What’s the point of driving an electric vehicle if everyone doesn’t know it’s electric? Well, the 2020 BMW i3 makes sure that never happens with its chunky and funky bodywork. Likewise, its odd exterior is offset by an upscale albeit unusual interior that has generous room up front and less than generous space in back. In addition to its standard all-electric, rear-drive powertrain, which provides up to 153 miles of range on a single charge, the boxy BMW can be equipped with a gas-powered engine that provides more range and less anxiety. Although the 2020 i3 looks more interesting than the Tesla Model 3, it costs a lot more than a Chevy Bolt EV, and it has a much shorter driving range than both and therefore less appeal.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
With its one-speed direct-drive transmission, the i3 pulls hard, smoothly, and in a linear fashion. It’s a relatively quick ride, too. In our testing, a 2017 i3 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Both the regular model and the sportier i3s accelerate immediately and feel zippy around town. The i3’s ride is in line with its premium pedigree and serene interior. The experience is one of isolation, with no buzzing, no untoward vibrations, and no sound, at least until the optional range-extending model with its gas-powered engine fires up. The i3’s suspension dispenses with cracks, bumps, and expansion strips in the pavement with ease, to the point where it feels too isolated from the road. While the light and numb steering is less than ideal, the i3’s diminutive size and relatively light weight make threading through traffic fun.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Rated at 153 miles of all-electric driving range, the i3’s 42.2-kWh battery pack pales in comparison with the Bolt EV’s 60.0-kWh battery and its EPA rating of 259 miles. Likewise, the Model 3 can travel up to 322 miles with its biggest battery. Still, only the i3 has an optional gasoline-fueled range-extending generator that fires up when the battery falls to a five percent state of charge. The all-electric 2019 i3s we tested achieved 102 MPGe on our highway fuel-economy route, which matched its EPA rating. We also completed our real-world circuit with a 2019 i3 with the gas-powered range extender, however, it missed its EPA-rated 100 MPGe by 6.
Interior, Comfort , and Cargo
The 2020 i3 has the exterior dimensions of a subcompact city car, making it perfect for darting through traffic and shape-shifting into minuscule parking spots—but rear-seat passengers suffer as a result of the small size. The interior is beautifully crafted with intriguing recyclable materials and the cabin has an open, airy appeal—but those who spend any time in the cramped rear seat will not be as happy as those riding up front. The i3 has the utility of a typical small hatchback—with a twist. The rear side doors are hinged at the rear, so they open opposite the front doors. There is no pillar separating the front and rear doors, which creates a large, open space that facilitates entry (and cargo placement) in the back. The rear seats fold easily using a strap on the inside of the car, and we fit 14 of our carry-on suitcases inside with the seats lowered.
Infotainment and Connectivity
While many electric and hybrid vehicles opt for massive screens with touch functionality and an overabundance of information, the 2020 i3 takes a much simpler approach. All i3 models come with BMW’s iDrive 6 infotainment interface. Apple CarPlay integration is standard but Android Auto isn’t offered. The car also lacks power points, as there’s only one USB charger in the front center console and none in the rear.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2020 i3 hasn’t been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it wasn’t named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While the i3 offers myriad driver-assistance technology, none of them are standard.