Its styling is out of this world, but as an electric vehicle, the 2021 BMW i3 doesn’t quite measure up. Rival EVs such as the Tesla Model 3, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, and the Hyundai Kona Electric offer larger batteries and longer driving ranges for similar prices. To make up for its stingy 153-mile driving range, the i3 can be ordered with an optional gasoline-powered engine to provide additional range—something buyers who aren’t quite ready to let go of internal combustion may find comforting. The i3’s cabin is far more premium than its rivals’, though, especially with the optional curved-wood dashboard and leather-and-wool upholstery. As the EV movement gains momentum, the future of the i3 is in question, with BMW preparing more competitive models such as the upcoming i4 sedan and iX SUV. If the i3’s design strikes a chord and its limited driving range suits your lifestyle, 2021 may be your last chance to park a new one in your driveway.
What’s New for 2021?
BMW has made only one change on the i3 lineup for 2021: The previously optional adaptive LED headlamps are standard.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Unlike other electric cars on the market—not including hybrids—the 2021 i3 offers a gas-powered range extender for those who don’t trust running on electricity alone. Still, we wouldn’t take our i3 on any long road trips even with the fossil-fuel backup. Instead, we’d opt for the electric-only version and mostly use it around town as well as on short highway stints for our daily commute. The i3s is meant to be more fun to drive, but we’d stick with the most affordable model. While it has few options outside of exterior and interior colors, we would choose the Giga World package. In addition to unique brown leather and gray cloth upholstery, it includes Apple CarPlay compatibility, heated front seats, and navigation.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
With its one-speed direct-drive transmission, the i3 pulls hard, smoothly, and in a linear fashion. It’s a relatively quick ride, too. In our testing, a 2017 i3 went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Both the regular model and the sportier i3s accelerate immediately and feel zippy around town. The i3’s ride is in line with its premium pedigree and serene interior. The experience is one of isolation, with no buzzing, untoward vibrations, or sound, at least until the optional range-extending model fires up its gas-powered engine. The i3’s suspension dispenses with cracks, bumps, and expansion strips in the pavement with ease, to the point that it feels too isolated from the road. While the light and numb steering is less than ideal, the i3’s diminutive size and relatively light weight make threading through traffic fun.
Range, Charging, and Battery Life
Rated at 153 miles of all-electric driving range, the i3’s 42.2-kWh battery pack pales in comparison with the Bolt EV’s 60.0-kWh battery and its EPA rating of 259 miles. Likewise, the Model 3 can travel up to 353 miles with its biggest battery. Still, only the i3 has an optional gasoline-fueled range-extending generator that fires up when the battery falls to a 5 percent state of charge.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The all-electric i3s we tested achieved 102 MPGe on our highway fuel-economy route, which matched its EPA rating. We also completed our real-world circuit with a 2019 i3 with the gas-powered range extender; however, it missed its EPA-rated 100 MPGe by 6. For more information about the i3’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The 2021 i3 has the exterior dimensions of a subcompact city car, making it perfect for darting through traffic and shape-shifting into minuscule parking spots—but back-seat passengers suffer as a result of the small size. The interior is beautifully crafted with intriguing recycled materials, and the cabin has an open, airy appeal, but those who spend any time in the cramped rear seat will not be as happy as those riding up front. The i3 has the utility of a typical small hatchback—with a twist. The rear side doors are hinged at the back, so they open opposite the front doors. There is no pillar separating the front and rear doors, which creates a large, open space that facilitates entry (and cargo placement) in the back. The rear seats fold easily using a strap in the car, and with them lowered, we fit 14 carry-on suitcases inside.
Infotainment and Connectivity
While many electric and hybrid vehicles opt for massive screens with touch functionality and overabundant information, the 2021 i3 takes a much simpler approach. All i3 models come with BMW’s iDrive 6 infotainment interface. Apple CarPlay integration is standard, but Android Auto compatibility isn’t offered. The car also lacks power points, with only one USB port, which is in the front center console.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
While the i3 offers numerous driver-assistance technologies, none of them are standard. For more information about the i3’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Available automated emergency braking
- Available forward-collision warning
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The i3’s hybrid-component warranty falls in line with those offered on other EVs, and the three years of complimentary scheduled maintenance are a huge plus and far better than what competitors offer.
- Limited warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 4 years or 50,000 miles
- Hybrid components warranty covers 8 years or 100,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for 3 years or 36,000 miles