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BMW i3 or i8? Our electrified long-termers lock horns

Published: 31 July 2017

► CAR reviews new BMW i3 REX
► We live with i3 Range Extender
► 94Ah EV battery range on test 

Month 6 living with a BMW i3 REX 94Ah: meeting big brother, the BMW i8 sports car

We’ve been living the i life in 2017, as not one but two fruits of BMW’s Project i have graced CAR’s long-term test fleet. It’s made for an intriguing comparison. The i8 recently departed these shores, but I made sure to spend decent time behind the wheel before its svelte, low-slung silhouette went off to its new home.

Read our full BMW i8 long-term test review here.

They’re remarkably different cars, but with enough common DNA that you’ll make the connection. My i3 is a boxy, upright car whose silhouette reminds me of its futuristic, pod-like Megacity Vehicle development codename. 

It looks like nothing else on the road, but those proportions cleverly provide decent accommodation for four passengers in a car no longer than a Nissan Micra. Slab sides do mean you’re buffeted quite a bit during strong winds, however.

Park next to the i8 and you feel like a sixth-former looking down on the new year’s junior intake. It’s a low, squat, purposeful car by comparison, with tighter packaging (the +2 rear seats are on a par with a 911’s) and a more menacing stance. But check out the similarities: the distinctive edge to the BMW kidney grille; the U-shaped headlamp graphic; the flashes of zingy blue and two-tone accent colours on the plastic bodywork. 

If you want to play streetside posing, the i8 wins hands down. Those scissor doors and craftily wrought aero body addenda see to that. But the i3 wears its age well, and still cuts a dash on the school run, especially with its own trick rear doors.

BMW i3 (left) dwarfs i8 sports car (right)

The i3 will be facelifted later this year while an i8 Spider is imminent – it’ll be interesting to see how the aesthetic evolves. One area both BMs are let down by is their electronic architecture: aged infotainment, iDrive functionality and cockpit vibe are at odds with their pioneering powertrain and construction.

Jump into a new Five or Seven and you can twirl your fingers in the air to change the volume or bat away phone calls like you’re starring in Minority Report VI; in this pair everything feels a bit last decade, as you’re stuck with physical buttons and clunky voice control. This is fast forgotten on the move, however. The way the i3 and i8 pour down the road, all electric shove and pliant ride and pointy steering, is perhaps their greatest shared asset. Both benefit from rigid carbonfibre tubs and you can feel it in the way they handle a wiggling, bumpy back road, with a stiff, well measured accuracy to proceedings.

The i3 is devilishly fast off the line (as fast 0-30mph as an M3, remember?) but gives up the ghost earlier at higher velocities. It suits a more relaxed gait. The i8? It’s a fast car, period – and feels like something from the future.

I’m convinced they’re both landmark cars, stepping stones to the new era of electromobility we’re rapidly fast-forwarding towards. They’re not without compromises – and they’re both very expensive to buy – but I suppose that’s the price of progress. 

By Tim Pollard


BMW i3 and its 'suicide' rear doors

Month 5 of our BMW i3 REX long-term test review: the rear doors put to the test

Suicide doors, coach doors, rear-hinged doors… the BMW Group has form with unconventional hinges, although the i3’s ‘opposing doors’ are somewhat smaller than those on distant Rolls-Royce cousins. 

They add just 28cm extra space to access the rear bench; this is disguised by the fact that the front doors have to be open first – a tad unhelpful when offloading the kids. And front seatbelts must be unbuckled, too...

Still, there are upsides. The i3’s back doors are cooed over far and wide, adding to the streetside drama. And the lack of a B-pillar means that clambering in and out is a cinch.

Room for legs and heads is adequate for adults and generous for kids, helped by the lack of a transmission tunnel. The i3 isn’t often used as a family car, but it trumps many superminis.

By Tim Pollard

BMW i3: the CAR magazine long-term test review


Month 4 living with a BMW i3: futuristic car, old-fashioned fault

We're four months into BMW i3 ownership and the little electric car with range extender is fully bolted into our lives. If you're an electric car sceptic, we'd urge you to test drive one. It's the perfect vehicle to turn you into an EVangelist.

Here's why. Approach the car every morning and it radiates quality: the doors are engineered with reassuring Teutonic heft and we love climbing over the exposed carbonfibre door sills into the pre-heated cabin each morning.

But that electric powertrain is what's really squirrelled into our affections. We love the easy thrust at low speeds, the saintly silence, the 
virtual halo we imagine above our heads on every drive. It's a tangible feelgood factor reinforced by the fact I've personally only filled up twice with petrol since December.

BMW i3 REX long-term tyre puncture

That's because we charge this PHEV up every day outside the office – giving us maximum range for minimum anxiety. The reality is, we only use the range-extender on journeys over 100 miles – everything else is pure EV. Our average fuel consumption of 150.5mpg over some 2500 
miles reflects its predominantly battery operation.

Editor Ben Miller was driving the i3 when he suffered a blow-out on the A1. He reports that the i3 behaved impeccably, tyre pressure monitor alerting him promptly before the 
tyre disintegrated, leaving him time to limp to Peterborough services before the pressure got too low.

