BMW’s road to electrification goes right through its heralded ‘i” line. The more mainstream and affordable of the two currently available models is the i3, a compact vehicle with a roomy interior. The 2018 BMW i3 comes as a pure electric car or adds a range extender. If you can get past its polarizing style, you’ll find a competent vehicle with smooth acceleration and agile handling.

Best Value

The 2018 BMW i3 comes in standard or S models, each of which are available with a range extender. Next, you'll choose from one of four trims: Deka World ($0), Mega World ($1,400), Giga World ($1,800), and Tera World ($2,600). The further up the trim ladder you climb, the more exotic the sustainable features included are.

Even before you shop for the i3, you need to wrap your mind around this vehicle and answer this question: what is it? Beyond its 114-mile electric-only range plus another 66 miles of gas-powered backup, if you order it as a range extender, the i3 is a high-roof hatchback. It has a distinct BMW nose and its outline suggests an SUV, but the i3 is a sedan with room for four.

Here's how we'd build ours:

  • Model: 2018 BMW i3 Range Extender
  • Engine: 125-kilowatt electric motor; 650cc two-cylinder gas engine, 33-kWh battery
  • Output: 170 hp / 184 lb-ft from the electric motor
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 35 mpg combined with gas / 109 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) with electricity
  • Options: Mega World trim ($1,400, light-colored cloth, synthetic leather upholstery), Protonic Blue Metallic Paint ($550), Technology plus Driving Assistant Package ($2,500, navigation, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active driving assistant, real-time traffic information, connected drive services)
  • Base Price: $49,295 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $53,745

Performance

Step on the accelerator and torque is smooth and constant as this electric vehicle (EV) picks up speed. Power is willing right from the start, bringing this model to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds (6.8 seconds with the i3s). The range extender adds weight and slows this vehicle’s zero-to-60 mph time to 7.6 and 8.0 seconds for the i3s REx and i3 REx, respectively.

For maximum efficiency, drivers can work with the drive mode selector to choose one of four modes: Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro, or Eco Pro Plus. With Eco Pro selected, you'll then choose the i3’s top speed, ranging from 50 to 80 mph, although this model can reach 93 mph (99 mph with the i3s). Switch to Eco Pro Plus and the top speed is restricted to 56 mph. When operating in Eco Pro or Eco Pro Plus mode, you'll enjoy one-pedal driving as the car self brakes. You can override these restrictions at any time by pressing hard on the accelerator.

We found the i3’s handling crisp and nimble. Its excellent turning radius is ideal for an urban environment, but keep in mind that its skinny tires give up grip easily when turning aggressively. You'll also feel jitters and occasional skipping over broken pavement. When driving on twisty roads or taking corners, body roll is evident.

As for the gas motor, it's actually a 650cc motorcycle engine. It delivers 38 horsepower and 41 pound-feet of torque, but this power has no effect on vehicle performance. Instead, the engine powers a generator. Models with the range extender can travel up to 180 miles. A tiny 2.4-gallon fuel tank, though, really shouldn't be relied upon for long trips.

Style

The i3 has a few BMW styling elements, including a twin-kidney grille dressing the front. But the grille is only for styling uniformity, as this EV doesn't need the cooling assistance of a true grille.

As for the rest of the design, the look is different, even odd. It has a distinct wheels-at-the-corner stance, a stub nose, and high roof pillars. From the side views, the i3 appears almost van like. This is due in part to the reverse-hinged rear doors, which almost suggest sliding doors. As for the rear look, it's a mishmash of lines, cut-outs, colors, and quirky touches. We cannot quite figure it out.

Move inside and you enter the world of BMW, tech style. The cabin is functional, even friendly with generous room for four. A shelf-like dashboard includes a big tablet sitting in the central dip. Measuring 10.2 inches, the screen is controlled by the iDrive knob on the center console. You'll find woven textiles throughout the cabin, adding elegance and a dash of whimsy. The materials are in keeping with this EV’s environmental-friendly mission.

The Best and Worst Things

City dwellers know how important it is to maneuver tight areas. The BMW i3 makes tackling lower Manhattan streets an attainable proposition. On the other hand, the small rear seat and limited cargo space (15.1 cubic feet) underscore that this vehicle is for short distance drives and not much more.

Right For? Wrong For?

The i3 may be the right model for current BMW owners, individuals who prize the comfort, and tech leadership of this brand. For people needing a long EV range, the i3 is overshadowed by models from Tesla, Chevrolet, and Hyundai. The range-extender provides assurance some drivers want, but it may not be enough of an extension for others.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 BMW i3 is a technological marvel with smooth acceleration and agile urban handling. That said, it's been surpassed by EVs with longer range, including some with a far more pleasing canvas. Deals are strong so use them to your advantage.