2017 BMW i3 fits a Broad Market of Longer-range Needs

BMW i3 at unveil

The fourth year of the BMW i3 electric gives the car a few upgrades to go with its already well-recognized style. The carbon fiber design and electric drivetrain have been upgraded with a longer-range battery pack. The i3 remains a solid bang-for-the-buck EV.

The manufacturer says

The latest BMW i3 has a 114 mile range on a full charge—that’s 40% farther than the first generation model1—making it the electric vehicle that will change the way you think about driving. And the unprecedented use of strong yet lightweight Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) makes it one of BMW’s lightest vehicles, further enhancing both performance and efficiency.

Specs:

  • Manufacturer: BMW
  • Year, Model: 2017 i3
  • Class, Type: BEV or RE-EV
  • Propulsion system: Electric
  • Vehicle range: 114-180 miles
  • Time to recharge: 2-14 hours
  • Base Price: $44,450
  • MSRP as tested: $52,300
  • Availability: Now

Overview

The base model of the 2017 BMW i3 is now known as the 60 Ah model and the longer-range model as the 90 Ah. A range-extended model with a small gasoline-powered engine is also available, but only with the larger battery pack. For anyone living in or near a city that doesn’t do a lot of highway driving, the i3 is likely a perfect fit.

A dominating feature of the 2017 i3 EV is its broad interior, which is much larger than the size of the little car might let on. The dual-swinging doors give easy access to the second row of seating and there’s no pillar in the way to hamper that entry. The carbon fiber build of the i3 means that it carries a unique look to go with its eye-grabbing exterior design.

The point of the 2017 BMW i3, however, is to provide range versatility and fuel economy. To that end, the car does very well. The 60 Ah model has a 22 kWh battery that provides about 81 miles of range on average. The 90 Ah model with its larger battery (33 kWh) has a range of about 114 miles. The range-extended option boosts that to up to 180 miles with a 35 mpg expectation while running. The engine never touches the drivetrain, however, and works only as a generator to power the batteries and motor.

The estimated range numbers are based primarily on in-city and low-speed driving situations. Once the i3 reaches speeds over 45 mph, range begins to drop considerably. At highway speeds, such as on a freeway, one can expect range capability to halve. A journey of 40 miles at 80 mph cut our range-extended version of the i3 from 180 miles of expected range to just under 100. A return trip with the vehicle showing an expected range (after driving around town) of 95 miles ended with the car using over a gallon of fuel for the 40 miles back.

When fully charged and driving under freeway speeds, however, most people can expect to get over 100 miles with the range-extended version of the 2017 i3 and within 20 percent or so of the expected maximum range of the i3 otherwise. This is a freeway-capable car that is not really meant for that, but is able to do those speeds when required.

Understanding that, the i3 makes more sense. Those who choose to drive one will find it to be peppy, fast-paced, easily maneuverable, and generally a lot of fun. The signature BMW driver-centric handling and fast off-the-line appeal is all there. The low-slung weight of the car (batteries are in the floor) and nicely balanced feel of the little wheelbase makes the BMW i3 a sporty little electric.

What’s more, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has finally crash tested the BMW i3 and gave it a suite of best “Good” scores on all but the rear crash test, which received a second-best “Acceptable” rating. Not bad for a tiny little electric car. J.D. Power and Associates gives the little i3 a “Better Than Most” expectation for reliability. Another boon.

Charge times for the larger battery pack in the i3 range from up to 15 hours at 120V to about 2 hours for a Level II charger.

What we like

Excellent drive characteristics and fun.

Versatile and well-designed interior with superior access.

What we don't

Not really a highway car, despite the long range estimates.

Exterior styling could be polarizing for some.

Conclusions

The 2017 BMW i3 is a wonderful little electric car. With enough range to cover most people’s needs most of the time in any of its three configurations, the i3 has a lot of promise as a “people’s electric.” Buyers should be aware of the car’s limitations, which are common to all EVs.

Test Period Length and Limitations
The BMW i3 was a manufacturer’s press loan for about a week. During that time, single-occupant freeway drives at 80 mph were conducted and around-town drives with various passenger and cargo loads were undertaken.

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