The BMW i3 electric vehicle has a lot in common with its spaceship-like brother, the i8 plug-in hybrid, which is thrice the price. Both vehicles, built on carbon-fiber chassis, are designed as if from a galaxy far, far away for a forward-thinking customer base of sporty environmentalists.
But in reality, the i3 and i8 come from different planets. The i8 is sleek, exotic and built for two limber bodies able to contort themselves into the front seats below swan-wing doors. The back seat is just for looks.
The i3, on the other hand, is tall and stubby, with bizarrely shaped windows, and it does not appear to be aerodynamic. But the i3 is so much more handy for four occupants, with no B-pillar hindering access to the second row, thanks to suicide doors.
Once inside the i3, the eye is drawn to an odd assemblage of materials that makes one wonder if this particular model left the factory without all its parts.
We evaluated both interiors, but the i3, attractively priced at $45,200 (or well-equipped like our tester for $52,550), earns its 2015 Ward’s 10 Best Interiors trophy for ambitiously combining practicality, eco-friendly materials and quirky styling into an unconventional package that may shock at first but soon grows comforting.
This competition has nothing to do with powertrain, but it’s worth noting the i3 manages a “two-fer,” having won a Ward’s 10 Best Engines award in January. Available in all-electric or with a gasoline-powered range extender, the i3 delivers on the promise of Bavarian driving dynamics. It’s just plain fun.
This is worth mentioning because BMW product developers could have focused most of their energy on the drivetrain while phoning in the interior, but that didn’t happen.
From bumper to bumper, a truly groundbreaking vehicle must raise eyebrows, and the i3 interior does exactly that. It’s so futuristic it lacks AM radio.
“It’s a unique, beautiful cabin,” writes Editor Christie Schweinsberg on her scoresheet. “It definitely matches the wild exterior. The materials are fantastic, and I love the mix of color, shapes and textures. This interior sells the vehicle.”
Fabric on seats and doors is made from repurposed pop bottles, and the battleship-gray upper doors and instrument panel are pressed from recycled hemp. The natural-looking eucalyptus wood on the IP is sourced because of its abundance, growing like weeds in parts of the world. Finally, the optional leather is tanned with olive-leaf extract.
The materials, alone, deserve an award for sustainability.
It’s wonderful to see BMW reinventing the vehicle interior space, and we hope some of these design flourishes will make their way into the brand’s high-volume production vehicles in the future.