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BMW i3 review – the city car perfected?

evo staff
12 Feb 2018
Verdict:

The BMW i3 is a genuinely impressive take on the electric city car.

Evo Rating: 
For 
Brilliant performance, great interior, stand-out looks
Against 
Range extender engine noisy, limited range without it
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Ride and handling

Unlike all other electric cars in the segment, the BMW i3 is built on a unique platform. It consists of an aluminium chassis and a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) body, bonded together. This means it's incredibly strong, stiff and, crucially, light. That's to the benefit of handling of course, despite the tall sides, narrow track and bizarrely slender 5J x 19-inch alloy wheels and 155/70 tyres. Up front there's a simple MacPherson strut though the rear axle gains a sophisticated five-link layout that bolts directly to the drive module.

However, in spite of the rear-drive layout there's no pretending that the i3 is as engaging to drive as most of BMW's cars. That doesn't mean there's no fun to be had, especially as the weight is distinctly biased towards the rear of the car, but the DSC stability control system is keen to not let things get out of hand. Those thin tyres are designed more with low rolling resistance in mind than lateral grip as well so it's all too easy to overcome their hold on the road - especially in the wet.

The electric power steering is devoid of feel, but it's pleasingly direct and the i3 has a fantastic turning circle, while the brakes (ventilated discs all-round) feel over-engineered for the car. Indeed, once you become accustomed to the regenerative braking effect (where the electric motor acts as an electricity generator to charge up the battery), it's possible to look ahead and judge when to leave off the throttle - hardly necessitating pressing the brake pedal at all. The skill and judgement this involves adds a strangely satisfying dimension to driving the i3. 

Nonetheless, it's not all rosy for the i3, as ride comfort isn't great. The electric B-Class or Golf annihilate the BMW in that regard and while the i3 feels stable and comfortable at motorway speeds, around town the large wheels seem to pick up every little imperfection in the surface underneath. It's the primary ride more than the secondary, as the i3 absorbs bigger bumps such as speed humps, quite well. The optional 20-inch rims will obviously exacerbate the situation, so consider them carefully before taking the plunge.

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