How does the new BMW i3 compare with our favorite EVs?

We pit BMW's newly announced i3 electric city car against competing EV models and check the specs.

This morning, BMW finally pulled the wraps off of the 2014 BMW i3 electric car, laying clear the last details surrounding this car for the cities of the future.

The car arrives in the second quarter of 2014, so it will be a while before most of you will be able to take one for a spin. In the meantime, we've got a lot of specs on our hands, so let's compare the i3's numbers with those of competing small EV models.

2014 BMW i3
I'd wager that BMW placed a high emphasis on driving dynamics with the i3, because its little EV's 125kw, 170 horsepower motor is the most powerful in this roundup. Depending on how close its carbon fiber chassis gets to the estimated 2,700-pound curb weight, it could also end up being the lightest. High power and low weight are two of the main ingredients when baking a deliciously fun ride.

The BMW also boasts the fastest estimated 240V Level 2 charging time, beating the 4-hour standard by a full hour thanks possibly to its more powerful on-board charger. Finally, the Bimmer's optional range extender grants it nearly unlimited cruising range, making it the most flexible. However, the addition of that gasoline engine option adds complexity and tailpipe emissions to this zero-emissions roundup and could potentially confuse less well-informed buyers.


Josh Miller/CNET

2013 Nissan Leaf SV
The Leaf is the oldest player in today's roundup and forms a nice baseline to which all of the others are compared. True, the Nissan doesn't excel in any one category, but it is still competitive in all of them. More importantly, the tried and true Nissan Leaf SV is almost $10,000 less expensive than the BMW i3.


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2013 Fiat 500e
You may think differently, but the Italian Fiat 500e is the most stylish of this electrified bunch. It also boasts the longest EPA estimated electric cruising range of 87 miles. The BMW is going to have to shave every pound of curb weight that it can, if it hopes to go further with its slightly smaller battery. The 500e's middle of the pack price is still thousands less than the i3. Finally, the Fiat ePass program -- which gives 500e drivers free use of gasoline-powered rental vehicles for up to 12 days annually -- is an interesting solution for longer road trips.


Car Tech

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV
I'm not a huge fan of the Spark EV's overly exaggerated aesthetic, but, when compared with the hog-nosed i3, the Chevy is a work of art.

Subjective styling aside, the Chevrolet boasts the most available torque by a landslide; its 400 pound-feet is more than double the average twisting force offered in this class. Unfortunately, the decision to go with a 3.3kW onboard charger means that it also take twice as long to charge the Spark on 240V power. Additionally, the Spark EV is the least expensive model in today's roundup, further twisting the "too expensive" knife into the Bimmer's side.


2012 Ford Focus Electric
Josh Miller/CNET

2013 Ford Focus Electric
The Ford Focus electric boasts the biggest battery in this roundup, but the car is also the heaviest we've looked at today. The extra mass probably explains its midpack EPA estimated range. Having driven the electric Ford, I can attest that it certainly doesn't feel like a porker -- it's a fine premium alternative to the Leaf, but at almost $40,000 before incentives, the Ford Focus electric is subject to similar pricing criticisms to those I've been lobbing at the i3.

Had we space for an additional column, Honda's new Fit EV would face nearly identical praise and criticisms as the Ford did: it's $36K+ price would be at the high end of this roundup, but its performance and range fall squarely in the middle of the pack.


2014 BMW i3 2013 Nissan Leaf SV 2013 Fiat 500e 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV 2LT 2013 Ford Focus Electric
Price (pre-incentive) $41,350 $31,820 $31,800 $27,010 $39,200
Power (kW) 125kW 80kW 83kW 97kW 107kW
Horsepower 170 107 111 130 143
Torque (lb-ft.) 184 207 147 400 184
Curb weight (lbs.) 2,700 (estimated) 3,340 2,980 2,989 3,624
Battery capacity 22kWh 24kWh 24kWh 21.3kWh 25kWh
Range (miles) 80-100* 73 87 82 76
Onboard charger (kW) 7.4 6.6 6.6 3.3 6.6
120V Charge time (hrs.) not listed 22 24 17 20
240V Charge time (hrs.) 3 4 4 7 4
Fast charging Optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charging allows for 80% charge in 20mins; 100% in 30 mins Optional Quick Charging ChaDeMo port at SL trim level: 80% charge in 30 minutes n/a Optional SAE DC Combo Fast Charging allows for 80% charge in 20mins; 100% in 30 mins n/a
Range extender 650cc gasoline powered Range Extender optional, $3,850 n/a FIAT 500e Pass rental cars n/a n/a
* As estimated by BMW, but not yet certified by the EPA.

Honorable mentions:
When setting up today's shootout, we also took looks at the Smart Electric Drive and Mitsubishi's i-Miev . These two-seaters didn't make the cut because they're significantly smaller, lower-powered, and shorter-ranged vehicles than the rest of the pack -- though the Smart did impress us with its value. Similarly, Tesla's Model S doesn't line up in this electric bench race, but for the opposite reason: it's significantly larger and more expensive than the i3. We'll save that comparison for the BMW i8 launch.

 

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