The BMW i3 Hands-on First Impressions

Photo Jul 28, 11 01 26 PM

Today BMW not only took the wraps off of a car but brand and a strategy. Creating something sustainable that performs up to all expectations is a very tall order. But given our time with the i3 today we have to admit things look very promising.

Without question the BMW i3 takes some getting used to. It’s a new shape, new controls and new touch-points. Yet the first impression (especially once you step inside) is one of progress. It makes the BMW Active E electric test car look 20 years old rather than 2. Everything has been re-thought if not re-imagined. Granted that doesn’t mean everything is different. But nothing on the i3 hasn’t at least been thought about from a new angle.

We’ve got tons of facts and figures on the i3 in previous articles so if you’re looking for that you’ll be best served moving onto one of those. This is about what it feels like to see it in person, touch it, sit in it and experience it.

It’s tall and narrow. But less than you’d expect give some photos. It’s frontal design language (the black band and the underbite) gives the car more of a menacing look than it’s shape would otherwise indicate. And in person it all works rather well – 19″ and 20″ wheels helping a great deal.

Photo Jul 28, 7 05 16 PM

Here are a few points on the exterior:

  • The body is plastic. As in: you touch it and it will bend.
  • LED lights look look terrific. Halogen’s look terrible. So glad the US won’t be getting them.
  • The Orange and black is the best of the three launch color combinations IMHO.
  • The rear 3/4 angle is perhaps the only truly awkward part of the car. We’d imagine darker colors would help that a great deal. Time should also help.

Photo Jul 28, 11 49 06 PM

As much as the exterior is shocking, the interior is simply a revelation. The touch-points are generally the same. Steering wheel, gas, brake, iDrive are all where you’d expect them. But similarities end there with the rest of the BMW range.

  • The seats are thin and in fact don’t even have a back to them in the center to reduce thickness, shave weight and increase rear passenger space. Why we don’t see this technique on the MINI or 1 Series is beyond us. It’s smart, comfortable and looks amazing.
  • Navigation is standard in the US but there will be two sizes. The Technology Package will offer the larger of the two screens.
  • The screen behind the steering wheel is actually not all screen. Instead it’s a sliver of a screen with black glass covering idiot lights on the top.
  • The steering wheel feels great as does (surprisingly) the shifter. However, engaging “Park” could be easier.
  • The seats don’t have a lot of lateral support. Not designed with the intention of track days.
  • Wool and leather combination looks and feels wonderful. Highly recommended.
  • The pressed grass dash material looks organic but feels not that dissimilar to the normal material used.
  • Back-seat space is adequate and on par with a 3 Series. I was comfortable at 6’2″ with another 6 footer in the front seat.

All told the i3 really impressed me. In person and hands-on it’s an exceptionally well-thoughout car with great fit and finish. How the American public (much less the world) reacts to all of this technology and thinking will be fascinating.

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  • George Jones

    What’s with the sunroof? With the batteries being able to be preconditioned and liquid cooled this should perform better than the Leaf here in the desert.

    Will make final judgements when I see it in person and the now infamous BMW packaging and option sheet. With my E46 you could get things you wanted, not what BMW dictated- times have changed.

    • Frank Granados

      The marketing department at BMWUSA dictates what you can get and what you can’t. Simple as that. Witness the dismal packaging of the F30 3-series sedan and F31 Touring Sportwagon for glaring samples of this.

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        I still can’t build one how I would ideally like it… but it has improved significantly since the initial launch.

  • Evan

    I really like it. It’d be a great city run about and potential commuter car. I just have no where to plug it in since I live in the city and rent a spot. I feel like that and no on-street charging will limit this car’s ultimate appeal. I’d get a REX version if I had somewhere to charge it… Ideally this would be available with the 3 cylinder alone. That’d be a 50mpg plus vehicle easily given the curb weight without a 450lb battery pack…

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      That is a big issue- we are actually moving to get our own garage rather than paying for a public spot partially to get an EV… and we love our current place just that we can’t add a charger to the spots we have in the car park.

    • Frank Granados

      Agreed. Forget renters and condo dwellers.

  • lavardera

    I can’t say I like the dip of the window sill at the rear seats – very odd design choice, but its interesting to see the Clubman’s doors reappear here.

    • lavardera

      Those seats, tho the covering looks wonderful, the shape is unfortunate. They look like they were made for obese americans.

    • Frank Granados

      A post from Lavardera that I can finally agree with!

  • Dylan

    Would you buy one Gabe?

    • Seriously considering it.

      • Dylan

        Do it. Special car. And when was the last time you regretted buying a special car…

  • SockRolid

    The Hofmeister Kink is gone. BMW is differentiating the ‘i’ series with a different C-pillar treatment. Evidently the most important design cue is the traditional “kidney grille,” which dates back to the 1933 BMW 303.