2014 BMW i3 Electric Car: Roundup Of Driving Impressions

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For the last few weeks, only one electric car has displaced the Tesla Model S from the top of news stories--the 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.


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Comments (16)
  1. Sounds like Motor Trend was expecting an M3. The i3 is defenatly in the early EV segment, the only EV that fully represents the electric car of the future is the Tesla Model S. Still the i3 has a few things the Tesla doesn't which are also important to the electric future, light weight carbon construction, Eco friendly materials, and assembly. Personally I'll be using my i3 as my everyday driver and I'm hoping that the i8 comes in at a decent price because I might consider an i8 Spider for my secondary car.

  2. I think MT expects a "mini" model S. They were so in love with the Model S and they are trying keep the i3 to the same benchmark especially since it is coming from BMW.

    I think BMW has done well in what the car is "intended" for. It is certainly far more "unique" or "futuristic" than most plugin cars on the market today...

  3. I agree, if you have expectations based on other BMWs or the Tesla Model S you would see the i3 as a bit poor. But judging it for what it is, it is actually a cool little EV.

  4. Written perfectly, CDspeed. For what it is, it's very cool but the comparisons to the Model S and other ICE BMWs is a stretch right now.

  5. The i8 isn't even an electric car, it is a plug in hybrid.

  6. Why wouldn't you add all black Tesla S for the night on the town and a Tesla Roadster for the quick weekend run into the mountains?

  7. I like the i3 more as an every day car, and the i8 would be my beach cruiser and my night on the town car. I don't have mountains where I live, the terrain is flat which is perfect for EVs and it never snows either.

  8. Speaking of handling, I am always curious on how the 155 narrow and tall tires do on a windy course. Lower center of gravity and weight both helps...

  9. BMW will have a problem on their hands if indeed the i3 has the "go cart" characteristics the I3 that was on offer to the first 500 on lease months ago. If indeed ride is also compromised by the weight distribution of the extended range motor that will be another problem. Of course, there is also the fact that the I3 is two times the cost of a Leaf.

    Ford's all electric Focus had issues but acceleration was smart and fully ahead of the I3.

  10. No that was "golf cart" not "go cart", I've heard "go cart" used as a compliment. And I wouldn't take what any reviewer says seriously I never have, some reviews reflect personal opinions more then anything. A personal test drive is always the best.

  11. "Of course, there is also the fact that the I3 is two times the cost of a Leaf."

    Huh? The i3 Costs $41K, which is very close to what the LEAF cost when it came out. The comparable LEAF SL costs $35K and even the base model LEAF costs $28K. Considering the i3 is made of aluminum and carbon fiber, it's a pretty good value. It will also likely have much better range than the LEAF in Eco Pro+ mode.

    The Ford Focus EV's acceleration from 0-60 is close to 10 seconds, compared to 7 seconds for the i3.

  12. Not to mention that BMW has REx as an option and the "long trip/weekend" loaner program...

  13. Hey Bret - You're missing one point though... You get incentives taken off only once for one BMW and twice for the two LEAFs. That's an extra $10K difference in CA and $12.5K in GA, for example. I just thought I'd point that out in this theoretical argument... 1 vs. 2 come pretty close then.

    Of course if you want to compare the current BMW price to that of a LEAF from two years ago then I have no arguments...

  14. I was surprised to see a rated 184 lbs-ft of torque. That is 99 less than a Volt and the Spark and Tesla are rated at over 400. Seems to me that someone needs to specify an rpm or mph value to normalize measures of performance.

  15. Yeps. Looking at engine torque might have made sense sometime when most vehicles transmissions had similar gear ratios. It already falls apart when comparing motorcycles, with some sportsbike redlining at 16k RPM.

    With electric motors, it becomes completely irrelevant, as they can spin at dramatically different speeds, be coupled to very varied reduction gears, so their torque can't be used at all to infer what force can be exerted on the pavement.

    Power is a much more useful number to gauge acceleration -- and there, the i3 has plenty.

    Available thrust (in newtons), maximum and/or at certain speeds especially 0 m/s = 0 MPH, would be great to know too, but no manufacturer currently specifies that; ICEs would fare too poorly I guess.

  16. Those suicide doors are going to be a pain when attempting to enter the rear seat when in a tight slot at the mall parking lot.

    This is due to the inward curvature of the upper part of the doors. If the doors are not fully opened, the pass-thru space for people's heads becomes noticeably diminished, and people are going to have to take extra care not to be clipping their heads on the door edge while trying to slip by.

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