In a few ways – control weighting and consistency – the i3 drives similarly to other BMWs. But in most respects it’s nothing like any other BMW at all.
Where it differs most are via its dimensions, which are reflected in the way that it drives. Because it’s tall, narrow and short and has a tight turning circle, the trademark feeling of stability and solidity that you get with most BMWs is notable by its absence.
Around town, the i3 has a firmness to its ride (to help prevent this high car from lolling around) that never leaves it. Throw in a rear weight bias – 57 percent of the mass is over the back axle – and it’s inevitable that the i3 has dynamics that make it more like, say, a Mitsubishi i than a 7 Series.
Up the speed and the i3 makes a slightly nervous motorway companion, one that is quick to change direction and react to minor steering inputs. It’s not a big deal or a great criticism – just unexpected from a BMW.
BMW has sensibly made the stability control system on the i3 one that will not switch out, although it is possible to turn off the traction control should you want to allow the wheels to spin up to gain purchase in poor conditions.
On normal surfaces, you’ll have to try hard to trouble the DSC system, because the i3 – despite its minimal surface contact with the road – generates a commendable amount of grip, at 0.74g, so it doesn’t feel out of its depth on back roads.
The steering, which doesn’t feel overtly stable on a motorway, does lend the i3 a certain feeling of agility, too. This is a short car with a minuscule turning circle, so the steering feels quicker than its 2.5 turns lock to lock suggests.
Initially, there’s understeer, which the i3’s stability control quells rapidly. And in poor conditions there’s even a hint of power oversteer, which the electronics stamp out just as rapidly. We suspect that, somewhere, there’s a tidy chassis behind the intervention.
But there are trademark BMW traits here, too. Steering weight is heftier than is typical in a city car and pedal and lever responses are similarly firm. They imbue the i3 with some sense of solidity, and cabin noise and refinement levels – both of which are fine – only add to the feeling that this is a special little car.
Visibility is sound, making the i3 an easy car to thread through city traffic, which is where it shines. There is no creep like you’d get with a conventional auto and, as with most EVs, the i3 can be tricky to modulate while slowing because lifting off turns the motor into a generator and deceleration is quite fierce.
Still, you get used to it, and the point at which the brake discs add extra stopping power is better managed than in most rivals.