Future classic: BMW i3

| 5 Dec 2019
Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3

For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here


It’s a mouth-watering spec sheet. A shade under 170bhp, rear-wheel drive, carbon-fibre monocoque construction and a £35k price-tag: this is surely the recipe for a new lightweight Lotus sports car, spiritual successor to Elan, Elise and their ilk?

Nope, it’s a zero-emissions electric city car, closer in spirit to the cart that delivers your morning milk than a product of Hethel’s genius.

Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3

I promise that will be the only reference to milk floats here, though, because it really is an unfair comparison. For a start, not even Ernie and his fastest milk cart in the west will see which direction the BMW i3 went when it does its scalded-cat impression.

There’s a faster ‘S’ version, but it hardly seems necessary because this standard 120Ah model is ridiculously rapid off the mark. Its full complement of 184lb ft of torque deploys dramatically from standstill and pulls with a delightfully turbine-like song to leave most conventional cars behind at the lights.

They’ll get past you eventually, of course, but right up to its 93mph maximum the i3 feels sprightly yet stable – albeit with plenty of road noise and resonance from those skinny 19in wheels.

Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3
Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3
Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3

Inside and out, it looks pleasingly retro-futuristic in the mould of a Back to the Future film prop.

Outside there’s lots of blue detailing, suicide rear doors and funky body lines, while inside the search for weight loss is unashamedly proclaimed by the raw glassfibre and carbon – but beautifully finished, and set off by leather and eucalyptus wood in a successful blend of luxury and minimalism.

At a shade over 4m from stem to stern the i3 is compact, but the four individual seats and ‘floating’ dash give a sense of space, helped by the glass roof in our test car. 

Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3
Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3
Classic & Sports Car – Future classic: BMW i3

It’s a car of contradictions: a complete departure for its maker in so many ways, yet to drive it could only be a BMW. The drive modes might be a bit PlayStation – select forward or backwards and off you go – but the agile chassis, the superbly weighted steering and the feel through hands, feet and seat trace their lineage to the ’02 and CSL, just as surely as a modern 3 or 6 Series.

With any electric car, however, the most important feature is range, and in this case it’s officially 181 miles, but realistically nearer 160
(a number we were able to replicate).

That’s outclassed these days – the i3 has been around since 2016, after all – and consumer magazines’ verdicts on the BMW are less than flattering. Alongside the likes of the Nissan Leaf and Kia e-Niro the little i3 looks expensive, impractical and, well, dated.

Bizarrely, however, the fact this former vision of the future is already an anachronism is part of its appeal. It marks a point in time and will be remembered long after those plug-in hatchbacks are forgotten as the car that proved electrification can be cool. 

Images: Max Edleston


FACTFILE

  • Engine BMW eDrive electric motor with 120Ah Li-Ion battery; 168bhp @ 4800rpm; 184lb ft from rest
  • Transmission single-speed auto, RWD
  • 0-62mph 7.3 secs
  • Top speed 93mph
  • Mpg n/a
  • Price £35,350

READ MORE

Future classic: McLaren 600LT

Electric dreams: 13 eco-friendly classic cars

Classic electric conversions aren’t classics, says FIVA