2014 BMW i3
That's an impressive feat considering Tesla's news-making abilities, but not without good reason: BMW has a reputation for pleasing driving enthusiasts and the badge-obsessed alike, so its first full production electric car is a significant event.
Some--not us, sadly--have been lucky enough to drive the pre-production i3 already, and early signs are good.
Also see: More BMW i3 Headlines
Even under interior and exterior camouflage, as all drives have been so far, initial impressions are positive. Car and Driver calls it "roomy" and "airy", while Autocar described the cabin as "thoroughly modern".
"Modern" appears more than once, actually. While not unusual for an electric car, the i3's minimalist dashboard design and quirky fingertip-reach drive, parking brake and power switch pod are particularly deserving of the term.
There's a flat floor and good visibility, though some have reservations over the rear door frames, which Road & Track called "awkward to climb into"--even if the suicide-style rear doors do help access for children or loading luggage.
Quality is generally good too--BMW itself is promising 5-Series levels of fit and finish--though one reviewer did note a slight echoey, tinny feel to the doors on the prototype.
With a rear-mounted motor providing rear-wheel drive, the i3 at least sends its power to the axle most familiar to BMW fans. At 184 lbs-ft of torque, there's also plenty of power available as soon as you hit the accelerator pedal.
Autocar describes initial step-off as "instantaneous...entertaining pace". Autoblog agrees, suggesting the i3 is "every bit capable" of reaching its near-on 7-second 0-60 mph time. Road & Track notes that its 0-37 mph figure of 3.8 seconds is the important one as that's where it feels quickest--and says that "it actually has more torque than the Mini Cooper S, and it weighs less".
Opinions are divided on the way the i3 handles.
Autoblog suggests, "If you try to make the i3 live up to the well-honed definition of "Ultimate Driving Machine," you are categorically missing the entire point of the i3", something backed up by reports from others that the little i3 lacks steering feel. It is however accurate, on the coned-off course of BMW's early media drives, and weighting is well-suited to city driving.
The largest dissenting voice emanates from Motor Trend. Its early review uses the dreaded "golf cart" term shaken off by previous electric cars--not because the i3 drives like one, but because it isn't entertaining enough for a BMW. "I would have fretted about the car's vanilla EV-feel if it were a Toyota," the reviewer says, "...coming from a BMW, it's baffling."
Ride quality isn't oft discussed in the early reviews--there's only so much one can assess on a smooth runway surface.
Likewise range, at the 80-100 miles (plus 80 miles for the range-extended car) promised by BMW, can only really be tested once longer drives take place.
It looks then like the BMW i3 should do well in its target environment, that of crowded city streets. But for the true BMW driving experience, well-heeled buyers might be better waiting for the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car.