BMW i3 REX long-term trailer

The Bridgestone Ecopia EP500 was destroyed and there's no spare wheel in the minimalist i3 – leaving us no option but to call BMW Assist for recovery. All new BMWs come with three years of roadside assistance, and help arrived promptly in just under an hour to collect the stranded car.

Which is all well and good, but they are only authorised to trailer to main dealers, leaving us no choice but to travel to Sycamore in Peterborough. They charged us £191 for one super-skinny 155/60 R20 tyre, sourced and fitted within 24 hours and leaving us with an immaculately valeted car (though not a fully charged one, disappointingly).

Had we been able to shop around, Blackcircles.com quotes £161 for the same tyre. It was our first taste of BMW i dealer care and it was slick, if pricey.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: BMW i3

Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2-cyl petrol range extender  
Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive  
Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 13g/km CO2  
Price £31,560  
As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after govt Plug-in Grant)  
Miles this month 848
Total 4481
Our mpg 150.5mpg
Official mpg 471mpg  
Fuel this month £38.53
Extra costs £191.39 (new tyre)


BMW i3 bootspace

Month 3 living with a BMW i3: bootspace, practicality

This is a small car, just 3999mm long. It’s perfect for threading around town, and happy when you head to your favourite B-road. Yet its 1578mm loft provides an airiness that belies those pert dimensions.

Is it practical though? The rear load bay is just 260 litres and is quickly filled by a cricket kit bag or a couple of soft overnight bags, though it’s easy enough to flop the 50:50 rear seats forward to extend the bootspace. It'll easily swallow our puppy's crate with the back seats folded down.

Access to the boot is easy: there's no lip whatsoever and a couple of elasticated straps are useful for holding items in place. Just remember that the i3's two charging cables gobble up quite a bit of the scant bootspace before you've even put any of your luggage and bags in. It's only 260 litres big, so this is not a roomy supermini (though you can collapse the rear seats flat for a larger 1100-litre space.

And that front ‘boot’ (below) is more of a glovebox for storing things you don’t mind getting damp. It's basically left unused save for the puncture repair kit.

By Tim Pollard

The BMW i3 frunk, aka the front 'boot'

Logbook: BMW i3

Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2-cyl petrol range extender 
Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive  
Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 13g/km CO2  
Price £31,560  
As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after govt Plug-in Grant)  
Miles this month 680  
Total 3633  
Our mpg 191.9
Official mpg 471mpg  
Fuel this month £29.12
Extra costs £191.39 (new tyre – more next month)


Diary update: carbon dating with our BMW i3

Every time you climb into the BMW i3, you'll notice something rather special: its carbonfibre construction. You can't help notice it, as you open the door and swing your legs over the composite tub.

This isn't exactly a flyweight small car, at 1440kg in range-extending REX form, but using space-age materials in its core is a useful counter to the heft of battery.

Carbonfibre weave visible on sill of BMW i3

The i3's design leaves an exposed strip of the dark grey plastic visible on the sill (above) - its high-tech weave is not quite McLaren-polished, but it's a fabulous reminder of why this city runabout costs three times a conventional petrol city car.

Advantages? As well as giving your BMW a touch periodic table intrigue, that carbonfibre core makes the i3 exceptionally stiff. You can feel it in the way it rides, steers and responds to crests and bumps in the road. This really is a small car unlike any other.  

By Tim Pollard

Browse BMW i3 cars for sale


Month 2 running a BMW i3 REX: the slippy-slidey narrow tyres

Our i3’s optional, big-but-skinny 20in wheels wear Bridgestone Ecopia tyres. Designed to cleave the air with minimal drag, they don’t put a huge amount of rubber in contact with the road, so we’ve been pussy-footing around at this chilly, slippy-slidey time of year.

Super-skinny Bridgestone tyres on our BMW i3

Why the caution? I had a big, unintentional skid on a mucky country lane in a different i3 last year. Nothing untoward has happened in this i3, thankfully...

By Tim Pollard

More BMW reviews by CAR magazine

Logbook: BMW i3 Range-Extender

  • Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2cyl petrol to top up battery  
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive  
  • Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 13g/km CO2  
  • Price £31,560  
  • As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after government Plug-in Grant)  
  • Miles this month 540  
  • Total 2953  
  • Our mpg Haven’t refuelled yet!  
  • Official mpg 471mpg 
  • Fuel this month £0  
  • Extra costs £0


Diary update: learning to live the BMW i life

Time to talk through the nitty-gritty of living with BMW’s pioneering plug-in hybrid. We chose the REX version of the i3 because CAR is based in Peterborough and I live in the wilds of the Midlands countryside. Wouldn’t a pure EV be riskier in rural driving?

That was the thinking, and BMW reports that most i3 buyers agree. In the UK, 70% of sales are of the Range Extender version, countering the earlier launch trend for the battery-only BEV car.

It’s easy to see why. I’m enjoying the reassurance the tiny petrol engine provides. In the past month, I’ve driven our BMW i3 190 miles to Heathrow and back for my flight to the Geneva airport, Ben Miller took it to Thruxton for some racing tuition and Parkers editor Keith Adams and I resisted the urge to go ICE by going EV when we visited Ferrari and Fiat in Slough.

