The BMW i3 is probably one of the most innovative cars on the road today. That’s true even though it’s currently in its fifth model year. BMW pioneered the use of carbon fiber as the basis for the production car’s structure to save weight. And it paid off: The i3 is quite lightweight for a battery-electric car, abetting its agile nature and quick acceleration. Other manufacturers still have a ways to go to catch up to BMW in this choice of material.
The i3’s styling is polarizing; of that there is no doubt. But it looks like no other car on the road and has a cabin that is truly striking and upscale. It’s functional, too, with a breezy, spacious feel and easy backseat access thanks to the rearward-hinged rear doors. These doors can turn into a bit of a hassle in tight parking lot quarters, however.
You’ve got a new choice for an i3 this year: the i3s. It boasts a more powerful electric motor, a sport-tuned suspension, and wider tires to improve performance and handling. BMW is still offering the Range Extender version, too, which has a tiny gasoline engine (and fuel tank) that serves as an electric generator. It gives you a little more range once the battery runs out of juice, but the main appeal is peace of mind.
From a logical standpoint, the 2018 BMW i3 doesn’t fare all that great in relation to its main competitors. You can get more driving range from the Chevrolet Bolt and the Nissan Leaf, for instance, and both cars are less expensive to boot. But the BMW earns back some emotional points by being a nicer car to drive and spend time in. The same could be said for Tesla’s new Model 3, however. It matches the i3 for premium design and performance and, as the kicker, offers potentially two or three times the driving range.
What’s new for 2018
For 2018, the BMW i3 now has an additional version, the i3s, which is quicker and sharper-handling than the base i3. Last year’s entry-level 60 Ah version of the i3 has been dropped. For every 2018 i3, BMW has restyled the front and rear bumpers slightly, and the windshield pillars are now black instead of body-colored. Full LED headlights are now standard. Inside, there’s an updated version of the iDrive infotainment system with a 10.3-inch screen optionally available. A dual-voltage (120V/240V) charging cord is available this year as well.
While we prefer the sharper handling and acceleration of the i3s, our recommendation is to stick with the base i3 for its lower price and incrementally higher range. Take the money you save and apply it to getting the Technology + Driving Assistant package and Apple CarPlay option. You’ll have a far more capable infotainment system and still come out ahead. The Range Extender might appeal to increase your peace of mind, but it adds substantial weight and cost to the bottom line.
Trim levels & features
The 2018 BMW i3 is a four-door hatchback with seating for four passengers that’s available in i3 or i3s trim, both of which are battery-electric, or you can have either one additionally equipped with a gasoline-powered Range Extender. All four versions are equipped with a 33-kWh battery.
Base i3 models are equipped with an electric motor (170 hp, 184 lb-ft of torque) that drives the rear wheels. With the same battery as last year’s model, there’s enough energy for an estimated 114 miles of range. It comes well equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and Level 3 DC fast-charging capability. Inside, the interior upholstery is cloth (Deka World) and it comes with keyless entry, rain-sensing headlights, adaptive cruise, heated front seats, Bluetooth, HD and satellite radio, and BMW’s basic Business navigation system with a modest 6.5-inch display screen.
New this year is the i3s, which has more power and sharper handling than the i3. The electric motor in the i3s cranks out 184 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque, which shortens its sprint from zero to 60 mph to 6.8 seconds (0.4 second quicker than the base i3). Compared to the i3, the i3s’ ride height sits 0.4 inch lower, and its fenders, track width (the distance between the center of the tires), 20-inch wheels and performance tires are wider. The wider, stickier tires come with a modest penalty — maximum range drops to 107 miles.
The only difference between the all-electric and the Range Extender versions is, quite simply, the range-extending, 0.6-liter two-cylinder gasoline generator, which is the same as last year’s. Because the Range Extender is heavier, these models don’t travel quite as far when operating on electricity alone, maxing out at an estimated 97 miles. A 2.3-gallon fuel tank enables a combined range of 180 miles for both Range Extender versions of i3 and i3s models.
All models can be equipped with the Technology + Driving Assistant package, which adds advanced navigation with a widescreen display and advanced real-time traffic, all-speed adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with emergency braking. Opting for this package allows Apple CarPlay to be added, too.
For the i3, BMW offers three main upholstery packages — Mega World, Giga World and Tera World — that add combinations of leather and wool or full-leather upholstery plus different wheels and interior trim. Stand-alone options include parking sensors, 20-inch wheels (for the regular i3), a premium Harman Kardon audio system and a sunroof.