The BMW i3 Drive Zero Car Guide

The BMW i3 has been on sale in Australia since late 2014 – it’s one of the earliest, most popular mass produced electric cars on the market globally, and for good reason.

The BMW i3 has been through several small spec and battery life upgrades since launch, and there are now a number of used BMW i3s coming onto the market which are well worth considering, if you can deal with the i3’s quirks.

Drive Zero Car Guides are written for people trying to get a feel of the electric car landscape in Australia. We only wrote guides for battery (BEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) electric vehicles that are confirmed to be on sale in the market in Australia now, or are coming soon.

Our goal is to summarise as much as you might want to know about the different considerations for each of these electric cars and who they may be useful for. That said, we’re not qualified car reviewers, so full reviews of these models, we’ve included the best links and video for reviews that we could find.

I’ve previously owned a 2015 BMW i3 60Ah, and now run a 2018 BMW i3s, and am more than happy to answer any questions on the car in the comments.

What’s interesting about the BMW i3?

BMW’s i3 was BMW’s first zero emissions vehicle mass-produced in it’s dedicated, more environmentally friendly production line in Liepzig, Germany, with over 50,000 BMW i3’s sold globally since launch.

It’s a five-door, four-seater (yes, only four) compact hatchback with distinctive design features that clearly identify it as a car of the future – especially so in 2014 when it was first released.

Alongside the unique design and no-emissions drive-train, the materials used in the i3 are also some of the most environmentally friendly around with an interior made of recycled plastic (which looks a little like grey felt), leather naturally tanned with an olive-oil leaf based tanning agent (rather than petroleum), and a wooden, curved dashboard made of eucalyptus wood.

The Liepzig factory is even powered by a renewable energy – so BMW tries very hard to make their ‘i’ range sustainable on many levels.

How much does the BMW i3 cost and what models are on sale in Australia?

The BMW i3 has been on sale in Australia since the end of 2014, so there are now a small number of used i3’s making their way onto the market at substantially lower cost than buying new.

Current model BMW i3 ad

BMW i3 Key Details

 BMW i3 60ah
(2014 - current)
BMW i3 94ah
(2016 - current)
Key Modelsi3 BEV = battery powered
i3 REX = battery plus range extender petrol engine
Release Date & AvailabilityOn sale Nov 2014
Still on sale
On sale Oct 2016
PriceNew: $63,900 base + taxes
Used: from ~$40,000
New: $65,900 base + taxes
Used: from ~$55,000
Electric Range
(real world)
~130-150km on battery
+ ~100km from petrol REX
~190-210km on battery
+ ~100km from petrol REX
0-100 km/h7.2 seconds BEV
7.9 seconds REX
7.3 seconds BEV
8.1 seconds REX
Battery22kwh BMW battery33kwh BMW battery
DrivetrainRear wheel drive
REX adds 0.6L petrol engine generator
Seats4 - no rear middle seat
ChargingJ1772 connector +CCS DC fast-charge optionJ1772 connector + CCS DC fast-charge
Vehicle & Battery Warranty3 year unlimited km warranty
+ 8 year / 100,000 km for battery
Table last updated October 2017

The i3 retailed for at least $65,000 new and the general specifications haven’t changed too much since 2014, with the exception of a 25-30% increase in range with a larger battery pack available from late 2016 (referred to as the 94ah battery, whereas the original i3 came with a 60ah battery).

One key option available on all i3s is the Battery (BEV) vs Range Extender (REX) specification. For around $6,000 it is possible to option a small 0.6l motorcycle engine which, using petrol, acts as a generator to charge the battery and extends the range of the car by around 100km.

REX models are understandably preferred by those looking for increased flexibility from how they can use their i3, but at additional cost – in terms of weight, fuel, maintenance complexity and cost, as well as hard dollars.

What’s coming with the 2018 BMW i3 and i3s?

BMW are also releasing a minor facelift upgrade to the range with the 2018 i3 and i3s announced in September 2017. Australian timing and pricing for the 2018 i3 and i3s are not on sale yet, but they will both come with the larger battery pack and an upgraded infotainment system featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, alongside the facelift.

The 2018 BMW i3

In addition, BMW are also releasing a slightly sportier variant of the i3, the i3s, with some different colour combinations, improved acceleration from a more powerful motors and stiffer handling from slightly lower suspension and a wider wheel track. Expect to pay a chunk more cash again for the i3s.

BMW i3 Pricing

The BMW i3 starts at around $65,000 new for the base model 60ah BEV, but if you’re seriously considering buying new, the depreciation is likely to be pretty aggressive given how fast EV technology is changing, along with the 2018 model coming soon.

Our pick would be to look for an aggressive demonstrator deal on the 94ah model while the 2018 models are not yet in the market, or if you can stomach the smaller  battery range for your daily driving habits, look for a deal on a used 60ah model which are starting to have some big depreciation hits, with recent used prices falling under $40,000 for some recent examples.

