FirstDrive: BMW i3 – Drive / NVH

Looks / Practicality
Engine / Performance
Driving / NVH

Getting the i3 going is unconventionally simple. The gear selector is mounted on the steering column marked D-N-R, with a chunky rocker switch at the end. The Start-Stop button beside it is found pulsing away in red, while the Parking Brake button is housed on top too.

Put your foot on the brake; press Stop-Start again and the button changes blue with the Driver’s screen now saying ‘Ready’.

BMW Driver's screen on

Rock the gear selector in the direction you want drive, release the handbrake centrally, and then silently depart.  It’s similar in principle to an automatic, but it is worth noting that the i3’s transmission doesn’t stop the car from rolling backwards and it doesn’t coast forward at idle like an automatic would either.

Admittedly, after being used to the rotary drive selector of Jaguar-Land Rovers, I did autonomously find myself reaching down and rotating the iDrive dial instead while manoeuvring backwards and forwards.

No. Just no.

There definitely is fun to be had in the i3, and it doesn’t take long behind the wheel to recognise some of BMW’s traits of driving enjoyment. The car feels stiff, the suspension is firm but really well damped, and the firm pedals have a sharp response.  The short wheelbase helps it feel agile and you have a fantastically small turning circle.

BMW i3 front 3q
Weight distribution F : R is 44 : 46.

Initial turn-in on the steering isn’t immediate – perhaps due to the skinny tyres – but the well-weighted wheel sharpens up progressively beyond 11/1 o’ clock.

The tyres can pick up road ridges quite readily, but it’s pretty stable on the motorway and overtaking is a boon. The light body means it doesn’t roll and pitch to a great degree, and given the small contact patch from those tyres there is a surprising amount of grip.

Those skinny tyres do obviously grip up to a point but when the laws of physics do overcome those tyres, you’ll be hustling the car quite quickly if you’re making smooth progress. No, it won’t oversteer like certain BMW’s, but it never feels like it’s going to fall apart either when the i3 does being to understeer.

For us though, psychologically knowing how skinny those tyres were was enough for us to take things a bit easier most of the time!

What the instant torque would be like in the winter though, I’m not sure, but you can spec winter tyres for the i3, and at least skinny tyres generally perform better at digging into the snow.

Traction was also good, but the Traction Control light did flicker a few times when going over speed bumps. Couldn’t figure out why at first, but owners on the forums predict it’s to do with protecting the driveshaft from the regenerative braking. So in case the wheels suddenly go light, the sudden negative torque doesn’t damage the drive shaft.

Speaking of which, the other aspect you soon notice after driving off is the strong regenerative braking from the motor when you lift off the throttle. You can pretty much adhere to one-pedal-driving and it’s progressive enough for you to not press the brake pedal. It did take a while to realise that you can’t really coast anymore, and so you’d initially lift off and then repress the throttle again while coming towards a stop. Its definitely useful though, and it’s great when you’ve judged to right distance for where you want to stop.

Nerd alert

The brakes themselves though are pretty strong, and with most of the i3’s mass quite low down, it’s quite stable too.


Being electric, refinement is great in this car; there’s no vibration, hardly any noise, and it all adds to a certain luxurious feeling that you wouldn’t get in a car of these dimensions.

Only from stationary is there a very distant whine initially from the electric motors and, unsurprisingly, there isn’t much tyre roar resonating in the cabin. Cruising at motorway speeds is relatively hushed too.

The only contributors come from a small amount of wind noise heard around the B-Pillar, and the spray which you can hear quite predominately in the rain just by your ear, as if the door isn’t quite shut properly.

Otherwise it is like driving in a library; it is simply that quiet – and with the eucalyptus wood dash on this higher spec trim, you pretty much have a desk as well. With 2 monitors. Additionally, since you do without the requirement of having to physically change gear or even brake in traffic, you do turn up to places more relaxed.

OK, so there’s no reward aurally as such, and the speed will never quite feel like it usually does – but this arguably adds to the luxurious feeling.

There is the risk of expectation that the quietness will bring the attention of other noises into factor too and that is partially true; while sitting at a set of lights, what I thought was the noise of the range-extender engine kicking in for the first time was actually just the bus two cars ahead.

And speaking of which –  when that two-cylinder engine does kick in, it emits only a distant drone. It’s quiet inside and up front at least, where it’s barely noticeable at 40mph – more so at lower speeds but it’s well isolated and you’ll be impressed at just how much vibration has been suppressed inside. It doesn’t fire up suddenly and break the peace, but we are yet to hear it as a back seat passenger.

There will be those who will want the noise and the ability to change gear but this isn’t to cater for that audience. This car is just effective at getting you from place to place with the perception of minimal fuss.

Fundamentally, I think the car still is enough of a novelty to not want for a ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’ experience from a car, but perhaps time will tell once owners have gotten used to the environment?

Overall, It just feels nice to be in a car with environmental credentials that feels solid, luxurious enough and one that doesn’t feel like a compromise towards the drive.

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 – Drive / NVH

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