That speaks volumes about our faith in the i3’s real-world range. On longer trips, the tiny 647cc twin-cylinder engine starts up when the range drops to single digits, quietly buzzing in the background as it recharges the battery. At anything other than creeping urban speeds, it’s imperceptibly quiet - though you’ll occasionally notice a clattery start-up when stationary (the twin engine is pretty thrashy compared with a three- or four-cylinder motor).

Keeper Tim Pollard and his BMW i3 REX

When fully charged on CAR’s workplace Podpoint, the i3 typically manages 110 miles before the range drops to REX mode. That is disappointingly lower than the 195 miles claimed by BMW, but we accept that we do a lot of motorway miles (our offices are just off the A1) and we have been warming the cabin and seats over the chilly winter months.

We expect better range in the summer. Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to adapt to life on the electric superhighway.

By Tim Pollard


Month 1 running a BMW i3: the introduction

Has the electric car come of age? You’ll surely have noticed range creep, as the claimed journey distances achievable on a single charge become ever longer. Renault’s Zoe and the pioneering Nissan Leaf have both been given substantial battery boosts in recent months – and now it’s the turn of the trendsetting BMW i3 supermini.

Which is why we’re running the new i3 94Ah model in 2017, to see if the plug-in car has suddenly become a whole lot more viable. We’ve a sneaking suspicion that it has, as battery technology improves, charging networks expand and range anxiety dwindles. That’s the theory, at least…

To be on the safe side, we’ve plumped for the i3 Range Extender – the one with a tiny 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine snuck under the boot floor to act as a mobile generator and keep you going if you can’t hook up to the mains. Isn’t that the best of both worlds? The ability to drive a pure EV day-to-day, but keep the safety net of extra range just when you need it? Living in the rural Midlands as I do, I find BMW’s quoted 276-mile range tremendously reassuring, giving an extra 90 miles over earlier i3s.

We have electric points at the work CAR park, but I don’t (yet) have a plug in the driveway at home. I’ll investigate residential charging in the coming weeks. This degree of logistical fine-tuning reflects the ground-up rethink that driving an electric car requires from all of us.

It’s clear the old order is being disrupted from all sides. You only have to look at the i3 to realise this is a radically modern car. Its short, squat dimensions and tallboy silhouette still look like a futuristic transport pod, despite being a four-year-old design – it’s quite unlike any other small car. Ours wears the £1080 optional, super-skinny 20-inch alloys (below), lending it a cool, desirable chic, even though I do wish we had chosen a brighter paint colour than the optional gunmetal Mineral Grey (another optional extra at £530).

Optional 20-inch allow wheels for our BMW i3

The interior is equally progressive. Ours has the £1000 Loft cabin trim applied, bringing Sensatec artificial leather in Carum Grey and metallic-looking dashboard trims. It’s crisp, distinctive and very modern – especially the exaggerated hippy style of the recycled dash-top materials, flecked by chunks of old newspaper and 8-series of yesteryear. Probably.

Despite its compact dimensions (it’s just 3999mm long), the i3 is roomy in the front for two and visibility is excellent all-round, making it easy to thread along tight city streets. We’ve yet to swing open the suicide rear doors and test the back seats, but it’s useful to know we can transport a family of four without needing a big diesel X5 in convoy to carry the kids.

Will anyone actually use an i3 for family duties? Or will it remain consigned as a city hopabout for well-heeled urbanites? Be sure to drop us a line if you’re running an electric BMW, as we’d love to hear how you’re getting along.

If you own an i3, tweet me here

Chances are, owners will be early adopters unafraid of splashing some cash on a premium product. For the i3 is not cheap. Prices today start at £32,380 after the £4500 government subsidy, which is a heck of a lot for a small car, if not too shocking for a carbonfibre-based electric shock-and-awe machine from BMW.

Of course, many customers will in fact lease their i3, and a main dealer should be able to get you in to a £37k Range Extender like ours for around £306 a month on a Select PCP. This requires a £3999 deposit and a two-year term, with interest charged at 2.9% APR. Suddenly, that nearly £40k list price looks a whole lot more tempting.

Whether you should be tempted or not remains to be seen. I can’t wait to find out if the range is as good as it’s claimed to be. If the ChargeNow network is as readily available and operational when we need to plug in. If the carry-along, range-extending engine can keep us going when we can’t. And how running costs compare with the BMW i8 sports car we’re testing in parallel.

Stay tuned for our regular updates as we find out if the road to iSalvation is a saintly stroll with lashings of feelgood factor or an uphill slog fraught with range anxiety. Let’s hope Electric Avenue’s not a dead end...

Logbook: BMW i3 Range-Extender

  • Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2cyl petrol range-extender to top up battery
  • Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 12g/km CO2
  • Price £31,560
  • As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after Government Plug-in Car Grant)
  • Miles this month 31
  • Total 2413
  • Our MPG TBC
  • Official MPG 471
  • Fuel this month £0
  • Extra costs £0

Click here for more BMW reviews by CAR magazine

The interior of our BMW i3 Range Extender

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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