Even the cheapest i3 looks expensive, even after including the £4500 Government grant. The range-extender version, which almost doubles the car's range, costs even more. The i3 is expensive to buy outright, then, but it makes more sense on a lease deal, and it won’t cost you much in company car tax (the electric-only model emits 0g/km of CO2, of course, and even the range-extender emits less than 15g/km).
Everyday running costs should be more appealing again, because charging the i3 right up to its maximum range of around 124 miles should cost only a couple of quid if you plug it in overnight. The range-extender version has slightly reduced pure-electric range but an overall range of 210 miles – and, of course, this can be extended if you refill the nine-litre fuel tank.
A full battery charge takes eight hours from a domestic plug socket, but a faster-charging Type 2 wallbox can cut that to less than three hours. BMW offers its own charging unit, but it's bulky and expensive; other 32A solutions offer the same charging speed and a more compact design for less than half the price (there are Government schemes to help you with this, too). However, the i3 also gets a fast-charging capability and a DC cable as standard, which can give you an 80% charge in just 40 minutes.
BMW offers fixed-price servicing on the i3; the package looks pretty generous, since it costs around the same as many deals on conventionally powered vehicles but lasts for five years/60,000 miles instead of the usual three years and 36,000 miles. The i3’s battery is covered by an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard.
BMW i3 equipment
BMWs aren't noted for their generous levels of standard equipment, and the i3 is no different. Climate control, rear parking sensors, heated front seats and automatic lights and wipers all come as standard. However, similar priced rivals such as the Volkswagen e-Golf also offer LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, adjustable lumbar support and front parking sensors for no extra cost.
Therefore the options list for the BMW is rather long, and includes luxuries such as keyless entry, an uprated infotainment system and access to a scheme that allows you to borrow a conventionally powered BMW when you want to travel longer distances or need greater practicality. The subscription comes as part of a pack that can also include access to charging points and even maintenance, but it's quite an expensive monthly bill; if you're happy to drive cars without the BMW badge, you'd be better off just paying for a regular hire car instead.
BMW i3 reliability
In theory, the i3 has fewer moving parts than a conventional petrol or diesel car, but much of the technology involved (in particular the battery technology and the energy recuperation systems) is relatively untested.
The i3 is too new to have featured in our latest customer satisfaction survey, but BMW doesn't have a stellar reliability record in general; it finished in the bottom third in our most recent set of figures, albeit ahead of Audi, Jaguar and Mercedes.
The car is covered by a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, while the battery is covered for eight years or 100,000 miles.
BMW i3 safety & security
The BMW i3 received just four stars out of five in its Euro NCAP crash test in 2013. It scored highly for both adult and child occupant protection (86% and 81% respectively), but lost a star because of a poorer performance (57%) in the pedestrian impact test and safety assist section, which is particularly disappointing given that the car is primarily designed for use in urban areas.
Stability control and six airbags come as standard, but you'll need to pay extra to get features such as a speed limiter, forward collision warning and road sign recognition.
The i3 gets an alarm and engine immobiliser as standard, and it received the maximum five stars from security experts Thatcham for resisting theft. It also scored four out of five for guarding against being broken into.
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The sole trim level comes with plenty of equipment. Sat-nav, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, climate control, a digital radio, USB socket, Bluetooth, and automatic lights and wipers are all fitted as standard. We'd recommend adding the upgraded Professional sat-nav system with its larger screen, however, along with the Loft interior, which includes lighter cabin materials with blue highlights to help brighten the interior.