Skip to content
Motorpoint logo
  • All Cars
  • By Make
  • By Model
  • By Body Style
  • By Budget
  • Electric Cars
  • Hybrid cars
  • Vans
  • Reviews
  • Aftercare
  • Stock Number Search

BMW i3 Review

7 / 10
1 May 2024
BMW i3 review front three quarter

The BMW i3 still looks and feels like a concept car, which is impressive considering it hit the roads more than a decade ago.

What's perhaps more impressive is the fact BMW – a brand with a history of careful, conservative designs – made the i3 in the first place. This four-seat electric supermini has a minimalist interior trimmed in sustainable materials and funky reverse-opening rear doors, along with zippy acceleration thanks to its electric motor.

What we like:
  • Snappy electric acceleration
  • Attractive, modern interior
  • Impressive rear passenger space
What we don't like:
  • Small boot
  • A bit roly-poly through fast corners
  • Not the cheapest or longest-range EV

Should I buy a BMW i3?

Let's get this out the way first – the BMW i3 probably won't suit you if you're a family buyer and it's your only car. Nor is it the best choice for lots of longer motorway journeys. So, if you need family-friendly practicality and the ability to cover hundreds of miles in one go, the i3 probably isn't the car for you.

The thing is, most drivers don't need that. Especially if they're buying the i3 as a second car and can recharge at home. In this scenario, you can take advantage of fantastically low recharging prices and use the i3 for all your urban and suburban trips. On city streets, the car's small size and cat-like agility make it easy and entertaining to drive, not least because it can embarrass most hot hatches off the line.

It's also a really nice place to sit. The i3's cabin makes the most of its electric underpinnings, pushing the passenger area and windscreen far forward. This leaves a stubby little bonnet and way more passenger space than you'll find in most other four-metre-long superminis. The plush interior upholstery looks modern and feels premium, and won't weigh on your conscience because it's made from recycled materials.

You'll spot the exposed carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) chassis through the door openings. This clever construction tech means the car is extremely lightweight. Not only does this make up for the heft of its battery pack, it means the i3 leaps off from a standstill like a startled rabbit, and can twirl around mini-roundabouts like a ballroom dancer.

It won't suit everyone, but the i3 is a unique and charming little car. Some EVs have longer ranges and some cost less, but the little battery-powered BMW appeals to the heart as well as the head. It's fun to drive, easy to use and nicely built, with bold styling you rarely see from the Bavarian carmaker.

Interior and technology

Minimalist cabins are all the rage now, but BMW designed the i3's stripped-back interior way back in 2013. It still looks modern, however, thanks in part to the funky materials used throughout. There's recycled plastic in the upholstery and uncovered sustainable plant fibres used in the dash and door panels.

The dashboard itself is separated into distinct pods without the bulky supporting structure found in many rivals. There's a simple cluster of physical buttons for the climate controls and stereo, including proper knobs for volume and cabin temperature. Behind this panel is a bent strip of material – trimmed in open-pore wood on higher-end models – which forms a little shelf that you can store smaller items in. Next to these is an unmarked button that opens the left portion of the strip to reveal a top-mounted glovebox.

Not only is there plenty of odds and ends storage in the dashboard, the i3's electric platform means there's no centre console needed between the two front seats. This leaves a space large enough for a medium-sized handbag, and there's also an elasticated band on the firewall under the dash for securely holding items stored down here.

In fact, the biggest giveaway to the i3's actual age is the infotainment setup. This was one of the first cars to have a dual-screen setup with both digital driver's dials and a central infotainment screen, but these now look a little small compared to the theatre-like screens in modern rivals. Nevertheless, the on-screen graphics are clear and easy to read, and more recent i3s have seen their central screens grow by a few inches. You can only operate the screen through the rotary controller mounted on the armrest between the front seats, however, which feels a little old-fashioned in today's touchscreen-obsessed world.


The i3's practicality impresses in some areas but falls short in others.

First, the good news. Passenger space is really impressive, especially considering the car is shorter than an Audi A1. There's a lot of room up front and an airy sensation thanks to the large windows and stripped-back dashboard. You'll also find the two rear seats offer good space for adults – something few cars in this class can claim – and even six-footers should be able to sit behind similarly tall front-seat occupants without running out of legroom.

There are drawbacks, however. Primarily that there are only two seats on the back row, rather than the three-seater bench you'd find in most superminis. Of course, those rivals are so narrow that using all three seats is really only possible for very short trips, so the fifth seat's omission in the BMW isn't too much of a pain.

