2021 BMW i3

2021 BMW i3 Review: Plucky EV Isn't Dead Yet

2020 wasn't an easy year for the automotive industry as a whole, but the BMW i3 still put in an especially dismal sales performance in North America. A massive 70 percent decline in USA sales for the quirky electric hatchback last year makes it clear that the i3 has fallen out of favor, with the EV sector offering more competition than ever before. However, BMW seems determined to extend the life of its first mass-produced zero-emissions vehicle. The nippy hatch still comes in i3 or i3s guises, with the latter being able to reach 60 mph in under seven seconds. However, even with the two-cylinder gasoline engine that acts as a range extender, the i3 lags behind other compact full electric vehicles like the Hyundai Kona EV in this area. It remains a landmark product for the BMW brand, but with a brace of newer BMW i models on the way as well as stiff competition to deal with, buying an i3 has become harder to justify.

2021 BMW i3 Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 i3?

BMW hasn't announced any major updates for the i3 in the US market for the 2021 model year.

Pros and Cons

  • Doesn't look like an eight-year-old design
  • Peppy acceleration
  • Enjoyable to drive
  • Still one of BMW's most unique interiors
  • High-quality cabin materials
  • Poor range
  • Lengthy charging times
  • Impractical rear-hinged doors
  • High price
  • Limited rear-seat space

Best Deals on i3

2021 BMW i3 Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
120 Ah
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
$44,450
120 Ah s
Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
$47,650
120 Ah with Range Extender
39.5L Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
$48,300
120 Ah s with Range Extender
39.5L Electric
Single Speed Automatic
Rear-Wheel Drive
$51,500

i3 Exterior

Not many cars launched back in 2013 look as fresh in 2021 as the BMW i3. While one may not be able to describe it as beautiful, the two-tone paint, high roof, stubby hood, and unusual beltline combine to make it as cheerful and distinctive as it has always been. The base model rides on 19-inch BMW i Turbine-spoke wheels and also gets sporty black mirror caps, power-folding side mirrors, and adaptive LED headlights. The quicker i3s is set apart by its 20-inch wheels and flared wheel arches in a high-gloss black finish. A power moonroof is available.

2021 BMW i3 Front View BMW
2021 BMW i3 Rear View BMW
2021 BMW i3 Front Angle View BMW
See All 2021 BMW i3 Exterior Photos

Dimensions

The i3 differs from your average BMW by being especially short from end to end. It measures just 158.3 inches in length with a 101.2-inch wheelbase. That's even shorter than the Hyundai Kona EV, which measures 164.6 inches in length. Other key dimensions include a width of 69.9 inches and a height of 62.9 inches. In terms of curb weight, the base i3 comes in at 2,972 pounds. With the two-cylinder engine added as a range extender, the i3 weighs a heftier 3,276 lbs.

Differing slightly is the sportier i3s, which has the same wheelbase but is 158.1 inches long, 70.5 inches wide thanks to those flared wheel arches, and is slightly lower with a height of 62.6 inches. The i3s weighs 3,040 lbs without the range extender and 3,309 lbs when it is included.

  • Length 158.3 in
  • Wheelbase 101.2 in
  • Height 62.9 in
  • Max Width 69.9 in
  • Front Width 61.9 in
  • Rear Width 61.3 in
  • Curb Weight 3,276.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

The only standard shade on the BMW i3 is Capparis White. However, it's far from boring as the roof, hood, and hatch are finished in contrasting black, plus there are BMW i Frozen Blue accents. For $550, the i3 can be finished in Fluid Black and, at the same price, there are four metallic hues. These are Imperial Blue, Mineral Grey, Cashmere Silver, and the striking Galvanic Gold. The i3s shares the same color choices but also gains a glossy black finish for its flared wheel arches.

