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Test driving the BMW i3

The BMW i3 has been around since late 2013 and really marked a monumental shift for the electric driving world. Known for its quirky design, it’s considered a bit of a ‘Marmite’ car to many, but what is the 2020 variant like to drive? Let's find out.

Design

The car is futuristic and angular, both inside and out. Size wise I’d say it’s pretty similar that of competitors such as a Nissan Leaf or the Peugeot e208 we recently test drove. A non-electric comparable might be something like a VW e-Golf or even a T-Cross.

A huge design feature on the i3s are the so called ‘Suicide Doors’. This means that the doors are pillar less, and both open from the centre outwards in a move more reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce than a compact hatchback. Whilst these doors look impressive – practicality might be an issue for some, as you can’t open the rear doors without first opening the front. And much like with a Rolls Royce I’m sure, would be a bit of a faff to park and open up in a tight supermarket car park.

Interior

When picking your i3 you have the choice between 4 different interior options; Atelier, Lodge, Loft and Suite. Our car had the Loft interior, which in the words of BMW is a “harmonious blend of sustainable and modern materials”, designed to create a “light and dynamic interior, which imparts the impression of stylish equilibrium and balance”.  To you and me it’s a mix of recycled materials and synthetic leather with a grey to copper fade. It’s… an acquired taste. Our preference would probably be the Atelier interior, which is a stylish mix of grey and black cloth with electric blue highlights – in our opinion, much more befitting of the car.

Driving and Range

One thing is for sure, this thing goes like the clappers. There’s a 42.2 kW battery that produces the equivalent of 170 horsepower and goes from 0-60 in 7.3 seconds. The i3 produces 0 g/km of CO2 and is a really great choice for those wanting a premium small electric car.

Official WLTP figures state the standard i3 has a pure electric range of up to 188 miles, whereas realistic figures estimate around the 160 mile mark. During motorway driving at 70mph we found that it battery went down at a rate of about 1% for every mile travelled, but on slower roads and lanes the battery retention was a lot better.

In terms of driving dynamics, the standard i3 gets the choice between ECO or COMFORT. Those who go for the upgraded i3s model will get an additional ‘SPORT’ mode. Another thing to note is the incredible turning circle on this car - easily comparable to that of a Smart ForFour. 

Even the entry level models get big 19” alloys wheels, but these don’t do much in terms of absorbing uneven road surfaces or bumps in the road. You feel pretty much everything. I’d hope this was a little better on the i3s models with the 20” wheels. The steering is heavy whilst the car is small and light; that combined with the harsh braking when you take your foot off the accelerator makes for (in my opinion) a slightly bizarre driving experience that I can only liken to that of a bumper cart. Fun, but… bizarre.

Charging

Charge times will obviously vary depending on what charger you’re using, but the official charging times as stated by BMW are below:

  • Standard Charge (AC Type 2/ Mode 2 Charging/ Up to 2.3kW / 10Amps) = 15 hours for 80% charge
  • AC Fast Charge (AC Type 2/ Mode 3 Charging/ 7.4 kW/ 32Amps) = 4.9 hours for 80% charge
  • AC Rapid Charge (AC Type 2/ Mode 3 Charging/ 11kW/ 3 x 16Amps) = 3.2 hours for 80% charge
  • DC Rapid Charge (DC Combo 2/ Mode 4 Charging/ 50kW) = 42 minutes for 80% charge

Technology and Connectivity

The iDrive systems in the BMWs are consistently good, and it’s no different in the i3. Whilst there’s no touch screen, you do get two sharp, vibrant screens – 1 for the central multimedia system and another smaller screen that acts as the digital drivers display. The i3 is an automatic, and the gears are selected through a massive lever behind the steering wheel. This isn’t as intuitive as the automatic gear selectors in other BMW models, but works well and is easy to use.

Our car had a few optional extras, including the Park Assist Package which got us a really effective reversing camera with parking guides and parking assist for those who struggle with parallel parking. All models get a multi-function leather steering wheel (ours was in Carum Spice Grey). Whilst it doesn’t come as standard, you can also add options such as a upgraded Harmon Kardon sound system, wireless charging and Apple CarPlay.

All models get a lot of kit as standard, including:

  • Sat Nav
  • DAB Radio
  • Heated Front Seats
  • Air Con
  • Electrically folding, anti-dazzling door mirrors
  • LED headlights
  • Rear parking sensors
  • Rain-sensing wipers

Space and Comfort

The i3 has comfortable seats, and as a 4-seater there’s additional room for passengers in the rear to stretch out a bit, and large cup holders where the centre seat would traditionally be. That being said, rear room is limited if you’ve got two tall people sitting in the front passenger and driver seats.

Boot space is fairly practical for such a compact car. It is worth noting that there’s no additional storage space to keep your charging leads, but for the majority of people who would be charging their car at home overnight that won’t really be a problem. What there is, is a TON of space upfront for the driver and front passenger. The dash opens out right towards the front of the car and there’s lots of foot room and adjustability in the seats and well as more large cup holders, and additional storage in and underneath the armrest.

All models get a multi-function leather steering wheel. We also had 2 small sunroofs – one for the driver and another for the front passenger. These were really nice features that added a nice bit of extra light to the car. On that point, visibility in this car is great and I didn’t recognise any overwhelming blind spots whilst out on the road or pulling away from difficult junctions.

Model Lines

In addition to the standard i3 which we drove, there’s also the BMW i3s which has the following additional features:

  • 20” Alloy Wheels
  • 184 horsepower (as opposed to the 170hp in the standard)
  • High gloss black features: A-Pilar, roof mouldings, front bumper, wheel arch extensions, and kidney grille. Sports suspension‘S’ steering‘Sport’ Driving mode
  • 'i3s' badging

Overall I think that BMW have created a really fun, premium electric vehicle that was for many years ahead of its time. It’s an ideal car for those wanting the driving enjoyment that BMW are renowned for, whilst getting the economical consciousness of an electric vehicle. If you like the look of the i3? Just get in touch with one of our leasing experts to find out the latest i3 lease deals.

Take a look at some other low CO2 cars by checking out our list of the best low emission cars to consider in 2020. 

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Posted on 19th March 2020 at 3:09 PM

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