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 The first version a pure electric version with a range of between 80 and 100 miles, has been superceded in 2016 by one with a heady range of 195 miles between recharges - in the real world it is more like 124 miles.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 City cars

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Seat Leon ST Cupra 2.0 TSI 4Drive 300PS DSG
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    Seat's fastest Leon ST is fun to drive quickly and has enough space for all the family, but VW's own Golf R Estate is even better to drive
  • Porsche 911 GT3 manual 2017 review
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The new 911 GT3 is an excellent machine; does the addition of a manual gearbox make it even better?
  • Skoda Karoq
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The Yeti has morphed into the Karoq for its second generation, and this early drive reveals a solid, practical small SUV that could challenge the class best
  • Opel Ampera-e
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    Opel's second-generation Ampera is smaller than the first, and now purely electric. It's also very capable with a remarkable range
  • Lotus Elise Sprint
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    The latest incarnation of the Elise may be out of its depth on track, but on the public road it is probably the purest version since the original