The ★★★ 2014 BMW i3 electric car performs so much better in its battery-powered mode than when the gasoline-powered generator kicks in to extend the car’s range that testing one is almost like reviewing two different cars.

In battery mode — which provides a range of 72 miles, according to the EPA — the i3 is a spunky, eccentric and eye-catching glimpse of the future.

But the extended-range mode that lets you drive beyond the battery’s limit, is severely limited, both in how far the car can travel and in how long it’ll take you to get there.

The i3 is the smaller, less expensive and by far the funkier of the first two cars from BMW’s i brand of electric vehicles.

The i3 competes primarily with electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and extended-range electrics like the Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR. You could stretch a point and call plug-in versions of the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Prius hybrids competitors, though they’re different in many ways.



Weak extender reduces electric car’s appeal.
Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press