There may be disquiet about its gentle rate of climb, but the electric car has – at last, once and for always – taken off.

Its presence can no longer be ignored. Experts are already predicting the year when EVs will account for a million registrations around the world.

Some say that it’ll take a decade; others that it’ll happen sooner. Some can even see the day when 'plug-in' cars will account for one in every 10 sold.

A roll call of a few of the big introductions of 2013 shows what’s behind the breakthrough. The Renault Zoe proved that EVs can be cheap, the Tesla Model S that they can be grand and the Porsche 918 Spyder that they can be supercars. It’s as if every new example represents a significant step forward for the breed.

And here comes another one: the i3, the first battery-powered series production BMW. It is the battery car done with evident freedom, imagination and commitment and then draped in European premium-brand allure.

BMW has not dabbled in mass-production electric cars before the i3 (and its sister car, the hybrid i8). However, the programme that spawned these models – Project i – does provide direct antecedents.

The first phase included the Mini E, which offered a remarkably similar range and performance to the i3 and began field testing in 2009. This was succeeded in the second phase by the ActiveE, a 1-series that previewed the i3's electric motor and entered two years of global testing in 2012 with a fleet of 1100 cars.

BMW's i3, then, represents the sum total of all that was learned in that lengthy and studious process. Two versions are offered. The first is a pure electric version with a range of between 80 and 100 miles.

The second is the BMW i3 Range Extender, which offers the same all-electric powertrain but with the addition of an on-board petrol-powered generator. So, when the battery becomes depleted, the generator fires up to ensure that you can continue your journey.

Could there be a better invitation than the BMW i3 to take the plunge on zero-emissions motoring? You’re about to find out.

Top 5 Premium hatches

  • BMW i3
    Two versions of the BMW i3 are on sale: a pure electric model or a range-extender variant

    BMW i3

    1
  • Audi A3 Sportback
    All Audi A3s feature multi-link rear suspension, denied to some other MQB-based VW Group cars

    Audi A3 Sportback

    2
  • The new Volvo V40 is the Swedish firm's sleek and sporty-looking answer to the VW Golf, A3 Sportback and BMW 1-series

    Volvo V40

    3
  • The BMW 1-series has sold more than two million units globally since it was launched in 2004

    BMW 1-series

    4
  • The Giulietta competes in the biggest segment in Europe - rivals include the VW Golf and Ford Focus

    Alfa Romeo Giulietta

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    27 March 2015
    Lavishly-equipped, rugged-looking Peugeot 508 estate is a pleasant drive, but there are many more recommendable alternatives
  • 308 GT 1.6-litre petrol is priced from £24,095
    First Drive
    27 March 2015
    Peugeot's given the 308 the engine from the 208 GTi 30th and some chassis upgrades; we find out if the changes bring a bit of old-school Peugeot hot-hatch magic to this likeable family hatch.
  • Car review
    26 March 2015
    Does Suzuki's new city runabout have what it takes to succeed?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    Collins Performance has given the Fiesta ST 270bhp and 265lb ft, but has our favourite fast Ford been ruined in the process?
  • First Drive
    26 March 2015
    The Seat Leon X-Perience is the closest thing to an SUV that you can buy with a Seat badge for now, blending estate practicality with off-road ability