By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
Offered as a sportier, more upscale alternative to electrics like the Fiat 500e, VW eGolf and Nissan Leaf, BMW’s 2017 i3 EV leads the electric-car revolution with advanced technology, unconventional styling and a new, longer-range model. The i3’s open-space interior concept also separates it from the pack, as does its nearly $43,500 entry-level price tag. When equipped with its gasoline-powered motor/generator, the 2017 BMW i3 becomes a plug-in hybrid, placing it in line with the Chevy Volt and Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. The range-extender model allows the i3 to travel beyond is roughly 114-mile range while still emitting very little emissions. Although newer EVs will continue to come from GM, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla, BMW’s i3 should hold up well.
For 2017, the BMW i3 (94 Ah) receives a new, more efficient lithium-ion battery that extends its range to 114 miles, more than 50 percent over the base i3 (60 Ah). New standard features include no-cost DC Fast Charge for two years (where available), 19-inch wheels and Comfort Access.
First and foremost, BMW’s i3 electric car for 2017 is about efficiency and zero emissions. However, as it is a BMW there is also an emphasis placed on design, styling,...
... handling and technology. As an electric motor delivers its torque all at once, acceleration from a standstill is swift, propelling the 2,800-pound i3 EV to 60 mph is just seven seconds. With no mechanical transmission, momentum is uninterrupted by gear changes, giving the i3 an almost slingshot-like effect. Power is routed to the rear wheels, which gives the i3 bettering handling than most of its front-drive rivals, although it surrenders that advantage in snow or on slick roads. The new lithium-ion battery extends the i3’s range to 114 miles, and the optional range-extending 2-cylinder gasoline engine can carry the car even further, although not as a zero-emissions vehicle.
The 2017 BMW i3 EVs wide-screen display panels are a visual thrill that never fails to make us say “oh, cool.” Behind the steering wheel is a small screen displaying speed, while a larger screen displaying navigation and the rearview-camera image appears to float above the center dash.
RANGE-EXTENDER GASOLINE ENGINE
As electric charging stations are still few and far between, it’s nice to have a backup plan should you run out of juice. The BMW i3’s 2-cylinder gasoline motor recharges the battery pack, essentially doubling the i3’s range. However, the $4,000 addition does disqualify the i3 as a zero-emissions vehicle.
BMW’s i3 EV for 2017 has an interior that is futuristic yet minimalistic. Like its exterior, some elements work better than others. The responsibly forested eucalyptus dash and wide-screen displays reward the senses. Yet some of the other earth-friendly dash materials resemble attic insulation. Like the front seats, the two rear ones are roomier and more comfortable than you may expect, though beware of the i3's high step-in. Rear passengers will have to contend with a large black pillar, but the peculiar vertical shape of the windows creates a good view out. To accommodate extra cargo, the rear seats split and fold.
The BMW i3's exterior is polarizing. In one sense, it is as unconventional as its powertrain. Glance at the overall design of this BMW's side windows, and you may see the shape of a bottle on its side, with the spout just over the i3's rear wheels. And like the front wheels, the rear set is pushed to the very edge of the car's carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic body. Even the doors are strange yet functional. The rear set opens outward to make entering and exiting easier for rear passengers. At just 157.4 inches long, the 2017 i3 is shorter than a Honda Fit.
The 2017 BMW i3 (94 Ah) is available in three trims, or as BMW calls them, “worlds”: Mega, Giga and Tera. The base Mega comes well-equipped with navigation system, LED headlights, 19-inch wheels, Comfort Access, DC fast-charging port (allows you to charge the battery up to 80 percent in 20 minutes), heated seats, SensaTec leather-like upholstery, and BMW's ConnectedDrive that syncs to your smartphone to enable the use of apps. The Giga model has a leather-and-wool interior. Top-line Tera models feature full leather upholstery, 19-inch forged alloy wheels and leather-covered dash with Dark Oak or Light Eucalyptus wood trim.
In addition to the range-extending gasoline engine, the 2017 i3 electric car offers other hardware and software to make your commute safer and more comfortable. Among the offerings are a 12-speaker/360-watt harman/kardon audio system and the Navigation Professional System with range assistant, real-time traffic info and Traffic Jam Assist. Other options include a new for 2017 power moonroof, forward-collision warning and pedestrian detection, automatic parking system, and a collision-mitigation feature that can automatically apply the brakes in emergency situations.
The 2017 BMW i3 electric vehicle uses an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery back. Range-extended models have a supplemental 650-cc gasoline engine that acts solely as a generator and has a fuel capacity of 2.4 gallons. The BMW i3's electric-only range is estimated at 114 miles (94 Ah) while the 60 Ah is limited to around 80 miles. Extended-range models are said to add another 35 miles to the battery range. Hyper-milers can eke more distance by switching to the ECO PRO mode, meant to increase distance by 12 percent, or ECO PRO+, which adds another 12 percent. The i3 electric vehicle uses a single-speed transmission and is rear-wheel drive. Recharging takes three hours on 220 volts or 20-plus hours on a standard 110-volt outlet.
Hybrid-synchronous electric motor
22-kWh lithium-ion battery
184 lb-ft of torque
Range with full charge: 80 miles (60 Ah), 114 miles (94 Ah)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the 2017 BMW i3 (60 Ah) starts at $43,395, the i3 (94 Ah) at $44,595 and with the Range Extender, $48,445. The BMW i3 is eligible for incentives and federal tax credits. At these prices, the i3 resides in a middle ground among electric vehicles. It is over $12,000 more than a Nissan Leaf, but nearly $30,000 less than a Tesla Model S. Also in this range are the VW e-Golf, Fiat 500e, Chevrolet Bolt EV and Ford Focus electric. Check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for an i3. The i3 holds average resale values, better than the Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf and on par with the Volkswagen e-Golf and Audi Sportback e-Tron hybrid. Interestingly, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid holds higher 5-year values than all of these.