In performance, the i3 is no drudge. Instant-on torque, 184 lb-ft of it, makes the 2900-pound carbon-fiber-intensive car plenty eager off the line, and easily capable of attaining citation-worthy highway speeds.
Under optimal conditions, the i3 can go up to 81 miles on a full electric charge, or 150 miles after the gas engine kicks in to generate more juice. When winter temperatures dropped to the single digits, our test car failed to provide more than 50 miles of real electric-only range. The EPA estimates MPGe at 117. The EPA says the gas engine gets 39 combined city/highway mpg. Using both electric power and the gas-engine range extender, Consumer Guide used only 1.5 gallons of gas over 334 miles. We averaged 223 mpg driving a 60% city and 40% highway mix.
Charging time is variable. CG’s 240-volt level-2 charger had the i3 ready to go well before a normal workday was done; a full level-1 charge using 110-volt household current took almost 16 hours. However, an available direct-current “fast-charge” unit cuts workable charge times to less than 30 minutes.
The ride is firm and surprisingly composed, despite the short wheelbase.
i3 is nimble and maneuverable in tight spaces. It corners well and steering is highly responsive, if a little artificial in its feel. Narrow hard-compound tires offer little grip. Our test car was prone to wheel spin even when accelerating from a stop. With brake-energy regeneration, the car rapidly slows itself, and, on flat terrain, will stop without creeping even without a foot on the brake pedal.
I jokingly referred to the periods of extended-range gas-engine operation as “Evinrude Mode,” though the buzzing from the tiny two-cylinder engine was actually well muted and not at all obtrusive.
For controls, a couple of iPad/Surface-like flat screens are perched atop a tan eucalyptus-wood dash top with a gullwing design. Be warned that BMW’s complicated iDrive control, with its console-mounted dial and attendant buttons, governs audio and navigation. It helps to be all thumbs to operate the i3. Starter and park buttons are on a control module that sprouts from the right side of the steering column, as is the drive-range selector. All require the use of the opposable digit that separates humans from the other animals.
I3 is cool and classy inside.
Front seats are roomier than the subcompact footprint might suggest. Headroom is also good. Over-the-shoulder vision suffers somewhat due to the rear roof shape.
Two rear passengers can sit with knees bent, and while they won’t have a lot of leg room, they won’t be punished, either. At least head room is no problem.
Personal-item storage is skimpy. Rear cargo room is slight, but 50/50-split rear seats fold flat to expand the space.