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2019 BMW i3 Review, Ratings, Specs, Prices, and Photos

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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.)

Review continues below

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.

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Scooter renter Lime gets into the car-share business

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Lime, best known for bicycle and scooter rentals, wants to try its hand at the car-share business. The company will launch a fleet of Fiat 500 models across Seattle in a bid to expand its business.

The company announced the car-share service will begin this week with the Fiat 500s spread out across the city. Lime users will see the cars marked as icons on the company’s smartphone app. They won’t be difficult to miss since Lime has branded and painted them white with various shades of lime green.

Lime has operated bike sharing in Seattle for just over a year, and recently tried to launch a scooter sharing service in the city. Local officials blocked the launch for the scooter business, but did so for every company—not just Lime. Pete Dempster, the program manager of LimePod, said most customers take trips that are just three miles long, which provides ample opportunity for the company. The service won’t break the bank, either. A Lime car will cost $1 to unlock and 40 cents per mile driven.

ALSO SEE: Lyft beats Uber, launches its own scooter service

Customers can unlock the cars via the smartphone app; no key is necessary.

Lime even covers paid parking for those who rent out one of its 500s. The company inked a deal with the city to cover up to $1,730 per car, per year. Lime plans to launch about 500 cars in Seattle. 

The company isn’t alone in recognizing different needs in urban environments. General Motors launched its Maven mobility service that also rents out vehicle via a car-share service. It has since expanded to include long-term rentals for freelance workers and peer-to-peer car sharing.

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What didn’t make the cut

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Whittling through the list of new cars this year for our Best Car To Buy 2019 nominees was no easy task. Nearly every major automaker debuted at least one redesigned model, touting it for its safety, its performance, its spacious interior, or its innovative features.

Our staff spent weeks debating which cars deserved to make the final cut to be considered for our top award. We’ve already shown you the nominees, but what about the cars, crossovers, and SUVs that didn’t make it all the way through the nomination process?

MORE: Follow all our Best Car To Buy 2019 news as we name a winner

Here’s a look at what cars we considered, and why they sat on the sidelines. It’s not necessarily because they’re bad cars—truthfully, no new car is truly awful. But we were able to distill them down to a few common reasons why they didn’t earn a nomination.

2018 Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3

Too expensive

To be a Best Car To Buy 2019 nominee, the version we recommend needs to cost less than $50,000. Some cars, such as the BMW X5, Jaguar I-Pace, and Porsche Cayenne didn’t even make it to the discussion.

Although it’s possible to find a Tesla Model 3 configured to our recommended specifications costing less than $50,000, buyers need to qualify for incentives that will expire by the time the calendar turns into 2019. Cheaper Model 3 sedans are on the way, though, so Tesla may qualify in the future.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Close, but not quite

There’s a lot to like about the redesigned VW Jetta with its gentle road manners, spacious interior, and good safety tech, but we kept coming back to one issue. Does it do anything better than the other cars on our list? Nope.

Volvo’s new S60 sedan and V60 wagon are stylish options worth shopping if you’re in the market for a compact luxury car. They narrowly missed out on our list because they reminded us too much of our experience last year with the runner-up Volvo XC60. Volvo’s XC40 represents more out-of-the-box thinking and it easily made our list, though.

Finally, the Genesis G70 delivers impressive handling and performance, but it doesn’t fix what’s holding back the brand. Consumers want crossover SUVs, and the G70 is yet another four-door sedan from a brand that’s in need of some utility-vehicle presence.

The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio give buyers good reasons to stick with small cars. They’re as roomy inside as some mid-size cars were a few years ago, and the ones we recommend can be had for around $21,000. Against a wide range of cars that make better choices for families, however, the Accent and Rio lost out on our nomination.

2019 Nissan Altima

2019 Nissan Altima

This year’s letdowns

The redesigned Nissan Altima should have been a shoo-in, but it doesn’t feel like as much of a step forward from behind the wheel as it does on paper. The Altima’s turbo-4 engine is powerful, but should be mated to all-wheel drive. Meanwhile, its all-wheel-drive system may steal a buyer or two in wintry markets, but most of those shoppers are looking for crossover SUVs. Just ask Subaru.

We have similar issues with the Mazda 6. It’s not that Mazda’s four-door isn’t enjoyable to drive, but the turbo-4 engine that’s new for this year doesn’t move the needle far enough. We wish Mazda had put it in the model its dealers can barely keep in stock: the popular CX-5 crossover SUV.

We ran into the same issue with the Buick Regal TourX, a tall station wagon that we really wanted to like. It probably would have have earned a spot on our list had Buick not restricted active safety tech that we consider crucial on a new car to only the top trim levels.

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