2015 BMW i3 road test review | The electric game changer

The BMW i3 is fun to drive and has as range of more than 100km on one charge.
The BMW i3 is fun to drive and has as range of more than 100km on one charge. Iain Curry

STRIDING into the BMW dealership wearing socks and sandals, the earthy bloke had come prepared.

He'd done his research and promptly secured one of the first BMW i3 vehicles available in Australia. While not your typical BMW customer, this is not your typical car.

It's the first electric offering from the German marque which is breaking down barriers. Electric cars aren't new in Australia, we've seen the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMIEV previously, but neither have been embraced.

Starting from over $60,000 it isn't a bargain, although it's a price "premium" customers are willing to pay. Even the greenies.

You see the i3 is a pin-up for renewable energy production and materials.

Plastics found inside and out are produced using 25% recycled or renewable materials, 80% of the aluminium used is either recycled or produced with renewable energy, the door panelling and thermal layering uses materials from the kenaf plant, seat trims are made of 100% recycled polyester and even the key is partly made of castor oil bean.

Iain Curry


Contemporary and engaging, BMW should use the i3 as the basis for its future interiors.

During recent times there has been a degree of "sameness" across the marque's interiors but this experience was refreshingly gratifying.

The set-up offers a great use of various textures and an interpretation of modern minimalisation.

It feels and looks like a funky inner city apartment.

Two colour screens offer the driver and passenger feedback, with the traditional BMW central dial controlling functions such sat nav, radio and other operations on the central monitor. Quality resolution offers crisp read-outs and everything is simple to find once you have the main dial system mastered.

Seats throughout the i3 are relatively flat and there isn't much contouring around the base. This proved to be no issue, and we stayed well planted as it's not really a car which inspires sports car-like behaviour even though it's no slouch when you call for acceleration.

Iain Curry

On the road

Electric offers power at the ready. There's no build up to power or peak torque bands, the 125 kilowatts and 250 Newton metres is immediately under your right foot from standstill.

That delivers robust performance and it feels quick. From stationary to 100kmh it takes 7.9 seconds which trumps many mainstream passenger cars.

The i3 has some definite driving quirks, and especially evident is the recuperation mode. As soon as the driver lifts off the accelerator it shifts into generator mode to feed energy back to the battery. It's effectively a braking functionality and it swiftly halts progress - in traffic you don't even need to use the brake pedal.

Thin alloy wheels offer improved aerodynamics and reduced rolling resistance but that does mean less contact area with the bitumen. At highway speeds it can feel twitchy, but overall it's actually fun to drive and extremely nimble.

Especially impressive is the tight turning circle which means easy U-turns in the tightest of streets and simple car parking.


Getting used to the rear-hinged doors doesn't take long, and we found the i3 to be a useful family chariot. The rear seat confines were more than adequate for two young kids, or medium-sized adults, and there is a small latch at the back of the front headrests which fold the pews for easier access.

Boot space is shallow due to the battery housed under the floor, while the charging cable can be stored in a small cubby under the bonnet.

There is a 50-50 fold of the rear seats which is a great asset for carrying furniture and sports equipment.

Iain Curry

Running costs

After a full charge we only had a range of about 125km using the most frugal of modes, but the petrol engine extends that another 130km.

The REx is heavier than the pure-electric i3, 1135kg compared to 1195kg, which does reduce its travel capacity.

One of the great things about the i3 is that it can be charged via your standard 10-amp household power point, and it takes about 11 hours to fill the battery from empty. With a BMW i Wallbox it can nearly halve that timeframe with its 16-amp capacity.

The cost of each charge depends on your energy provider and how eco-conscious you are. Green energy costs extra, but it should still work out about $2 cheaper per 100km than a petrol or diesel offering using the more expensive electricity.

Servicing is minimised due to the running gear, and only the Rex back-up engine needs an oil change.

Funky factor

Comments ranged from ugly and hideous to cutting-edge and quirky. No matter what your perspective on the design, the i3 is certainly an attention-grabber.

Tall, yet thin, wheels provide offer some muscle but the stubby front and back end make it known that this is no run-of-the-mill BMW.

Iain Curry

The lowdown

Having the range extender does offer great peace of mind, and range anxiety is still one of the biggest hurdles for electric cars - circa-$100,000 Tesla sports cars aside.

BMW does offer petrol or diesel powered loan cars for i3 buyers looking to undertake an extended road trip.

Pitched to urbanites, we still managed to find the i3 a brilliant accomplice away from the city. Covering more than 500km in the week, we didn't use a drop of fuel.

The REx costs an extra $6000, but for those who travel longer distances it's well worth the extra coin for peace of mind.

Debate is raging about the source of energy for cars of the future. But electricity makes the most sense at the moment due to the infrastructure already available.

Yet can it be truly green if the electricity is coal-derived? Even if you opt for the renewable energy at home, that money supports sources like wind, solar, water and bioenergy - and doesn't automatically mean you are getting greener electricity.

Still, the i3 was one of the most fun and engaging cars we have driven this year. Not because it was insanely fast, or that it ripped up the bends, but because it was different, thought-provoking and gratifying.

What matters most

What we liked: Immediate power, interior design and finishes, real-world functionality.

What we'd like to see: More fast charging stations, slightly less gawky looks, improved highway feel.

Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, battery has an eight-year warranty. Servicing intervals are two years or 25,000km.

Verdict: 4.5 stars

Mark Bean

Vital statistics

Model: BMW i3 REx.

Details: Four-door four-seat rear-wheel drive electric powered hatchback, petrol engine mounted adjacent to the electric motor above the rear axle.

Electric motor: Generates 125kW and a maximum torque of 250Nm from rest, the 650cc two-cylinder petrol range extender engine used solely for recharging batteries.

Transmission: Single-speed, fixed ratio.

Power consumption: 0.13 kilowatt hours per kilometre.

Range: Up to 160km on battery power, REx up to 300km.

Weight: 1315kg.

Fuel consumption: 0.6 litres/100km (combined average).

CO2: 13g/km.

Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.9 seconds, 80-120kmh in 5.5 seconds; top speed 150kmh (limited, to maximise range).

Bottom line plus on-roads: $69,900 (base i3 available from $63,900).

Iain Curry

Charging costs

Total 18.8kW hours.

Standard charge @ 27.916 cents per kWh (tariff 11) = $5.25.

Overnight charge @ 12.917 cents per kWh (tariff 31) = $2.43.

GreenPower is about 5-8 cents per kWh more expensive.

Does not include daily supply charge, which is about 91.7554 c/day.

Topics:  motoring review road test

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