You’ll find many BMW dealers in urban areas will have an i3 in stock to test, and most i3s are representative of each other in terms of performance, with the key difference being the slightly heavier but longer range REX as a touch slower off the mark than the battery only i3.

Our BMW i3 Review Picks

As the 60ah and 94ah BMW i3 has been on the market for a couple of years already there are a ton of reviews out there to take a look at and get some independent advice for yourself on the benefits and trade-offs.

One year living with the BMW i3 in the US

Fully Charged BMW i3 REX review

Fully Charged BMW i3 94Ah review

CarsGuide BMW i3 94Ah review

BMW i3 – Battery, Charging and Power

As a pure electric vehicle it’s important that potential owners understand the options for charging the BMW i3.

As mentioned previously, the i3 comes with either a full battery powertrain, or can be optioned with a small range extender engine. Which will work for you will really depend on your driving habits, with many people preferring the REX for additional flexibility but rarely using it on a day to day basis.

There are pros and cons of both the BEV and REX configurations of the i3, so you’ll need to think carefully about whether the REX is a deal-breaker for you or not. Our advice? If you think you can do without it, don’t get one, due to the increased overall costs of having a petrol engine to run and maintain.

In Australia the i3 comes allows charging via a J1772 charging connector with which you can charge the i3 from a range of public charging stations, such as from the Chargepoint network.

The i3 was originally available with an option for DC fast-charging from a CCS connector as well as the J1772 connector type. At some point this was made standard on the i3, but it does mean that some used i3 options that come up won’t be fitted with the CCS option – like my own. If you don’t imagine needing fast-charging then this will likely not bother you, but if you plan to use your i3 as your only car then seeking out a CCS-optioned i3 would be worth the effort.

The BMW i3 is also supplied with a portable charger that you can use to recharge the i3 from most regular wall-sockets at home (as long as they are well wired!) I’ve written a full guide to how I use the BMW occasional use charger as my primary home charging solution here.

What does the BMW i3 look like inside?

The BMW i3 interior is actually pretty unique, and is one of it’s most appealing features.

Thanks to the carbon fibre construction of the body, there’s no central pillar between the front and rear doors, allowing the rear doors to open backwards (known as suicide doors). This enables some of the cabin’s airy feel.

The other significant difference about the i3 comes thanks to BMW’s designers leveraging the lack of a drivetrain running down the centre of the car – a benefit of electric cars in general, which isn’t always capitalised on.

This means front and rear seat rows are fully flat along the cabin floor, allowing passengers to spread out sideways than you’d otherwise expect. However, the small size of the car means that BMW decided to optimise the rear room for 2 passengers only – there’s no middle rear seat.

Then with a large sunroof, the i3 offers more light and headroom than you’d expect too.

A large, curved wooden eucalyptus dash panel runs the width of the front cabin and lifts the interior from nice and premium to modern and really quite unique. The interior is one of my favourite things about the i3.

Finally, BMW also used a number of unique and more sustainable materials to construct the i3, offering a level of sustainability in design that hadn’t been considered in car production before.

Consider that some of the interior panels feel textured and a little like rough felt – these are actually recycled plastic panels.

All up the i3’s design can be polarising – but you can’t deny that BMW made an effort for it to be different in many different ways.

Summing Up

The BMW i3 is a unique, compact hatchback which has many great, unique features – but which also suffers from a number of compromises from implementing these features. Ultimately these compromises are what makes the car appeal to some buyers, or a deal-breaker to others.

Firstly, the design – it’s not meek, and given it’s unique looks and the fact there aren’t many on the road here in Australia (this is not the case in Europe and some parts of the US where the i3 has become much more mainstream than you’d expect) – you will stand out as an i3 driver, whether you want to or not.

The reason the i3 has sold so well, comparatively, in parts of the US and Europe is down to great timing by BMW – just as governments were rolling out great incentives for the public to buy zero emissions vehicles, BMW was in place with a premium product to serve that market, allowing buyers to opt for a great product with appealing monthly payments. Australian car buyers haven’t been offered the same opportunity.

It’s range is also compromised by the battery technology in the i3 – not that it’s bad tech, put simply, the original 60Ah battery range is now starting to become uncompetitive relative to more recent EVs that are soon to come to market, such as the 2018 Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Model 3, which we would expect to see in Australia in 2019.

And this all comes at a pretty price too – especially if looking at more recent used, demonstrator or new options, all which would start at least at $65,000 and run into the $80k mark after options.

Those are the downsides.

The positives though, are really quite good. The range ion the 60Ah and 94Ah models are both easily good enough for most city and sub-urban users as a second car, and if you can find a second hand 60Ah model at a competitive price then the i3 is a great pick for the technologically and environmentally minded buyer, as there are so few other options out there.

Combined with the unique design, these are the reasons I really like the i3 – but at it’s current price and range, it’s definitely not going to suit everyone.

Keith enjoys nerding out about Electric Vehicles, owning a BMW i3, Tesla Model X and now, running Drive Zero .

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