Review: BMW i3

Silent, sustainable and quirky, this is an electric car you could actually live with, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 30 Oct 2015

The march of the electric car continues. Actually, make that the silent advance. This one is so quiet that you almost need a return to the 1865 Locomotive Act, which required a bloke walking in front with a red flag to warn a car was approaching. The BMW i3 is a major, silent step forward and feels as far advanced from the Toyota Prius as that pioneering hybrid did from the Morris Marina. It's a serious proposition rather than show-off engineering and the first electric car I've driven I felt I could actually live with.

The i3 feels sensible, practical and nigh on ideal if you're doing a lot of city driving. Especially if that city features an extremely expensive Congestion Charge. It's seriously light with loads of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic used in its construction and very spirited indeed to whizz about it.

But how far can it go? 'Hah!' Smirked one cynic when I announced I was taking it from London to north Norfolk for the weekend. 'You'll get just north of Cambridge and be enveloped by range anxiety.'

Well after a spirited run up the M11 the battery was, indeed, depleted by the time we reached Ely but the way in which the two-cylinder range-extending petrol engine kicked in was seamless. You could not even detect it. Just north of King's Lynn, I topped up the petrol tank with five quid's worth of unleaded. It's a tiny 9 litres so doesn't take much - fuel is heavy. The dashboard couldn't make it clearer what's going on as far as the distances you have left either on fuel or battery.

The big battery under the rear seats means they are fine for kids but larger adults might struggle. The boot likewise is constrained. But this encourages you to travel light. On the sustainability front, it's so bongo it could live in Brighton and vote Corbyn. Seat covers are from 'responsibly sourced wool' (the sheep got a massage and a facial before being sheared) and the leather is naturally tanned with an olive oil leaf-based agent. The strange wooden dashboard is inlaid with treated eucalyptus. Groovola. It's a slightly quirky-looking car which, despite being fairly pricey at almost £30,000 is selling very well.

BMW is going big on electric. As a supplementary treat, the Gwythers were bonused with a spell in the i3's Big Mamma, the i8. Now this car is really something: 0-62 mph in 4.4 seconds and receiving more looks than Bendy Cumberbatch leaving the Barbican stage door. Its price of £100,000 is apparently being exceeded by 50% on the grey market.

Rating: 4 out of 5


BMW i3 with range extender

Price from £28,820

Power 168bhp

Torque 184lb ft

0-62 mph 7.9 seconds

Top speed 93 mph

Maximum range 160-186 miles

CO2 emissions 13g/km

Full charge 4 hours (fast AC), 8-10 hours (regular plug)

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