake.
Three drive modes are offered: Sport, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. Sport mode kicks up the driving dynamics while reducing the range. Eco Pro is the best bet for daily driving, while Eco Pro+ limits the top speed to 56 mph and turns off the climate controls.
The Range Extender is a little generator with a 2.3 gallon gas tank. I was on I-5 driving from Salem to Portland when I ran out of electric range and the gas engine kicked in. It’s loud with a tinny whine, and made me feel as if I were driving a go cart on the freeway. I was happy to get to the nearest charging station!
The i3 boasts excellent MPG-equivalent ratings. EPA ratings for my tester are 109 MPGe in all-electric mode and 35 mpg when using the gas engine. All-electric models get 126 to 129 MPGe in the city and 99 to 106 MPGe on the highway.
The interior is nice and roomy with an airy feel. Passengers in both rows of seating enjoy good leg- and headroom. The cabin features top notch materials and is attractive in its own way, but doesn’t have the traditional and classy BMW look. Instead, it has a modern “green” feel with sustainable materials and recycled plastics, a two-toned color scheme, cloth upholstery with leather trim, and Eucalyptus wood veneer.
There’s seating for four passengers, not five, and the second row has suicide doors that can only be opened when the front doors are open. So this isn’t practical for hauling the kiddos around.
The iDrive infotainment system appears to float above the wooden dash. It’s fairly user-friendly and is operated with the controller that’s located between the two front seats. It has all of the usual functions including audio, climate control and navigation, and you can also monitor your energy use and find the nearest charging stations. Apple CarPlay is available, but no Android Auto.
Standard features in all i3 models include cloth upholstery, heated front seats, rearview camera, 6.5-inch infotainment display, navigation, Bluetooth, HD Radio, satellite radio, USB port, rain-sensing windshield wipers and rear parking sensors.
Options include seats trimmed with faux or real leather, 8.8-inch touch screen, moonroof, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, front parking sensors, and active parking assistant.
The i3 has 15.1 cubic feet of storage in the hatch which is better than average in the luxury small car class. The rear seats split 50/50 and fold down, expanding the storage to 36.9 cubes.
Peppy driving dynamics
Excellent MPG-equivalent ratings
Roomy, airy interior
Apple CarPlay is new for 2018
High price tag for an EV
Modern interior may not be what you’d expect in a BMW
Seats only four passengers
Suicide rear doors aren’t practical for hauling passengers
Android Auto isn’t offered
My tester starts at $51,500. The Melbourne Red Metallic paint is $550. Giga World trim is $1,800. The Tech + Driving Assist Package is $2,500 and adds ACC Stop&Go and Active Drive, navigation and advanced RTTI. BMWi blue seatbelt straps are $300. Park Distance control is $750. Apple CarPlay combatibility is $300. Destination charge is $995, bringing the grand total to $58,695.
If you’re looking for an upscale EV with the option of adding a small gas tank, the i3 is worth consideration. It boasts peppy driving dynamics and the BMW badge. But it does come with a high price tag for the class, and while the interior is nice and modern in its own way, it’s not the classy look you might expect in a Bimmer. There are other EVs that offer better range at a lower price point. And if you have more to spend, some Tesla models may be worth checking out.