What's the used BMW i3 hatchback like?
Provided they fit into your lifestyle, a used electric car is an exciting and bang-on-trend proposition. The only problem is some of the older examples haven't been terribly exciting to look at, though, often being based on rather humdrum conventionally powered models or being deliberately a tad conservatively styled.
Enter this BMW i3, launched in 2013 and on sale until 2022, which looked and still looks as futuristic on the outside as the electric tech it hides underneath, with a distinctly eye-catching shape and rear-hinged back doors. In fact, it uses what are still state-of-the-art construction techniques, too, including super-light carbonfibre and aluminium, to offset the inevitable weight of the battery pack that’s mounted beneath its floor.
The standard electric-only i3 is available now on the used market in three different flavours: early examples had a 60Ah, 22.6kWh battery pack and a mere 80 miles of range; 2017 introduced the bigger 94Ah, 33kWh pack that increased the usable range, and finally, there was an even bigger 120Ah, 42.2kWh battery pack installed in 2019 that improved the range further still. There was also a range-extender version available from launch and discontinued in 2017. This had a two-cylinder petrol engine that acted as a generator when the battery is depleted, effectively banishing range anxiety.
The main trim level comes with plenty of equipment: sat-nav, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, climate control, a digital radio, a 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.
The i3s version benefits from all the standard kit on the i3, plus 20in sports wheels, an additional Sport driving mode, an A-pillar and roof painted in high-gloss black, a more aggressive front bumper, a black kidney grille and, most importantly, sports suspension.
It can be fun to drive, though. The later 2019-on i3 has a healthy 168bhp, enough to whisk you up to 62mph in 7.3sec and making it a doddle to keep up with fast-moving traffic. The i3s is even faster thanks to an extra 13bhp and feels extremely nippy around, hitting 62mph from a standstill in just 6.9sec.
A brisk turn of speed from a dead stop is highly addictive, and the handling is pretty secure, though in fairness in that area it’s not to be compared with BMW’s more sporty mainstream products. Its ride is a little firm, especially on 20in wheels, and most of its more modern rivals ride better. If you can afford to do so, look for an i3 from 2018 onwards because these cars received suspension alterations that did wonders for improving ride comfort.
It’s pretty up-to-date inside, too, with an airy interior, excellent visibility and a pin-sharp screen display in front of the driver, rather than conventional dials. Even the coach doors seem like a futuristic feature; however, they can be annoying to use because the front door must be opened first before you open the rear ones, and the high floor means that access to the back seats can be a bit restrictive.
The boot is also compromised since the floor is quite high to accommodate the batteries and, in some of those earlier versions, the range-extender engine housed beneath it, so overall volume is no better than that of a regular small car.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used BMW i3 hatchback?
The i3 will mostly have been used in urban areas, so check that futuristic bodywork for any scuffs caused by taking on multi-storey car parks with excessive zeal. It’s worth checking the interior for wear and tear and also the wheels for any signs of contact with kerbs. Also make sure the rear-hinged doors work as they should.
What are the most common problems with a used BMW i3 hatchback?
Handling may not behave as expected
A small number of i3s produced between 9 October 2015 and 4 November 2015 had an issue where the regenerative braking system designed to help send energy back to the battery while slowing down can be too aggressive, causing the rear of the car to oversteer in slippery conditions. Affected vehicles are to have updated software installed to rectify this.
Fuel tank ventilation line may chafe
On range-extender models produced between 17 September 2013 and 30 December 2016, the ventilation line from the fuel tank can chafe against the positive battery terminal, which could potentially lead to a leak of fuel vapour into the engine bay. In extreme cases, this might cause a fire. Dealers are to inspect the line for damage and replace it if necessary. They’ll also install additional clips to prevent this problem from happening again.
Is a used BMW i3 hatchback reliable?
According to our most recent reliability survey, the i3 scored 94.1%, which put it in seventh place in a class of nine electric cars.
Reliability rating: 92.8%
Twenty-three per cent of i3s went wrong, according to owners, with the bodywork, non-motor electrics and suspension the most common areas of complaint. However, 91% of cars were put right for free and no one who had to pay shelled out more than £300. Three-quarters of the issues were resolved in less than a week.
BMW as a brand finished 16th out of 32 manufacturers – a respectable result.
If you would like to see the full reliability list, head to the What Car? Reliability Survey pages for more information.
What used BMW i3 hatchback will I get for my budget?
The starting point for a used i3 is around £10,000, at the time of writing. This will get you a 2013 model with an average mileage and a full service history bought from a specialist dealer. Upping the wedge to between £11,000 and £13,000 will earn you a 2015 or early 2016 model, including the range-extender version, with the same criteria. Once you’re in the realms of £14,000 to £20,000 you’re looking at good 2017 cars, with a low to average mileage, from a franchised dealer, while £25,000 to £27,000 or more should hook you up with a 2019 car with the larger battery pack, or a good condition 2020/2021 model. The last 2022 cars should cost you around £30,000.
How much does it cost to run a BMW i3 hatchback?
Obviously, in terms of motive juice, it should cost you very little, although electricity prices have, of course, risen sharply recently – we reckon it should cost around £25 (based on a rate of 34p per kWh in our Real Range tests) in electricity to charge up the i3 fully.
The range extender has a slightly reduced electric range but a higher official overall one, as measured under the older NEDC tests, of 186 miles, although this will be a lot less on the road.
The standard electric-only i3 is available now on the used market in three different flavours: early examples had a 60Ah, 22.6kWh battery pack and 80 miles of range; 2017 introduced the bigger 94Ah, 33kWh pack that increased the usable range to 121 miles, and finally, there was an even bigger 120Ah, 42.2kWh battery pack installed in 2019 that improved the range further still to 165 miles. Officially, the post-2019 and more powerful i3s can manage 175 miles while the regular i3 can do 181 miles. However, BMW says 160 miles is more realistic, and our own real range tests seem to bear this out.
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). The i3 also gets a fast-charging, 50kWh capability and a DC cable as standard; this can give you an 80% charge in just 42 minutes.
Road tax should be free for most i3s registered before 1 April 2017, but you'll need to pay the reduced flat-rate fee for anything registered after this point. Find out more about the current road tax costs here.
BMW offers fixed-price servicing on used i3s, with a variety of plans available and a number of different ways to pay, including direct debit. The i3’s battery is covered by an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard.
Which used BMW i3 hatchback should I buy?
We'd aim for a post-2019 model, if you can afford one, for the extra range and the better ride.
If you’re still suffering from a bit of range anxiety – or if your i3 is going to be a bold choice as your only car – then the range-extender version could appeal. Its nine-litre fuel tank and small petrol engine add about 80 miles to the range, and give you the scope to keep on motoring without the need for a lengthy recharge.
Our favourite BMW i3: i3 EV
What alternatives should I consider to a used BMW i3 hatchback?
The 2011-2018 Nissan Leaf comes without the premium badge, but is not without its charms. It’s easy to drive, cheap to run and comfortable to travel in. There’s plenty of room for the family, too. Against that are the usual problems associated with some EVs – its range isn’t great, it takes a long time to charge and its range drops considerably in colder weather.
The 2014-2020 Volkswagen e-Golf is much more conventional in design than the i3, but it is one of the best electric cars on sale, thanks to its competitive range, decent equipment and excellent interior space and driving dynamics. Although some rivals are cheaper, and some offer a longer range, the Golf’s superior driving abilities and neat interior make it a winner.
The 2017-2022 Kia e-Niro is a former overall What Car? Car of the Year winner, thanks to its 250-mile-plus real-world range. It's also good to drive, quick, practical and roomy. Used examples are still rather tricky to find, though.