The 2018 BMW i3 is an electric vehicle with an optional gas range-extender. The vehicle is part of BMW’s i initiative, along with the i8. The latter is more of an eco-friendly supercar, while the former is an honest re-thinking of a commuter car.
While the i3 appears small from outside, looks can be deceiving. The i3 seats four and has a clamshell door layout that’s similar to an extended cab pickup truck. It has a surprisingly long wheelbase, allowing for a decent amount of legroom, as well as a tall silhouette, which creates plenty of headroom in both rows. The vehicle can hold four passengers, in a 2+2 layout, though it’s more comfortable with three passengers. Legroom behind the driver is tight.
Controls are also a departure from convention. The start button and shifter are all on one “pod” that protrudes from the right side of the instrument panel. This allows for a minimalist cabin, but one that is rife with small trays and places for your wallet, phone, and keys. The i3 is also available with Bluetooth-enabled Apple CarPlay, ensuring connectivity without cables (unless you need a charge).
The i3 is propelled by a single electric motor that routes power to the rear wheels. Power is derived from a 33-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with an optional battery range extender.
There are two versions of the i3: the standard and the i3s, which we drove. The base i3 makes 170 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, while the i3s makes 184 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque.
Surprisingly, the i3s features brisk acceleration and corners well, though the ride is rather stiff over potholes. When the gas generator kicks in, it is rather coarse compared with the silky-smooth acceleration in full-EV mode. Given its small size, the i3 is incredibly agile in parking lots, and it can fit in tight parking spaces.
The EPA rates the EV range of the i3s at 97 miles. The gas range-extender adds another 83 miles. Its fuel tank is just over 2 gallons, so if you deplete the electric power and use the range extender, you’ll have to frequently fill up.
Planning trips based on fuel and charging stations is a reality of i3 ownership. After getting our test vehicle, one of the first things we did was download the ChargePoint app, which indicates the location of nearby charging stations. You’ll need to know where these charging stations are, especially if you street park in the city.
The Level III fast charger can fill 80 percent of the battery in 30 minutes. The more common Level II charger takes 4 to 6 hours to get a full charge. The i3 also comes with Level I wall-outlet charger, which is considered a “trickle charger” and takes 12-16 hours for a full charge.
The i3 also has regenerative braking, which captures energy every time the vehicle decelerates. Its intensity can be toggled, which allows for “one-foot driving,” where the regen slows the vehicle without applying the actual brakes. The one-foot braking is strong enough that it illuminates the brake lights if you take your foot off the accelerator quickly enough.
Base MSRP for the 2018 BMW i3 is $44,450. The range extender brings the price to $48,300. The i3s with range extender starts at $51,000, but with the long list of options — including the “Giga World” interior package and Tech + Driving Assist package — took the price of our test model to $58,695.