BMW i3 review in Lisbon

Last week I had a short drive with the brand new BMW i3 in Lisbon, Portugal. Enough to write down my first impressions. 

Until some months ago I didn’t quite comprehend what BMW was trying to do with its i-subbrand. Sometimes I had the feeling that it was a pure marketing project. A way to polish its image now that Tesla is becoming so damn popular.

Today though the i3 is in the showrooms and BMW already sold 8.000 units. Slowly I’m getting convinced that BMW is serious about developing sound plug-in vehicles. The i3 seems a hopeful start for the electrified BMW future.


BMW i3 with suicide doors

BMW i3 with the suicide doors for the backseat passengers

The i3 looks nothing like a standard Beemer. Ok, the car got the BMW grille and the propellor logo but there are few other resemblances. The car got a compact size but inside it feels MPV-ish. Elements that distinguish it from the masses are the huge wheels, the taller window for backseat passengers, the suicide doors and the application of 3 different colours for the exterior (for our car it was grey, black and blue).

The interior is quite outstanding because of the designer seats and the use of recycled bamboo grass for the dashboard and the doors. The interior of this electric car feels decently built and functional. I’m just not convinced by the bamboo grass. It seems too ‘green’ for a BMW and I’m wondering how it will look after 5 years of use. I guess you’ll get used to it.

So. Is this BMW i3 beautiful? When I saw it last week for the first time in real life, I thought it was ugly. However after driving it for some hours I started to appreciate it. The opinions of the people in the street also vary. Let’s describe the design as ‘different’.

BMW i3 dashboard

BMW i3 dashboard

BMW i3 performance

Like most electric cars the BMW i3 is not slow. With 250 Nm (184 lb·ft) of torque which is available from 0 rpm this car feels faster than 90% of all the other cars on the road. In just 7,2 seconds (7,9 for the i3 with range extender) the car goes from 0 to 100 km/h. That means that, besides the Model S, it’s faster than any other mass produced fully electric car out there.

BMW i3 range

When it comes to electric cars, range is still a scary topic to talk about. BMW says its i3 will do 130 to 160 km (80 to 100 mi) before it runs out of juice but in reality it’s something like 100 to 130 km (62 to 80 mi). That’s not much.

BMW i3 front

The BMW i3 in the streets of Lisbon

If you want to use the i3 without suffering from range anxiety you will have to live in place with a lot of charging stations, or you will have to opt for the range extender.

The range extender you can buy for the i3 is a 2-cilinder 647cc gasoline engine. In the US you will have to pay about 4.000 USD extra for it. It comes with a 9-liter fuel tank which adds about 150 km to the electric range. In my opinion it would have been more comfortable if it had a 20 liter reservoir.

BMW i-shop

The BMW i3 in the i-shop in Lisbon, Portugal

Comfort & Practicality

The i3 offers all luxury that you expect from a BMW. Except for the sound isolation. Until 110 km/h the i3 is silent but once you go faster, wind- and other noises start to disturb the interior. According to BMW the cause of this is that they used lighter materials (Carbon, …) to construct this car.

The seating position is quite high since the battery pack is situated under the floor. This gives you a good view over traffic. The comfort of the front seats is excellent and also in the back it’s pleasant to sit if you are shorter than 1m80. The back just provides space for 2 people though.

What I very much appreciate is that the back seats can go totally flat. The cargo space isn’t enormous but because of the flat cargo floor you can take larger objects in your electro car.

BMW i3 cargo space

The back seat go totally flat

The suicide doors for the rear passengers are less practical since you can only open them after first opening the front doors. This can cause a claustrophobic feeling when you sit in the back, but hey, it gives the car a special touch.

Wanna buy it?

The BMW i3 got a starting price of 41.350 USD in the United States and that doesn’t make it cheap. Depending on how many km you drive, where you drive them and whether or not your government gives you subsidies, this car might be an economically viable purchase.

In any case I think you should opt for the range-extender since the range of this car is on the low end. Probably you’ll not use the range extender very often but it will give you a stress free electric driving experience.

BMW i3Without Range Extender41.350$ (US)
44.950$ (Canada)
35.500€ (Europe)
25.680£ (UK)
600.000¥ (China)
BMW i3With Range Extender45.300$ (US)
48.950$ (Canada)
39.950€ (Europe)
28.820£ (UK)

+ Love it

  • Performance
  • Optional range extender
  • Built quality

- Leave it

  • Small electric range
  • Quite expensive