  • Fluid Black w/BMW i Frozen Blue Accent
  • Imperial Blue Metallic w/Frozen Gray Accent
  • Mineral Gray Metallic w/BMW i Frozen Blue Accent
  • Cashmere Silver Metallic w/Highlight BMW i Blue
  • Galvanic Gold Metallic w/Frozen Grey Met Highlight
  • Capparis White w/BMW i Frozen Blue Accent

i3 Performance

Unlike other smaller BMWs such as the 2 Series Gran Coupe and X1, the i3 retains at least one of BMW's traditional hallmarks: power is sent exclusively to the rear axle. As we found in the remainder of our BMW i3 review, though, that's where the links to classic BMWs begin and end. An AC electric motor is common to all models, but the i3s produces a more potent 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, which allows it to zip from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and reach a top speed of 99 mph. By contrast, the i3 with the range extender gasoline engine requires eight seconds to get to 60 mph, due to its extra weight and lower outputs, making it the slowest variant in the lineup. Although the i3 feels really nippy around town, it's not the fastest-accelerating EV of this size, with the front-wheel-drive Hyundai Kona EV getting up to 60 mph almost half a second quicker than the fastest i3.

2021 BMW i3 Front View Driving BMW
2021 BMW i3 Rear View Driving BMW
2021 BMW i3 Rear View Driving 1 BMW

Engine and Transmission

The i3's powertrain was once pretty revolutionary, but it has been surpassed by newer competitors. An AC synchronous electric motor is paired with a 42 kWh high-voltage battery and produces 168 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, paired with a single-speed transmission. The i3s has the same setup but manages superior outputs of 181 hp and 199 lb-ft. In both cases, the i3 and i3s can be equipped with a two-cylinder gas engine that doesn't improve performance but significantly increases the BMW's range by acting as a generator to charge the battery.

A combination of the i3's small size and the instantly available torque makes acceleration from a standstill feel decidedly brisk. This is without a doubt a fabulous city commuter. It's only when merging onto the highway and when speeds rise that the electric motor feels out of its element. For short stints, though, the i3 performs with vigor and - if you can afford it - is perfect for zipping to and from the office each day, while a second vehicle with more power can be used for longer trips on the weekend.

  • Engines
    39.5L Electric, Electric
  • Transmission
    Single Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

It's not only the i3's powertrain that shines in city driving. Dynamically, the tall hatchback feels like the perfect tool for weaving in and out of gaps in rush-hour traffic. Out on our test drive, we found that the light steering engenders a feeling of agility and, despite the high seating position, low-speed corners can be taken with confidence. The RWD layout and the positioning of the battery which reduces the car's center of gravity also aid in smooth, fuss-free cornering. This is still a BMW, so the refined cabin and distinct absence of engine noise take the stress out of city driving. We also liked the regenerative braking system, which allows for occasional one-pedal driving.

At higher speeds, the steering that was so responsive in town can make the i3 feel a bit nervous on the highway, requiring regular corrections to keep the EV on course. The ride is refined on smoother surfaces but can be unsettled quickly by sharp ruts and bumps, with a firmness that some may find to be too much of a compromise. Once again, as long as you don't plan on using the i3 for regular cross-country jaunts, it should prove more than up to the job.

i3 Gas Mileage

According to the latest available EPA data, both the i3 and i3s will attain figures of 124/102/113, which is the mpg gasoline-equivalent (MPGe) rating. However, the total range of 153 miles between recharges is poor relative to other EVs. For instance, the Hyundai Kona EV can manage a much more practical range of 258 miles. For a more reasonable range, both versions of the i3 can be equipped with a 0.6-liter two-cylinder gas engine which serves as a generator, recharging the 42 kWh lithium-ion battery and increasing the total range to about 200 miles. However, this engine adds additional weight to the i3 so a rating of 100 MPGe combined applies. The gas engine's tank measures a tiny 2.3 gallons. According to BMW, the i3's battery can be fully charged in 6.5 hours using a Level 2 charger or 4.9 hours to get the battery up to 80 percent. A DC charging station is a better bet, as a full charge will take just under an hour and a half. A regular 120-volt Level 1 household charger will take too long for most, as this only adds around four miles of range per hour.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    2.3 Gallons
* 2021 BMW i3 120 Ah RWD with Range Extender

