The BMW i3 was the best kind of failure. Sure BMW would never call it that but given the amount of money invested and the number of units sold (especially in the US) it’s hard to think otherwise. Yet in some ways the BMW i3 represents BMW at its best. An engineering led answer to a problem that was just coming into focus, the i3 was to solve for sustainable transportation in the Mega cities of tomorrow. In many ways it represented ideals of the MINI brand as much or more than some modern MINI models. The only problem was it wasn’t entirely what people wanted. And now BMW is killing it for the US market.
While it will soldier on in some markets until 2024, BMWNA has seen sales figures in a free-fall for years (1,508 for 2020). Much of it has to do with pricing vs range but it’s also down to consumer’s buying patterns. Whether it’s the never-ending desire for the small crossover or the (mostly) irrational need for more range in an electric car, the i3 never found a large following. Ultimately the sophisticated engineering made the price too high given the range offered no matter how brilliantly packaged it was . However those who did find it generally fell in love with it.
The i3 introduced a revolutionary (partial) carbon fiber monocoque chassis that was not only a first in the segment but has yet to be equalled. Its (relatively) light weight coupled with space efficiency and rear wheel drive architecture created a very unique offering. It also made it surprisingly rewarding to drive. With weight positioned low and towards the rear, the i3 had eager turn-in and a surprising amount of precision in its handling. In other words it felt very MINI like. So much so that BMW momentarily considered creating a MINI version (more on that later).
It was also incredibly forward looking in its sustainability measures. Recycled bottles were the basis of the plastic seat backs, pressed hemp and other materials were used to make the interior cowl and doors and other recycled fibers made up the seats. Then there’s the carbon figure which was created in Washington State using hydroelectricity. Perhaps most impressive was the sustainable forestry method used to source the signature wood trim which dominated the interior.
The one thing it has been incredible at is depreciation. While the current lack of used cars has caused values to rise slightly, it’s fairly easy to get a low mileage 2018 BMW i3 for under $20,000. That’s a $50k car that’s only three years old mind you.
Read out most recent review for the BMW i3 and pour one out for everyone’s favorite carbon fiber monocoque electric small car.