AOL Cars tries the BMW i3 with a range extender to see if it's worthy of its upmarket price.
What is it?
The BMW i3 is a very unique model to BMW's line up. Not only is it electric, it looks like no other BMW on the road, apart from its hybrid i8 sibling. The idea is that it's a practical hatchback that is available fully electric or with a range extending two-cylinder petrol engine to recharge the batteries.
We have been driving the 'range extender' version of the i3. This adds a very small two-cylinder petrol motor that is hidden beneath the boot floor and helps recharge the batteries when you run out of electricity. It is particularly good if you do more miles and don't want to be worrying about range anxiety.
On the inside, the main difference is the infotainment system, which has been upgraded to BMW's latest iDrive set-up.
What's under the bonnet?
Well, not a lot, really – apart form a tiny second boot and some electrics. The engine is actually located at the back under the boot floor. Despite it being a range-extender, the electric motor is still the main source of power. This offers you 168bhp and 250Nm of torque, resulting in a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds.
What's it like to drive?
On the move the little i3 is very nimble and although it isn't super fast, it's certainly quick enough. Thanks to a lack of a traditional gearbox, the acceleration is instantaneous with no lag whatsoever. Put your foot down to the floor and you'll be moving quicker than anyone else on the snail-like morning commute.
On a motorway it is very refined and blocks out the loudest of road noises, which is a bonus – it is eerily silent without the radio.
It works just as well on a twisty back road too. Plant your foot down and you'll soon be keeping up with the best of them. Need to overtake a tractor doing 20mph under the limit? No problem, the i3 will effortlessly and safely get you past within seconds.
How does it look?
The i3 is definitely unique to look at. The styling is similar to that of the i8 but different enough that it carves its own looks on the electric hatchback market.
It has a very strong image for an electric car, especially in this segment where it makes its opposition look just a tad dull, most notably the popular Nissan Leaf. A new revised version has also just been revealed, alongside a sportier i3S model, which we won't be reviewing for a few more months.
What's it like inside?
The interior of the i3 is a very pleasant place to be. Our car had the "Loft" option, meaning it felt particularly airy because of its lightly coloured interior and panoramic glass roof. The quality of materials is very good with lots of soft-touch plastics and some tweed-like material on the seats as well as leather. It makes the cabin feel different from anything else in its class. Although, a few materials did let the side down and didn't feel good enough for a car costing more than £40,000.
What's the spec like?
The spec as a whole is impressive, our car for example was fitted with LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, Harman-Kardon sound system, an extended media package and 19-inch alloy wheels.
There are several versions to choose from but tick any of the options and expect the price to creep up. Our range extender had more than £4,000 worth of options, taking the price up £41,920 mark, which felt rather expensive.
Whichever i3 you opt for, however, it won't be short of kit. As standard you get Bluetooth, DAB radio and LED daytime running lights, to name a few.
The i3 is a very different car, both to drive and to look at. It manages to stand out from the crowd, something that is admirable for a car that's now four years old. However, it isn't a very practical car and if you are looking for a sensible family hatch that's electric then there are other cars that can do the job better, such as the Volkswagen e-Golf. If you value style over practicality though, the BMW wins hands down.
Model: BMW i3 94Ah Range Extender
Base price: £34,070
Max speed: 93mph
0-60mph: 7.9 seconds
MPG: 470.8 (claimed)