2014 BMW i3 Walk Around

Size-wise, the BMW i3 is a few inches shorter and slightly narrower than the Mini Countryman, and sits about an inch taller. It's significantly shorter than the Nissan Leaf, by nearly 18 inches. It retains some classic BMW styling cues like a rather squashed version of the twin kidney grille, swept-back headlamps and large, multi-spoke wheels bearing the blue and white roundel.

A diminutive twin-kidney grille is framed by small, slanty headlamps that sweep back over aggressively flared fenders into a boxy, somewhat bloated-looking body. The lower front bumper is large and substantial, with cutouts on either side for the small, round fog lights. The hood, roof and tailgate on all i3 models are black, contrasting sharply with the available blue, silver, gray and orange body colors.

Thermoplastic bumpers are not only light, but flexible. They're so springy, one can make a dent with the moderate push of a hand. When pressure is released, the bumper bounces right back to its original shape. The give and rebound helps to avoid damage at low speeds.

From the side, the i3 looks big and roomy. The beltline follows a unique path, cutting across the front door high and straight, then dipping down lower across the narrow back window, then swooping back up again into the rear quarter panel. A slightly curved roofline and tiny roof spoiler give a little touch of sportiness to the i3's otherwise bloated shape. Standard wheels are 19-inch forged aluminum; different designs denote different trim levels.

In back, LED tail lamps flank the large, flat hatch. Beneath the black liftgate, the recessed rear bumper is painted in body color.


Though the car looks cute and quirky on the outside, the inside of the 2014 BMW i3 presents a very forward-thinking, sophisticated dwell-style design. Though it's beautiful in a futuristic, minimalist, artsy way, we're not sure it matches the exterior design, nor the spirit of, a short-distance commuter. It's quite a contrast between the hatchback's fun, almost silly exterior shape.

Certain interior materials are natural and sustainable, including dashboard trim made from eucalyptus trees on Mega World and Tera World trims. The deeply grained wood dash makes us feel like we're lounging in our living room in front of an expensive coffee table. The accent trim on the doors and dash are made of hemp and are highly textured, adding a bit of interest to areas that in most cars are covered with hard plastics.

The center stack is clean and minimalist. A floating-style display screen sits front and center, surrounded by open space. In a separate bank beneath are controls for audio and temperature, as well as two climate control vents.

Because the i3 was designed from the get-go to be an electric car, there is no transmission tunnel that runs the length of the car. This eliminates the hump normally found inside traditional gas and hybrid cars that divides the right side of the car from the left. Because of this, designers were able to place the center console low and nearly flush with the front seat. That makes for an easier escape out the other side when driver or passenger is pinned in too close to the car next door.

Storage space up front is adequate for short drives. Two cupholders sit front-to-back in the center console. Doors have wide pockets for phones and other gear, but the armrest above prevents storage of taller items.

Outward visibility is good, thanks to the i3's large windshield and high seating position. There are some tricky blind spots in the rear corners, however, due to the large C- and D-pillars.

Our leather-trimmed interior felt plastic-y, not buttery soft. On the bright side, coffee-drinking commuters might find this texture more stain resistant and easier to wipe down. Seats are lightweight and thin to save weight, and are comfortable on shorter drives, but we wonder how backs and rear-ends would fare on longer drives. But with a maximum range of 180 miles per charge, most people won't be in their cars for more than a few hours anyhow.

Rear seats are adequate, and can accommodate average-sized adults without too much squishing. Suicide-style rear doors make getting in and out easier. Rear seats are split 50-50 and fold flat. Cargo space is slim with all seats in place, but with the rear seats folded flat, the i3 offers a decent 11.8 cubic feet.

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