The BMW i3 was never a perfect car. It is with a lower total range on battery (not the REx) on some older competitors. It also lacked the performance punch of newer EVs at the time, such as the Tesla Model S.
So, on paper, the i3 seemed a bit lackluster. Now, though, looking back at the i3 and how it’s evolved since its 2014 debut, it not only seems like a much better car but it also seems like it could be one of the best BMWs of all time.
The i3 is a lot more than just its spec sheet and is actually a surprisingly innovative car.
The i3 was the first BMW to ever use a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) chassis and it was by far the cheapest car to use a full carbon frame. If you want a car with a carbon fiber chassis, you’re going to have to look at McLarens because there’s nothing else on the road with such construction. Also, considering the direction BMW is currently going in, the i3 will be the last BMW to feature a full carbon tub.
Even the upcoming iX will use mostly aluminum and steel, with some carbon sprinkled in. So the BMW i3 is a unicorn in not only the BMW family but the industry.
That carbon fiber construction is special for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is its weight. The i3 is light; sub-3,000 lbs in certain specs. So it can make do with a smaller battery pack and still produce adequate ranges. It can also use a small electric motor, without gobs of power, and still feel quick enough.
The main structure of the chassis is one piece of CFRP, its torsional rigidity is far superior to any traditional chassis, made from bonded and welded metals. That stiffness allows the i3 to feel rock solid, like a six-figure luxury car, even over the roughest of pavement. It also allows BMW to fit stiffer suspension without sacrificing ride comfort, giving the i3 sharper handling.
The BMW i3’s rear-wheel-drive layout allows it to handle with agility. While the i3 might be a tall, upright hatchback, it drives and handles more like a hot-hatch. Its steering is sharp and its chassis feels nimble, making it perfect for a city and suburban, as it can nip in and out of traffic with ease.
Another interesting innovation on BMW’s part are the i3’s tires. BMW wanted to fit the i3 with the most efficient, low rolling-resistance tires with no sacrifice to road-holding.
The cabin of the BMW i3 might be its best feature. The BMW i3 is meant to be a city car, so it has a high seating position and very tall windows. Also, due to that carbon construction again, the i3 can have narrow pillars while also meeting rollover crash standards. All that makes visibility in the i3 is tremendous, providing drivers a commanding view of the road surrounding them.
In fact, the BMW i3’s interior is still so revolutionary that other brands are copying it. The Volkswagen ID.3 is the most recent and the most unashamed.
It’s also a more practical interior, the BMW i3 has a tiny footprint but because of its upright body style and sort of cube-like shape, along with its electric powertrain, BMW was able to carve out a ton of interior space.
Still popular in many markets
It’s still gaining popularity. Now, it’s actually difficult to get them in the U.S. BMW dealers are back-ordered months, if they can get them at all. Admittedly, production is slower than before but demand has also gone up.
As EVs become more common and sought after, customers are starting to appreciate the i3’s quirky design and driving characteristics. In other EV-centric countries, such as Norway, the i3 was always popular and is still growing in popularity.
Of course, the BMW i3 isn’t perfect. In fact, it lacks the range of competitors from five years ago. It also lacks the interior tech of more modern cars and doesn’t have some of the cool semi-autonomous features of newer EVs.
But, when you drive the i3 in isolation, you realize how innovative it really is. In terms of comfort, tech and range, the i3 still lags behind some but it has so many interesting innovations that BMW will continue to use and learn from for years to come.