2014 BMW i3
The BMW i3 electric car takes risks, and not just with its plug-in powertrain.
A radical design and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body shell make the i3 unlike most other cars on the road.
In contrast, other German automakers have taken a more conservative approach with their electric cars; the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive and 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf are electrified versions of existing models.
Now that the i3 has been on sale for a few months in the U.S.--and almost a year in Europe--both customers and the automotive press are getting a chance to decide which approach they prefer.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (Euro spec) - Driven, Portland OR, July 2014 (credit: NWAPA)
In the U.K., the i3 and e-Golf cost roughly the same after government incentives are factored in, but they represent radically different approaches to the battery electric car.
The differences in design philosophy are immediately apparent when the two cars are parked next to each other.
The i3 is taller than the e-Golf, but also shorter and narrower. Reviews declared this design better for urban driving, but noted the more-traditional e-Golf has more room for passengers and cargo.
While performance probably isn't on the minds of most electric-car buyers, the i3 also outperformed the e-Golf in all acceleration tests.In the end, though, AutoExpress chose the BMW over the VW because of its unusual and advanced design.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive - First Drive, May 2014
While the e-Golf was deemed a competent electric car, reviewers also felt it was less exciting.
Similarly, its plainer design also led to the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive being bested by the i3 in a recent Car and Driver comparison test.
Clearly, the i3 has its fans.
However, it also has some limitations when it comes to practicality, according to CleanTechnica.
The website also compared the BMW to the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive and claims that, while the Mercedes may be less of a statement, it may also be a better car.
2014 BMW i3 (German-market version), Amsterdam, Oct 2013
The i3's interior was also criticized, particularly the steering-column-mounted shifter and start-stop button and the lack of paddles to control regenerative braking.
Meanwhile, the Mercedes received praise for its comfortable interior and range-charge option--which increases the amount of battery capacity used for a temporary range boost.
So while the i3's design may be new and exciting, some electric-car fans apparently still prioritize practicality--even if it means flying under the radar.