Driving

BMW i3 review

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BMW i3
Review continues below...
6 Jan 2017 15:32 | Last updated: 23 Aug 2018 11:18

In this review

Driving

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

BMW i3 hatchback performance

Regardless of whether you choose the fully electric i3 or the range-extender version, the rear wheels are driven by the same electric motor. It has 168bhp, which is enough to take the i3 to a maximum speed of 93mph – so it's easy enough to keep up with fast-moving motorway traffic. Perhaps more notably, though, the i3 feels extremely nippy around town; you'll find it hard to resist embarrassing conventional petrol and diesel cars away from the traffic lights.

The range-extender's petrol engine (really a generator) is there solely to stop the battery from going flat; it's not connected to the wheels and you don't get any additional performance from it. In fact, because of the increased weight, the range-extender i3 is slightly slower than the pure-electric model.

With larger wheels and more standard equipment, the i3s is 20kg heavier than its standard sibling at 1265kg. However, its added power and torque allow the car to post a 0-62mph time of 6.9sec compared with the claimed 7.3sec for the standard i3 (or 7.7sec versus 8.1sec for the range-extender model). That’s significantly quicker than a standard Mini Cooper. In short, it’s really quite nippy. The i3s also has a Sport driving mode for increased accelerator response.

BMW i3 hatchback ride

The engineering brief for the i3 was clearly to stop this fairly tall and narrow car from swaying about through bends, so the suspension is decidedly firm.

Even on standard 19in wheels, you'll notice plenty of thunks and bumps along pockmarked urban roads – that’s a shame, given that the car is primarily designed to be used in cities. The ride on the optional 20in wheels is, unsurprisingly, even harsher and crosses the line into uncomfortable.

The i3s offers a marginally better ride than the standard car. Its suspension may be firmer but wider tyres help take the edge off expansion joints and potholes, whereas the lighter 20in wheels reduce unsprung mass, smoothing out the ride at higher speeds.

BMW i3

BMW i3 hatchback handling

Although it's an electric car, the i3 is still a BMW at heart, and the company's engineers have managed to make it feel surprisingly responsive and agile for something that's mostly designed for town use.

The steering has a consistent, satisfying weight to it and a tiny turning circle helps make the i3 ideal for the urban fray. You'll be amazed at its manoeuvrability in tight spaces; it's perfectly suited to slipping into tight parking spots.

At faster speeds, the standard i3 can feel a bit twitchy and nervous, though, so it isn't as fun to drive along a twisting country road as you might imagine. Overly quick yet uncommunicative steering can also force you to take multiple bites at corners. And despite the fact that the car's relatively skinny tyres produce more grip than you might expect, sudden bumps can easily knock the i3 off line.

Thankfully, the i3s goes some way to correcting this imbalance. A 40mm wider rear track (the distance between the wheels), 10mm lower ride height and specially tuned springs, dampers and anti-roll bars ensure the i3s stays flat through quick changes in direction. And, thanks to wider tyres at both the front and rear, there’s less of the skipping and pogoing that you get in the standard car.

BMW i3 hatchback refinement

The i3's electric motor is impressively refined; there's none of the high-pitched whine that you get in, say, the Renault Zoe. In fact, that hushed nature means you hear more road noise that the i3's carbonfibre construction struggles to suppress; there's a mixture of rumble and resonance that can become tiring, especially on longer motorway runs.

The range-extender version does emit a bit of a rumble when the two-cylinder petrol engine kicks in – a bit like someone starting a lawnmower in a garden nearby – but you only really notice it when you slow down for junctions. At anything beyond 50mph, you'll barely know the petrol engine is running.

Braking performance is perfectly adequate, but you'll soon learn to drive with a 'single-pedal' technique around town, anticipating when you're going to have to come to a halt and allowing the car's energy recuperation system to slow you down to a stop naturally. It sounds odd, but it becomes second nature quickly, particularly since it maximises the i3's range.

 

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There are 3 trims available for the i3 hatchback. Click to see details.See all versions
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I3
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