BMW i3 All-Electric Vehicle (2014 Model Review)

Written By: Brittney B. 

Edited By: Assen Gueorguiev

                                                                2014 BMW i3 - front

BMW invests more money into electric technologies than any other automaker except Tesla, and almost all of it goes toward the "i" sub-brand that was announced in 2011. The BMW i3 is one of two production vehicles to emerge from this eco-friendly lineup so far, and it's also the first zero-emissions vehicle that BMW has ever produced.

More affordable and efficient competitors have emerged since the i3 was released in Europe (September 2013) and the United States (May 2014). However, this compact electric vehicle has already picked up multiple awards for its sustainable and innovative design, which is especially distinctive for its low center of gravity and fast-charging battery. Regenerative braking converts decelerating energy into additional electricity, while the lithium-ion battery is insulated against temperature fluctuations and protected by an eight-year warranty.

Especially slim tires are another design surprise, and they're even more surprising because of the grip and traction they manage to provide. Inside the i3, other one-of-a-kind features include an endlessly adjustable steering wheel, backseat windows that are lower than the rest, and a miniscule dashboard display. BMW even incorporated all-natural materials into the upholstery and dash, such as eucalyptus and Kenaf, which meet high standards of eco-friendly foresting and production.

The all-electric i3 is also available with a powertrain that includes a two-cylinder internal combustion engine. This Range Extender version of the car isn't a big hit with critics or drivers, but not just because it decreases the vehicle's energy efficiency. Although this engine serves as a power supply for the battery pack — rather than actually powering the car itself — it adds hours to the battery's charging time and slows down the car's acceleration. And even though it's supplemented by a nine-liter fuel tank, this version only lasts 86 miles longer. Without the range extender, the standard all-electric model can last for about 81 miles, while reaching 124 MPGe combined.

Parking this green car at your driveway will cost you 42,400, with close to $4000 more for the range-extended version.

2014 BMW i3 (Click on Images to Enlarge)


Environmental Footprint

In 2013, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) awarded the BMW i3 an official certificate for its overall environmental footprint. The BMW Group as a whole has also landed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index nine times since 2005. These sustainability rankings aren't limited to each vehicle's mileage or carbon emissions; they also include the impact of sourcing the raw materials, manufacturing and delivering the vehicles, maintaining them on a long-term basis, and even disposing of them.

When the BMW i3 was first announced, many critics assumed its environmental footprint would barely reflect the benefits of its efficient powertrain. That's because the production of carbon fiber requires significant amounts of energy, and carbon fiber itself is rarely recyclable. However, BMW makes special efforts to ensure that its intensive manufacturing process is as green as possible. The automaker even claims that 95 percent of the BMW i3 can be recycled, and that they reuse the byproducts themselves whenever possible.

In 2014, The Automotive Science Group (ASG) put BMW on its selective automotive performance index six separate times, including best-in-class rankings for the social impact of the BMW X1 and BMW 328 Gran Turismo. However, no BMW models were recognized for their environmental footprint. The i3 wasn't available yet for testing at the time of that study, so it's possible that future ASG studies will elevate BMW's electric lineup above most of its peers, even those with better range and greener batteries.


Manufacturing/Assembly

BMW chose to produce its carbon fiber in Washington in order to minimize its environmental impact as much as possible. Its Moses Lake factory is powered by the Grand Coulee Dam, one of the biggest hydroelectric power plants in the world. After the carbon fiber is produced, it's sent to another carbon-conscious plant in Leipzig, Germany. Because the plant is powered exclusively by renewable energy, BMW uses 70 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than it would otherwise need to produce each and every BMW i3.


FIVE things that BMW i3 owners LOVE about their car:

  • Accelerates quickly from 0 to 60 MPH (official approximation is 7 seconds, but some testers observed times as low as 6.5 seconds)

  • Electronic climate zone lets drivers change the air temperature around their head and chest, and detects air pollutants such as ethanol and dust

  • Battery fully charges in just 3.5 hours (at a 240-volt outlet)

  • Low center of gravity offers superior handling and stability

  • Efficiency, battery status, recent locations and more can be monitored remotely with an exclusive mobile app


FIVE things that BMW i3 owners DISLIKE about their car:

  • Lightweight seats don't provide enough support for drivers and passengers, especially when making tight turns or braking abruptly

  • Range Extender version is more expensive, but the added engine makes it heavier, slower, noisier and less efficient... while nearly tripling the time it takes to fully charge

  • Woven fiber panels in the dashboard look cheap and out-of-place for a luxury car

  • Infotainment system (iDrive) has confusing settings that require significant adjustment

  • Exterior is boxy, juvenile and inconsistent with the BMW brand