What is it: BMW's super-green city car, the i3 is still one of only two models in the forward-looking BMW i range. The i3 gets an all-electric range of 114 miles, and with optional range extender installed, can travel 180 miles before you need to plug it in or top off its tiny auxiliary gas tank.
Key Competitors: Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
Base Price: $52,495 As-Tested Price: $58,695
Highlights: Yes, the "s" in i3s does in fact stand for "sport," and on this particular eco-machine that means a hefty 13-hp, 15 lb-ft torque bump over the regular i3, stiffer suspension, and 20-inch wheels. It's a nice nod to driving enjoyment, but realistically, the extended battery range is going to be a bigger deal to the potential gasoline-averse buyer.
Full review: BMW i3s first drive
Our Opinion: My favorite part of the i3 remains its interior. Years after it first appeared, it still has one of the most intriguing cabins in the business: From the choice of materials — curved open-pore woods, cotton textile coverings, interesting composites — it looks and feels distinctive and high-quality, like a cool design concept brought to production. I think it does a better job projecting the idea of The Future than the i8.
Plus, when you open up the doors, you can see the car's composite structure in the sills and jambs. That's the sort of touch you'd expect on a carbon fiber exotic.
Which is because the i3 is, in a sense, a carbon fiber exotic. When it was first introduced in 2013, it was meant to show what was possible when it came to next-generation powertrains and cutting-edge construction methods, only applied to the city car format rather than a no-limits hypercar. Sure, it couldn't go all that far on a charge, and its optional range extender — a re-purposed 0.6-liter two-cylinder BMW scooter motor — smacked of compromise (when in use, it rendered the car all but undrivable at expressway speeds and required maddeningly frequent fuel stops to boot). It was an experiment with an appeal limited largely to well-heeled city-dwellers.
The 2018 model year i3 range, including this sport-tinged i3s, benefits from improvements that include a battery range increased to a more usable 114 miles. Despite only charging it at the office, I never forced the car to switch on its range extender — this is now a borderline-practical second car for inner-ring suburbanites who work downtown. Progress!
However, everyone else has apparently progressed faster, or, depending on how you look at it, leapfrogged this car entirely. Since the i3's introduction, EV tech has evolved rapidly; consequently, its battery-only range is less than half of that of the Chevrolet Bolt, which is substantially less expensive. And while you do have 180 miles of theoretical range thanks to the range extender, it's there to keep you from getting stuck at the side of the road, not to enable road trips. A more conventional plug-in hybrid remains a better car for those who make semi-frequent longer journeys.
Either BMW can't cram enough batteries into the i3 to give it a truly competitive electric-only range, which speaks to the perils of being an early technological adopter, or it has chosen not to because it sees the car filling some other role or purpose. In any case, it's hard for me to recommend the i3s given its near-$60K price tag. Which is a shame, because I do think that in a lot of ways it is a genuinely interesting car.
Options: Tech + driving assist package including ACC stop&go +active driving assist, navigation system and advanced RTTI ($2,500), giga world ($1,800), park distance control ($750), Melbourne red metallic ($550), Apple CarPlay compatibility ($300), BMWi blue seatbelt strap ($300)
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $52,495
As Tested Price: $58,695
Powertrain: 0.6-liter I2, RWD, one-speed automatic w/electric motor
Output: 38 hp @ 5,000 rpm w/184 hp electric motor, 41 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm w/199 lb-ft electric motor
Fuel Economy: 35 mpg combined (109 MPGe) (EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Interesting interior; nimble and fun to drive, if only at lower speeds
Cons: So-so battery-only range by today’s standards; questionable value proposition