i3 Interior

With its suicide-style rear doors, the generous use of recycled materials, and a quirky design, the BMW i3's interior has aged well. Despite the unusual layout, most of it is easy to fathom and the clean layout won't overwhelm first-time EV customers. Although it feels airy, especially when kitted out with some of the lighter interior colors on offer, rear-seat space is rather limited. Every i3 comes with a reasonable number of comfort and safety features, including rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, keyless entry, front/rear parking sensors, and acoustic pedestrian detection. Overall, the innovative cabin succeeds in making you feel as though you're piloting a car of the future, even if the i3's spec sheet now says otherwise.

2021 BMW i3 Dashboard BMW
2021 BMW i3 Interior Overview BMW
2021 BMW i3 Dashboard 1 BMW
See All 2021 BMW i3 Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The i3 is a rather narrow hatchback, which is probably why BMW didn't bother trying to squeeze in a center rear seat. As a result, the i3 accommodates just four occupants. Four adults can be seated in reasonable comfort, but as is often the case, those at the back will feel a bit more cramped as these occupants have 8.6 inches less legroom than those in front. Thanks to the car's clever packaging, there is a usefully flat floor which provides decent foot space. Ingress and egress pose more of an issue; when all the doors are open, getting into the back is fine. However, the rear-hinged doors can only be opened if the front doors are opened first, which can be a chore when making a quick stop to pick up the kids at school, for instance. It's also frustrating that as there is no traditional B-pillar for a seatbelt to attach to, the seatbelt connects to the door itself. This means that the front seat occupant also has to undo their seatbelt to allow those at the back to get in or out. It's also tricky when the i3 is squeezed into tight parking spots. Once on the move, the driver has sufficient adjustment in the seat and tilt/telescopic steering column, while outward visibility poses no significant issues.

  • Seating capacity
    4-seater
  • Front Leg Room 40.5 in
  • Front Head Room 39.6 in
  • Rear Leg Room 31.9 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.2 in

Interior Colors and Materials

BMW has conjured up several outlandish names - known as "worlds" - that describe the interior theme of each i3. The Deka World is standard and includes Deka Dark cloth upholstery, Andesite Silver Matte interior trim, and Kenaf material for the door panels and dashboard. From there, you can upgrade to the Mega World for $1,400 which brings with it Mega Carum Spice Grey SensaTec upholstery with brown cloth accents and electronic brown trim. The Giga World option at $1,800 introduces Giga Brown natural leather and Light Eucalyptus wood, while the Tera World comprises Tera Dark Truffle Vernasca leather and Dark Oak wood trim. That last option raises the BMW i3 cost by $2,600. Silly names aside, the various themes suit the i3's image well and showcase a more flamboyant side of the brand.

i3 Trunk and Cargo Space

Behind the rear seats, the i3 provides 15.1 cubic feet of trunk space, which is enough for most daily needs. However, EVs like the Nissan Leaf and the Hyundai Kona EV both offer considerably more space. By dropping the 50/50-split-folding rear seats, the i3 provides 36.9 cubes of total space, again lagging behind many rivals. Partially making up for this is a tinier frunk where a conventional hatchback's engine would be positioned. Interior storage space fares a bit better, as the i3 offers generously sized bins in the doors, cupholders for front/rear occupants, an open storage area on the dashboard that is perfect for a wallet, and a covered center console.

2021 BMW i3 Interior Overview 1 BMW
2021 BMW i3 Cup Holder BMW
2021 BMW i3 Trunk Space with Seat Folded BMW
  • Maximum Cargo Space
    36.9 ft³

i3 Infotainment and Features

Features

At the BMW i3's price, some buyers may expect more features as standard, but it's not unforgivably basic either. The hatchback comes equipped with automatic climate control, but only of the single-zone variety, and although the front seats are heated, they must be adjusted manually. Beyond this, you get rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, push-button ignition, keyless entry with a hands-free trunk lid function, dynamic cruise control, and power-folding mirrors. The availability of driver-assist technologies isn't the best, although a rearview camera, acoustic pedestrian protection, and front/rear park distance control are inclusive. By delving into the options list, you can raise the i3's price with options like adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, a two-way power moonroof, and wireless device charging.

