2014 BMW i3 with Range Extender

City car, city sized

Design elements

Integrated lights

Shiny mobility

Electric motor

Belt line

Coach doors

Optional range extender

Electricity goes here

Charging

Gasoline goes here

Range extender

Regeneration and recapture

Front seats

Light interior

Materials mix

Premium interior

Infotainment

iDrive controller

Navigation

Steering

Gear selector

Shifting the i3

Eco Pro+

Instrument cluster

Driver aid

Although it shares many design cues and materials, the compact 2014 BMW i3 with Range Extender is very different animal from its big sister.

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The compact hatchback is a city car with a small, easily parkable footprint.

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Along with its two-toned design, the i3 shares its metallic blue detailing and U-shaped LED illumination with the larger, more exotic i8.

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The tail lights are integrated and flush with the glossy tailgate.

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The i3's design is makes it seem more like a shiny mobile gadget than an automobile.

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The i3 is powered by a 125 kW electric motor on its rear axle. In more familiar terms, the i3 is good for 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

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The i3's belt line dips dramatically to enlarge the rear windows.

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The front doors open like you'd expect, but the back coach doors are rear hinged.

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The i3 is available with an optional range extender, a two-cylinder gasoline generator that adds to the EV's cruising range.

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The i3 can cruise for about 74 electric-powered miles after a full charge.

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Recharging the battery pack takes about 5 hours from a level 2 fast-charging station. In a pinch, drivers can plug the EV into a standard wall outlet using the included charging cable, but that dramatically increases the charging time to well over 12 hours.

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When the battery level dips below 5 percent, the optional range extender kicks in to add about 75 more miles of cruising range.

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The range extender doesn't have a physical connection to the powertrain; it just generates electricity. It also can't refill the battery pack, merely sustaining about a 5 percent charge.

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The regenerative braking system is very aggressive. As soon as the driver lifts a foot from the accelerator, the vehicle begins to slow, reclaiming energy.

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Inside, the i3's cabin is airy and spacious. The front seats are thinner than in a conventional vehicle, freeing up valuable knee room for the rear-seat passengers.

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The dashboard is low and the windows large, which lets a lot of light into the EV's cabin and aids in driver visibility.

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BMW uses an interesting mix of materials in the cabin. There's wood, wool, exposed carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, leather and metal.

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With its multilevel design and mix of materials, the i3's dashboard is a gorgeous work of art.

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Floating at the center of the dashboard is the color display for the the standard navigation and infotainment system.

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That central screen is not touch sensitive, so drivers interact with it via the iDrive controller. I'm not a fan, but other CNET editors are enamored of this control scheme.

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Navigation is standard and features routing algorithms that take into account the range and efficiency of the electric powertrain.

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The i3's steering is very responsive -- almost to a fault. I found the front end to be a bit too darty and twitchy at first, but quickly got used to the compact's agile handling.

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To free up space, the i3 doesn't use a standard console shift lever. Instead there's this weird steering-column gear selector.

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The driver nudges the selector forward to choose Drive and backward for Reverse. Park is activated by a button atop the stalk.

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To help the driver to exceed the EPA's estimated 74 mile EV range, the i3 features three driving modes. Comfort is the default setting. Eco Pro adjusts the throttle map for more efficient driving. Eco Pro+ is the most extreme setting, limiting the speed to 56 mph and deactivating the climate control.

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The instrument cluster is another tablet-like LCD which showcases the current speed, estimated EV range, and estimated range extender range.

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The i3 is available with some fairly advanced driver aid and intervention tech, but our example was equipped with only a rear camera and parking distance sensors.

Caption by / Photo by Antuan Goodwin/CNET
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