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Used test: BMW i3 vs Volkswagen e-Golf

Interest is growing in used electric cars, and they don’t come much more usable than the Volkswagen e-Golf. But is it better than BMW’s radical i3?...

BMW i3 vs Volkswagen e-Golf

The Contenders

BMW i3 94Ah

List price when new £33,070*
Price today £19,000**
Available from 2013-present

The high-tech BMW i3 may be nearly nine years old but it still looks sufficiently space-age


Volkswagen e-Golf

List price when new £32,190*
Price today £19,000**
Available from 2014-2020

The e-Golf hides some clever technology underneath its more traditional skin.

*Price not including the £4500 government grant for electric cars that was available when the car was new
**Price today is based on a 2017 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing


Want to dip your toes in the electric future but you're put off by the high purchase price of an all-new electric car? Well, if you buy either of these two at four years old you can put a premium-badged electric car on your driveway for less than £20,000 - and that's nearly half the price it would cost to buy their modern-day equivalents.

New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

Both of these two are electric, both claim a near-identical range and both achieve similar results, albeit by following distinctly different paths. For example, the BMW i3 was built from the ground up to be the ultimate urban electric car. It positively shouts about its electrification with its carbonfibre construction, quirky rear-hinged rear doors and futuristic styling that looks just as good today as it did when the car was launched back in 2013.

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The Volkswagen e-Golf, on the other hand, took a more functional approach, sacrificing none of the excellent ergonomics that made the standard Mk7 Golf a dominant force. It’s restrained and classless and blends into the crowd. So, which approach results in the best used electric hatchback?

New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

It’s unlikely that you’ll want to drive your electric car flat out very often, but it’s the i3 that will get you away from the lights quickest. Plant your right foot and it scampers from 0-60mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 7.2sec – a whole 1.5sec quicker than the rather more pedestrian e-Golf can manage.

New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

Benefiting from its carbonfibre construction, the i3 is a whopping 285kg lighter than the e-Golf, and BMW, unlike VW, has gone to the trouble of fitting stiffer suspension than you’d normally find in a family hatchback. But while the e-Golf steers accurately and generally stays composed, the i3 all too often feels unstable, with overly quick yet uncommunicative steering forcing the driver to take several bites at corners. Granted, the relatively skinny tyres provide more grip than you might expect, but hit a mid-corner bump and the tall i3 feels nervous and twitchy.

The e-Golf has a much more comfortable ride than the i3, staying composed even over nasty, sharp-edged bumps, while smaller imperfections are shrugged off with ease. The i3’s ride, even on standard 19in wheels, is decidedly poor at low speeds, with smaller bumps being transmitted straight into the interior. The situation is only exacerbated on the optional 20in wheels.

New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

The i3 and e-Golf are more evenly matched in terms of refinement. The electric motors are virtually silent in both cars, with none of the high-pitched whine that you get in, say, the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe. However, the i3 generates slightly more road noise at higher speeds.


Next: What are they like inside? >>

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