Infotainment

Although the new BMW i3 doesn't have the very latest infotainment system found in more modern BMWs, the Navigation Business system with its 6.5-inch high-resolution display remains quick and easy to use via the iDrive rotary controller. The system is linked to features like Apple CarPlay (but no Android Auto), a USB audio connection, and Bluetooth connectivity. Both HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio can be enjoyed via the standard sound system, but a punchier 12-speaker Harman Kardon unit is available optionally. Other options include wireless device charging and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

i3 Problems and Reliability

No recalls have yet been issued by the NHTSA for the 2021 BMW i3, which earns it a solid reliability record. The last recall to be announced was in 2019 for a potential loss of high-voltage electrical power and, therefore, propulsion. Relatively few overall issues over the last few years are the one advantage of having a model on the market for an extended period of time, as all the teething issues can be resolved.

If you do run into any trouble with your BMW i3 hatchback, the brand provides a standard four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty for the high-voltage battery, and four years of roadside assistance. In addition, buyers will get rust perforation coverage for a period of 12 years and scheduled maintenance coverage for three years or 36,000 miles.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    4 Years \ 50,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    12 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    4 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Maintenance:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles

i3 Safety

The BMW i3 has no safety reviews from the NHTSA, but it earned mostly Good ratings from the IIHS when the 2020 version was evaluated. However, the head restraints and seats only managed an Acceptable rating and the crash avoidance and mitigation systems an Advanced score, which is below the maximum achievable Superior rating.

Key Safety Features

As a sign of the BMW i3's age, it misses out on some of the expected driver-assist innovations like blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning. The hatchback does get a rearview camera, front/rear parking sensors, tire pressure monitoring, adaptive LED headlights, dynamic stability control, traction control, and an acoustic warning system for pedestrians. Dynamic cruise control is standard, but a more advanced adaptive cruise control system is available. Also available are cornering headlights, automatic high beams, and parking assistance. All models come with six airbags: front/rear head airbags, dual front airbags, and front side airbags.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 BMW i3 a good car?

Last year, the 200,000th example of the BMW i3 rolled off the production line in Germany. The electric hatch has been a clear success for BMW with its reasonably potent performance, improving range through the years, and thoroughly refreshing design. In fact, BMW seems to have no plans of discontinuing the i3 anytime soon. Unfortunately, the market has moved on since the i3's launch and it now falls well short of other EVs when it comes to charging times and range; both of these factors are critical for buyers looking for an electric vehicle. The i3 also lacks many of the latest safety features and isn't exactly affordable to buy in the first place. While it remains likable, the i3 has fallen behind the pack and a wiser choice would be more affordable and faster competitors like the Hyundai Kona EV. That is, of course, if you're willing to forgo that eminently desirable BMW badge.

🚘What is the Price of the 2021 BMW i3 Hatchback

The most affordable BMW i3 carries an MSRP of $44,450. For more poke, you'll want to go for the i3s which will cost you $47,650. Both models can be had with a range-extending two-cylinder gas engine that acts as a generator, which adds $3,850 to the price. The i3 with Range Extender costs $48,300 and the i3s with Range Extender tops the lineup at a price of $51,500. These prices exclude a destination charge of $995 plus taxes, licensing, and registration costs. That high BMW i3 price becomes a bit more palatable when you consider that the hatchback qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Even the range extender version - which is defined as a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) by the EPA - can qualify for the maximum tax credit. Among other EVs for sale, it's worth noting that you can get behind the wheel of a new Hyundai Kona EV for just $37,390 and that's before the same $7,500 tax credit.

