BMW recently broke into the BEV mainstream with its i4 sedan and iX crossover models, but its first electric vehicles were more experimental in nature. The i3 hatchback was the more conventional of the carmaker’s initial pair of EVs (the other was the i8 sports car, which we’ll cover in a later article), but was far removed from what many car enthusiasts and even casual observers had come to expect from BMW. And after more than eight years, the Bavarian automaker finally ended production on the quirky little hatchback just this month.
The i3 starts with a pure electric powertrain whose rear-mounted motor puts 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. BMW also offered an optional range extender (marketed as the i3 REx) whose two-cylinder gas engine and generator power the electric motor after the battery runs out of charge. In 2018, BMW began offering an i3s variant with 181 hp and 199 lb-ft.
Early versions of the i3 have 130 km of driving range. In 2017, an optional battery upgrade improved range to 183 km, and another battery bump in 2019 applied across the line with 246 km of range.
In the i3 REx, early cars could go 116 km on the battery alone and an additional 119 km (235 km total) using the gas-powered generator. The 2017 model can go 156 km on a full charge and another 129 km (285 km total) on generator power, and from 2019, the i3 REx promises 203 km of pure electric driving and another 116 km (for 319 km in all) after the generator takes over. Like any plug-in hybrid, the i3 REx’s engine is programmed to automatically start once in a while to keep its internal components from seizing up.
At the car’s introduction, BMW’s energy consumption estimates were 2.0 Le/100 km on battery power, and 5.7/6.3 L/100 km with the gas generator running. BMW updated those figures in 2017 to 2.1 Le/100 km on the battery and 6.5/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway) on generator power, and again in 2018 to 2.2 Le/100 km (battery), and 6.6/7.1 L/100 km (generator). From 2019 through to the i3 REx’s final year in 2021, BMW’s estimates were 2.4 Le/100 km on battery power and 7.8/7.5 L/100 km with the gas engine running.
Carfax Canada’s values for a used BMW i3 start at $26,791 for a 2014 base model. In 2020, the last year for which Carfax has i3 values, the more powerful i3s is worth $42,280.
Trim levels and features
The BMW i3’s standard features included 19-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, power-folding side mirrors, radar cruise control, heated front seats, leather and cloth upholstery, dual-zone A/C, and four-speaker audio. Initially, the i3 came standard with a 6.5-inch iDrive infotainment display and the option of an 8.8-inch screen. Later cars with navigation got a 10.25-inch screen.
Buyers could add a tech package that bundled an upgraded stereo with adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, pedestrian detection with collision mitigation, and smartphone connectivity. If you find a pre-2018 i3 with a backup camera, that car has the premium package, which also includes front and rear parking sensors and a self-parking system.
BMW made a backup camera standard in cars built in May 2018 and later, when Transport Canada mandated that safety feature in all new vehicles. That year the i3 also got refreshed styling.
The 2019 model gained the longer-range powertrain we detailed above, but the i3 was otherwise unchanged through 2021.
Range extender generator failures
In 2020, some i3 owners filed a class action lawsuit regarding drivetrain problems in cars with the range extender. The issue that prompted the suit is complaints about a lack of acceleration when the car transitions from battery to generator power.
Some auto news outlets reported on a 2018 recall for an electronic fault that could cause the car to shut down, but that recall applied to just one vehicle in Canada.
Check the motor mounts for cracked plastic brackets
According to this article, early i3 models have plastic motor mount brackets that are prone to breaking. That article includes a handy video showing how to check the condition of the mounts.
Listen for squeaky steering
Steering squeaks are caused by a lack of lubrication on a plastic bearing in the steering spindle assembly. BMW issued a service bulletin in 2016 to help its technicians diagnose and fix the issue.
Power steering failures
Some owners report a sudden loss of power steering that appears to be software-related, as it often comes back after the car is parked for a time and then turned on again. Here’s another discussion about the issue.
See if a used i3 passes the sniff test
If you smell fuel while driving, it’s likely caused by a damaged fuel tank vent line that BMW addressed through a recall that covered 688 examples of the i3 REx from model years 2014 through 2017. You’ll find a link below to the Transport Canada recall notice.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) first tested the BMW i3’s crash safety in 2017. It scored a “good” rating in both small- and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests, the side impact test, and a roof-strength test that measures occupant protection in a rollover. The i3’s headlights, head restraints, and seats all got an “acceptable” rating. Those ratings apply to all later model years, too.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) never tested the i3’s crash-worthiness.
BMW recalled some 2014 and 2015 models after they sustained ice storm water damage while parked at the Port of Halifax, with the company’s primary concern being water infiltration in the steering system.
Some 2014 and 2017 models were recalled to replace improperly assembled front airbag components.
As we mentioned earlier, BMW recalled i3 REx models from 2014 through 2017 to fix a fuel tank vent line that could rub against an adjacent component and develop a leak.