Rear engine, carbon fiber, and an exotic shape might get hearts soaring, but the 2019 BMW i3 takes a different tack.
This year, the small electric BMW gets a bigger battery over last year’s version by nearly one-third, but its 42.2-kwh battery and 153-mile range still fall short of competitors.
We give the 2019 BMW i3 a 5.6 on our overall scale, which is weighted heavily toward the i3’s electric powertrain. Its comfort and features belie its high price of more than $44,000 to start. The i3 is available with or without range extender, with or without an uprated motor (i3s), and in Deka, Giga, Mega, and Tera trim levels that BMW calls “Worlds.” (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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The i3’s looks have aged better than we imagined, although it’s still an oddball on the road. The i3 harks back to a not-so-distant past when “eco-friendly” wasn’t mainstream.
The i3 is small, with a futuristic shape that may not ever arrive in the present. The interior is toned down compared to the outside, simple, and chic without being nerdy.
The i3 is powered by a 170-horsepower electric motor that drives the rear wheels. It’s paired this year to a 42.2-kwh battery that provides up to 153 miles of range, according to the EPA. A sportier i3s is available that bumps the power output to 184 hp but uses the same battery and is rated the same for range.
A range-extended version adds a small 2-cylinder gas-powered engine that adds roughly 90 miles of range.
Like all electric cars, the i3’s instant torque is fun to drive and it is brisk compared to other cars powered by gasoline alone, but the i3 (and i3s) fall short of sporty compared to some other electrics.
Its skinny tires give up grip quickly but are a boon to overall efficiency. The i3 manages to be comfortable despite tall tires.
The i3 surprisingly offers four passenger doors, but the rear doors are small and swing open in the opposite direction of driver and passenger doors. Rear seat riders shouldn’t be tall, just 31 inches of leg room cramps leggy passengers from sitting comfortably in the rear. About 15 cubic feet of cargo space is available with the rear seats in place, nearly 40 cubes with the second row folded.
The i3 lacks a complete set of safety ratings, but what’s in so far is good. The IIHS rates the i3 as “Good” in all crash tests it’s performed but rated the headrests as “Acceptable.”
The i3 is available in four trims that rise in price but offer mostly similar equipment. For more than $44,000 to start, buyers get a 10.2-inch touchscreen with one year of Apple CarPlay compatibility, 19-inch wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, and cloth upholstery. The sportier i3s adds $3,200 to the bottom line, and the range-extending gas engine adds more than $3,800 to the already-high price.
The i3 qualifies for a federal tax rebate up to $7,500 and may be eligible for state or local rebates.