Parkers overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5
  • Silent but rapid acceleration
  • Pure electric i3 fastest
  • Choose REX for longer range

There are two fundamental choices when buying the BMW i3: choosing the pure electric version or the Range Extender model that nearly doubles the driving range.

In autumn 2017, BMW launched the i3S, a kind of hot hatch version. It too is available in all-electric EV or Range Extender forms.

The pure electric BMW i3

Whichever i3 model you pick, it’s the simplest electric one that is fastest. The 0-62mph sprint takes only 7.3 seconds, and that brisk, zero-lag acceleration makes the i3 a great sparring partner around town. To put that electric performance into context, we have drag-raced the i3 against an M3 on a track - and it didn’t always lose!

Acceleration is particularly smart up to 30mph, in the urban cut-n-thrust where an i3 is likely to spend much of its time. Even when you move out of the confines of the city the i3 continues to impress, with real-world performance that doesn’t feel underwhelming right up to motorway speeds. Only on German autobahns will you lament the car’s 93mph top speed.

The BMW i3 Range Extender

The Range Extender i3 uses the same 125Kw (170hp) electric motor as the electric version but adds a 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine producing 34bhp to keep the batteries topped up on the move. It does add 150kg to the i3’s weight, however, blunting performance over the pure EV version.

It effectively doubles the electric i3’s 80-100-mile range and CO2 emissions are only rated at a modest 13g/km. You’re not likely to notice the engine kicking in either – remember it has no connection to the wheels, it’s purely there to charge the batteries – except at low speeds, where the faint murmur of the two-cylinder thrum can be heard behind you in the already-quiet cabin.

The BMW i3S

Launched in autumn 2017, the warm-hatch i3S model boasts a more powerful electric motor, which takes horsepower to 183hp from the 170hp in the regular i3. Performance is startlingly fast for an electric car: 0-62mph takes just 6.9 seconds (for the electric-only version) and throttle response is – literally – electric.

  • Quick-witted, sharp drive
  • Narrow tyres limit outright grip
  • Amazingly tight turning circle

If the i3 looks unconventional, then what’s underneath that striking body is even more so. This baby BMW is based on a carbonfibre tub, not dissimilar to an F1 car’s - giving it great strength and a useful weight saving to counter the additional weight of the batteries.

Even including the lithium-ion cells, the whole chassis and drivetrain module only tips the scales at 365kg. Storing the batteries low down in the body means the centre of gravity is exceptionally low, and the i3's handling is nimble as a result.

Steering is light and fast-acting, and the car turns into corners with eagerness; this is a relatively tall car and its passengers sit high up, yet there’s not too much body roll to speak of. We’ve even driven the i3 at Brands Hatch race circuit, which not only allowed us to test its reactions during a slalom and lane-change manoeuvres, but also around some of the circuit’s famous bends, where it cornered flat and fast.

Be careful in slippery conditions however; those super-skinny tyres don’t generate much grip and can relinquish what purchase they have on damp or freezing roads. It’s best to drive gingerly in cold or wet conditions in a BMW i3.

The stand-out feature of the i3’s driving experience is the regenerative braking function, and its ability to gradually bring the BMW to a halt without using the brakes. With enough foresight, and a recalibration of your feet – the ferocity of the effect can’t be altered – by anticipating and simply lifting off the accelerator it’s easy to drive the car without touching the brake pedal at all. Once you’re used to it, you’ll be able to drive for miles in stop-go traffic without ‘braking’ once.