Accessing the rear seats is also a little odd thanks to the car's odd rear-opening 'suicide' back doors. These can only be opened when the front doors are open, and you'll have to remember to close them again before shutting the front ones, as it's the only way they'll close. The doors don't improve rear-seat access on their own that much either, so you'll still need to pull a catch on the front seats to fold them out the way. Once you've got the hang of this process, however, access to the rear seats is generally easy and the big side window lets lots of light into the back.

Passenger space might impress considering the car's small frame, but cargo space is a bit underwhelming. The 260-litre boot falls short of most rivals on paper and, in practice, feels quite small because all the under-floor space is devoted to the electric motor. Access to the modest space is, at least, easy thanks to the wide, tall boot lid. A weekly shop or a couple's holiday luggage should be able to fit back there but anything larger will necessitate you folding the rear seats. There is a small 'frunk' under the i3's short bonnet, but this is best used for storing charging cables.

Engines and performance

Early i3 models came either as a purely electric car, or with the option of a petrol-powered 'range extender'. This was essentially a small motorbike engine that sat under the boot floor and topped the battery pack up for longer-distance drives. It was a little grumbly in operation, however, and didn't really extend the range much thanks to its small on-board fuel tank. As a result, the range extender wasn't especially popular and was dropped from the lineup in 2019.

In its place was a new 42kWh battery pack used across all i3 models with a choice of two electric motors on the rear axle. Standard i3 models have a 170hp electric motor, or you can upgrade to the i3S with 184hp. This combination means a range of about 190 miles for standard cars, or around 170 for the i3S.

50kW DC fast charging means the i3 should be able to return an 80% charge in under 40 minutes in good conditions. On a 7.4kW AC wallbox-style home charger, expect a 100% charge in a little over six hours.

From a standstill and at urban speeds, both versions of the i3 feel seriously quick. Rapid responses from the electric motor means snappy acceleration, with no delay from turbochargers or gearboxes trying to work out what to do. That muscular response carries all the way up to motorway speeds and only starts to run out of puff if you push for a fast overtake.

Higher speeds are where the i3S differentiates itself from the standard i3, with the car pulling harder when you're hovering around the national speed limit. At lower speeds, however, you'd be hard pressed to tell the two apart – something the brief 0.4-second gap in their 0-62mph times attests to. As a result, unless you want the bragging rights and slightly sharper body kit that comes with the i3S, we'd save our money and pick the standard model.

Driving and comfort

Pin the throttle in either the i3 or the i3S and the sizeable G-force pushing you back in your seat tells you 'this is a sporty car'. This, plus BMW's reputation for building the 'ultimate driving machines', means you might reasonably expect the i3 to handle with the aggressive precision of other cars wearing that blue-and-white badge. Funnily enough, however, the i3's handling doesn't quite match the rest of the driving experience.

Around town, the i3 is truly in its element and is easy to drive. Its quick, light steering and ultra-tight turning circle means you can thread it through narrow gaps with confidence and pull off tricky manoeuvres with ease. The lightning-fast reactions from the electric motor help here, too, allowing you to zip along with traffic and blast off from a standstill. There's also a reasonable amount of compliance from the suspension, softening impacts from potholes and speed bumps fairly well considering most i3s come with enormous alloy wheels.

Where the i3 isn't quite so convincing is at higher speeds. Here, the softer suspension setup means the body sometimes feels like it's bouncing around independently from the wheels, with pronounced body roll if you attack a corner too fast. The sharp steering doesn't help, either, with aggressive turns of the wheel sending the front axle diving for a corner, but the body can't quite react fast enough to feel tied into the process, instead leaning over to the other side. There's also a noticeable amount of wind noise at motorway speeds. This is in stark contrast to something like a Mini Hatchback – another small BMW product – which feels much more at home on faster roads.

And yet, despite the i3's somewhat inconsistent handling setup, it remains an extremely likeable car. We'll happily call it fun to drive, even with its slightly soupy suspension, because the experience is dominated by its instantaneous point-and-squirt electric torque. It's at its absolute best around town, where its quick reactions and tight turning circle make it the perfect companion.

You may also be interested in

Review for Audi A1


7 / 10

The Audi A1 brings a dash of luxury to the small car class

Review for Honda Jazz


8 / 10

Clever, frugal and spacious – the Jazz is a great supermini

Review for Fiat 500


7 / 10

Timeless style makes the Fiat 500 a charming choice for city driving