The 2015 BMW i3 might be one of best examples of forward thinking. It is, in so many ways, an outstanding automobile. Adding the range extending generator to the BMW i3 takes it from an expensive toy to a usable car you can drive every day. Best of all: it’s an enjoyable car to drive as well.
BMW has given the 2015 BMW i3 a synchronous AC motor (hooked up to a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack) that makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. With this combo, even with the nearly 300 pounds of added weight, the 2015 BMW i3 can run from 0 to 60 mph in under seven seconds. Better still, the power is fed to the rear wheels with a majority of the power-plant weight situated down and low – between the rear wheels.
The DOHC 647-cc two-cylinder generator makes 34 hp, but the power ONLY goes to the batteries. Unlike other vehicles in this class, none of the generator’s power is connected to the wheels. Simply put, this is an electric car with a range extending generator. No other explanations or gray-areas regarding what is powering what.
There is a tiny (just under two-gallon) gas tank that feeds the generator and alleviates “range anxiety.” Although a larger tank would be ideal, the added weight and mass do not appeal to the lab-coats at BMW. Keep in mind: this is a vehicle built on its very own platform to be as light as possible. It weighs between 2,799 lbs to nearly 3,065 lbs with the range-extender.
The 2015 BMW i3 has a carbon-fiber cell and uses lots of aluminum and composite materials throughout. Despite this, BMW has trimmed every surface with expensive-feeling fabrics, plastics and recycled woods to please the touch. Something that becomes apparent and appreciative when you sit behind the wheel and familiarize yourself with the layout.
This is where the 2015 BMW i3 takes some getting used to. For those of you familiar to Autotopia at Disneyland, the 2015 BMW i3 accelerates and decelerates in a similar way. Sure, there is a brake pedal, but you’ll barely need it. When you let off the accelerator, the energy-recapturing system is so tenacious, it slows the vehicle down rapidly. It may be counter-intuitive the first few times driving the i3, but it becomes pretty easy after a day or two.
When you quickly release the accelerator, especially at highway speeds, your brake lights will illuminate. When the time comes to use your brake pedal, the stopping power of the 2015 BMW i3 feels like a JCW MINI Cooper. They are very strong.
The other internal tidbit that takes some getting used to is the parking button located (awkwardly) on the top of the gear selector branch. When you shift into drive, neutral or reverse, you have an easy-to-use paddle to flick into gear. The parking button is next to the flipper, somewhat out of sight.
If you have ever driven a modern BMW, the 2015 BMW i3 will feel somewhat familiar internally. Some of the components are lifted or similar to other BMWs, but the interior motif is from outer space. The canopy is one of the largest windshields on a passenger car. It’s a mix between the bubble transports used in “Jurassic World” and, from the rear view, a MINI Cooper Paceman. Forward visibility is outstanding and, despite those oddball small quarter windows, rear visibility is reasonable as well.
The best part of the BMW i3 is that it’s a fun car to drive. Power is immediate and you’ll embarrass many sporty cars with its grunt. Despite impossibly skinny tires, cornering grip is impressive. It tips a bit, but maintaining control is a snap. The steering response and weight is the best south of the big brother BMW i8. Highway ride is similar to the regular MINI Cooper, but the 2015 BMW i3 is never too jarring. Light corrections are needed on the highway, but, on the street, the little i3 is a gas to drive.
Seating comfort is very good with lots of space up front. The rear seats, which are accessed through a clam-shell rear door are slightly less so. Child sets and pre-teens fit beautifully in the back. If you’re over 6’2″ – the backseat is a bit cramped. Given that the rear doors can only be opened when the front door is; it may be an inconvenience for some. Inexplicably, there are only two seats in back with a cup-holder taking up the space where a third seat should be.
It is a tad pricey with the base model 2015 BMW i3 starting over $41,300. The extended range generator costs $3,850. With all the bells and whistles, the 2015 BMW i3 with range-extender can easily pass the $50,000 mark.
The looks of the 2015 BMW i3 are not for everyone either. I think it’s unique, but it looks like a mushed-up version of the sexy BMW i8. Perhaps brighter colors and better-looking wheels would help, but I think it’s kind of sweet looking, in a cartoon-ish way.
Considering the amazing technology, fun driving dynamics, terrific packaging and “Tomorrow Land” feel, it’s an outstanding bargain and a vehicle I hope to see more versions of soon.
Check out our track review of the amazing BMW i8!
|Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism – Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. His words, good humor and videos are enjoyed worldwide.|