FirstDrive: BMW i3 – Looks / Practicality

Looks / Practicality
Engine / Performance
Driving / NVH


This compact BMW is similar in size to the Ford Fiesta, but the tall and narrow proportions gives the i3 a presence more towards a compact-MPV. There’s no denying that it stands out on its own; it may not be as striking as its i8 sibling, but the futuristic design still attracts attention whilst passing by. The trademark kidney grilles are here, and these ‘i’ models get the ‘Black belt’ design cue; running from the black bonnet, to the black roof and ending with the glass tailgate.

Lightweight plastics are used for the heavily sculpted body panels, whilst metallic blue detailing is found on the side sills and front kidney grilles. The angular window line seems to be what divides opinion, but the U-shaped LED lights front and rear look properly futuristic.

As mentioned previously when I first spotted one, the back looks like an animated version of Batman’s mask, covering up the rear of an Aston DB7!

BMW i3 rear aston

The 19″ wheels seem pretty big for an eco-car at first but they’re only about 5″ wide – so it’s almost like sitting on really posh space-savers on all four corners.

For our Range Extender there are effectively two filler flaps on the driver’s side too. The rear is for the charge cable, and the front for the petrol tank…

…whilst the ~40mm exhaust pipe from the 2-cylinder engine is hidden away underneath.

BMW i3 exhaust

The looks have been found to be controversial for some, but for us, the Laurus Grey colour brings out the best of the futuristic looks and shape.



The futuristic feel of the i3 continues inside. Open up the doors and the sills hint at the carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic used for the rigid passenger cell.

The wide sills do require stepping over, but access to the rear is otherwise easy thanks to the rear-hinged doors and lack of a B-pillar.

The interlocking doors mean you’ll have to open the front ones first but once you’re in, the clever packaging means the i3 is quite spacious.  With the battery pack stowed in the floor, you do sit higher but less of the space is compromised – and even though the i3 is only a four-seater, there’s no transmission tunnel robbing rear passenger foot space.

The thin, front seats contribute towards rear knee room and they aren’t as uncomfortable as you’d might fear too. They also have a release at the back of the headrest so they can fold down for carrying extra long items.

Sit up front, and you immediately notice the bright eucalyptus wood atop the dash. It’s not normally my kind of thing, but it at least looks genuine – unlike the overtly shiny faux-plastic kind that’s usually applied! The steering wheel with its own piping is a nice detail and the two large neighbouring screens predominantly feature the clean and minimalist dashboard.

BMW i3 int front driver

The dash is quite deep but the top surface is quite low, and with a large glass area it does feel like a modern mini-MPV.  A lot of space has been freed up lower down on the dash and so the cabin upfront has lots of useful space. There’s no full-length centre console dividing either side of the passengers too, and so you can exit either side of the car. The steering column is also raised and so the chances of kneeing it are gladly reduced!

BMW i3 Dash rearview

The clear centre screen is controlled via BMW’s trademark iDrive dial on the centre console, and is as logical to use as it has ever been. I’d happily use this over any touchscreen setup, and the only issue we had was from the USB not recognising the iPod a couple of times.

The centre dash buttons are all the same size, but the ergonomics are good enough to quickly learn where everything is.  I did adjust the climate control temperature dial instead of the stereo volume sometimes but that was solvable by using the steering wheel controls instead.

IMG_4700 copy

Otherwise the only thing that took me a while to figure out was that the rear wiper worked by twisting the end of its stalk!

Generally speaking though, the i3’s cabin looks premium enough and feels solidly built, with the only gripe from owners being that the recycled fibres on the dash can reflect badly on the windscreen in bright light. It’s also quite nice to be in a modern car nowadays with quite a comparably low window-line and without a huge C-Pillar that dominates your rear view. The view out of the rear windscreen betters our Evoque, and the rear windows are better for blind spots than the Fiesta.

The Boot is big enough for the i3’s size with the ability to fold the rear seats flat 50:50. The floor is higher than normal thanks to the 647cc engine underneath, but it’s flat and intrusion free.

As there is no engine up front as such, you get a central box tray in the nose for the tyre repair kit and charging cables.

BMW i3 front storage

Spec: Range Extender
Engine: E-motor: 168bhp, 184lb ft (@ 0rpm). Range Extender: 647cc 2-cylinder with integrated generator, 36bhp ( @ 4500rpm), 40ft lb ( @ 4800rpm)
Transmission: Single Speed
Mpg: Official: 470.8mpg 
Performance: 0-62mph: 7.9 Secs, 93mph
Colour: Andesit Silver
Options - 19" BMW i Turbine-spoke style 429 alloy wheels, Interior world: Suite (Velour mats, Leather seats, Multifunction steering wheel), Media Package - BMW Professional (Traffic Info, Sat Nav and Concierge Service), Park Assist Package (Park Assist, PDC sensors, reverse camera).

5 thoughts on “FirstDrive: BMW i3 – Looks / Practicality

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