2021 BMW i3 Models

There are two main trims that make up the range: the i3 and the more powerful i3s. Since both can be optioned with the Range Extender which adds a 0.6-liter two-cylinder gas engine that acts as a generator, there are four configurations on offer. All i3 models employ an electric motor that directs power to the rear axle and produces 168 hp in the base model and 181 hp in the i3s. A 42 kWh lithium-ion battery allows for a range of up to 200 miles for Range Extender versions.

The base i3 comes with 19-inch wheels, power-folding and heated side mirrors, front/rear parking sensors, and black mirror caps. Inside, it gets single-zone auto climate control, heated front seats, a 6.5-inch color infotainment display, navigation, keyless entry, and push-button ignition. The hatchback is equipped for AC and DC fast charging.

Wearing larger 20-inch wheels and kitted out with gloss black fender flares, the i3s is a sportier overall prospect. Beyond this, it gets the aforementioned power upgrade and a sport suspension but is otherwise largely similarly specified to the regular i3.

See All 2021 BMW i3 Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

There are a number of upgrades available for the i3. Several so-called "worlds" can be picked to change the look and feel of the cabin, ranging in price from $1,400 to $2,600. The only major package is the Technology and Driving Assistant package at $2,350 that adds cornering lights, adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, automatic high beams, and more. Interesting standalone options on offer include a power moonroof ($1,000), wireless charging with a Wi-Fi hotspot ($500), and a Harman Kardon surround sound system ($800).

🚗What BMW i3 Model Should I Buy?

If it is a BMW i3 you must have, we'd recommend going for the top-of-the-range i3s with Range Extender. It's not cheap by any means, but it offers both decent performance and the added range that partially atones for the regular i3's dismal 153-mile effort. Then again, if you will be using the i3 as a daily driver only in the city, we'd skip the Range Extender, save some money, and enjoy better acceleration thanks to the reduction in weight. Regardless of the version you choose, there are smarter EV purchases out there, but then again, this is one of the most unique BMWs ever made.

2021 BMW i3 Comparisons

Chevrolet Bolt EV Chevrolet
Tesla Model 3 Tesla
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
BMW i3170 hpTBC$44,450
Chevrolet Bolt EV 200 hp127/108 mpg$36,500
Tesla Model 3 148/132 mpg$39,990

2021 BMW i3 vs Chevrolet Bolt EV

Parked alongside each other, many people would grab the keys of the BMW in this match-up, but the Bolt has a lot to offer. Starting at $36,500, it comfortably undercuts the i3 and yet it is faster and has a much better range. The Bolt can reach 60 mph in a nippy 6.5 seconds and will travel over 100 miles further than the i3, or over 50 miles further than the BMW when the i3 is equipped with the Range Extender. Winning more points for the Bolt is a more spacious cabin that can seat five (as opposed to just four in the i3), a bigger trunk, and available safety features like blind-spot monitoring. The BMW feels like a more special car, though, as it has a beautifully constructed cabin with better materials. It's also properly fun to drive. But that's not enough for the i3 to see off the Bolt.

See Chevrolet Bolt EV Review

2021 BMW i3 vs Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3 look nothing like each other, but both aim to provide a premium driving experience without requiring a polluting combustion engine. At a lower starting price of $37,990, the Model 3 blows the i3 out of the water with its breathtaking acceleration and much better range. Even the base Model 3 can reach 60 mph in only 5.3 seconds and travel for 263 miles on a single charge - that's over 100 miles further than the base i3 will go. By comparison, the fastest i3 takes 6.8 seconds to hit 60. The Model 3 Long Range can get to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and traverse 353 miles on a single charge, despite costing less than the top-spec i3. There's more space in the Model 3 when its seats are folded, as well as more space for rear-seat passengers. Although Tesla has had its quality issues, the Model 3's minimalist interior otherwise feels cool and modern. The final nail in the i3's coffin is the Tesla's phenomenal safety scores. Unless you must have the i3 for its unique execution, the Model 3 is the easy victor here.

See Tesla Model 3 Review

BMW i3 Popular Comparisons

The most popular competitors of 2021 BMW i3:

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