Carbon-fibre construction. Nearly 500mpg. The new BMW i3 Range Extender makes every combustion car before it feel like a steam-powered throwback. The BMW i3 isn't just the future forBMW. It's not merely the future of motoring. It's the future of personal mobility. That's the 15-second elevator pitch for the all-new BMW i3, tested here in Range Extender format. • T3's pick of the best electric cars.
Can any car be that important, that revolutionary? The i3 isn't even the first electric car from a big manufacturer. But with its carbon-fibre construction and some clever mobility-enhancing tech that extends beyond the car itself, it's the most advanced and it might just be the EV to take electric cars into the mainstream.
BMW i3 Range Extender: Features
Going by the basics, it's hard to see how the BMW i3 is so revolutionary. It's an electric car with an official range of about 120 miles. Cars like the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf already offer something similar and for less cash.
But deep dive into the details and suddenly the i3 almost looks cheap. Unlike most previous electric cars, the BMW i3 is built for battery power from the ground up. That includes a revolutionary carbon-fibre passenger cell with aluminium subframes for the suspension, motor and battery pack.
For this Ranger Extender i3, BMW has bolted in a 647cc petrol engine. It's actually based on one of BMW's motorcycle engines but it doesn't drive the wheels, it just juices up the batteries and adds as much as 80 miles to the i3's operating range.
Just as radical is the i3's layout. It's not a conventional four-door car. Instead, you get two fun-sized rear suicide doors. Open all four doors for a stunning open-plan view of the i3's interior.
BMW i3 Range Extender: Specs
Top speed 93MPH
0-62MPH 7.9 seconds
Engine electric motor plus 647cc petrol generator
Gearbox direct drive
Power 167BHP (electric motor)
Torque 184LB/FT 167BHP (electric motor)
Fuel consumption 471MPG
Carbon emissions 13G/KM
BMW i3 Range Extender: Tech
Tooling up for carbon-fibre construction is just the beginning of the i3's techfest. BMW is pitching the i3 as coming with 'connectivity as standard'. All i3s get Bluetooth, DAB radio, iDrive Touch, cruise control, BMW Business Navigation, BMW Online, BMW Apps and Advanced BMW ConnectedDrive as standard.
You get all the usual BMW in-car and bags of clever connected and remote features. Things like streaming music from the internet and support for sending navigation destinations direct from your phone or laptop to your i3. Or unlocking remotely with a smartphone app.
To that BMW has added a bunch of new-age personal mobility functionality. There's fairly obvious stuff like building in operating range and charging stations into the navigation system.
Then there's so-called last mile navigation, which transfers navigation to your smartphone and guides you to your destination on foot. BMW is planning full integration with public transport, but it's not a feature we've yet experienced.
BMW i3 Range Extender: Performance and drive
Thanks to BMW's big effort in keeping weight down, even the i3 Range Extender with its big old lithium battery and petrol engine will hit 62mph in 7.9 seconds, which puts it firmly in warm-hatch territory.
But the i3 is still at its best around town. It's quick, it's super responsive and it's super refined. Even the best combustion cars make noises, shift gears and take critical moments to respond to throttle inputs.
Out of town, it's a slightly different ballgame. There's enough wind and tyre roar to bring you back to reality and the performance tails off a little at motorway speed, so the experience isn't quite as magical.
BMW i3 Range Extender: Verdict
It's hard to overstate what a huge punt the entire i3 project is for BMW. It's enough that it's an electric car being launched at a time when electric cars are barely selling. They're roughly one per cent of the new car market in the UK, currently.
But to make it such a radical machine overall with its carbon construction and open-plan interior just adds to the boldness factor. The net result is a car that feels like the future. It makes conventional combustion cars seem like wheezy, late-Victorian throwbacks. We can't wait to see whether that's enough to offset widespread scepticism over electric cars.
BMW i3 Range Extender release date: Out now
BMW i3 Range Extender price: £33,830