BMW i3 vs Chevy Bolt: Electric Vehicles Compared

BMW i3 vs Chevy Bolt

If you can read the writing on the wall, it’s time to start shopping for an EV. In the market, there are a few big players making a splash. You’ve probably heard Tesla’s name a million times, but the price is just too outrageous for a lot of buyers. Removing them basically leaves the BMW i3 and the Chevy Bolt.

The short comparison between these two cars is that the Chevy Bolt is cheaper, faster, more reliable, goes further, weighs less, and has a much higher U.S. News rating. The benefit of the BMW i3 is that it is much more luxurious and has that BMW badge all over it.

So, which is better? My mission is to answer this question for you. I’ll jump into a comprehensive comparison of the two cars. At the end of this article, you’ll see the clear winner.

Get Ready for More EVs

Before getting started with this comparison, let me just say that you’re making a good idea by picking an EV. If you didn’t know, gas-powered cars might be going away (sooner than you think).

As the years keep rolling by, expect to see even more EVs on the market. The fact that Chevy has their hand in the pot now should be taken as a really good sign.

Personally, I love EVs. There are a lot of compelling reasons to get an electric vehicle nowadays. I think you’ll understand that better when I jump into the full comparison of these two cars.

Introducing the BMW i3

In the red corner, standing at 62.6 inches and weighing 3,563 pounds is the BMW i3. This car was first showcased in 2011 and had its first production run in late 2013 with the model year of 2014.

Since then, we’ve seen an improvement almost every year that passed. The range increased, the performance got better, luxury options were added, and the exterior had a glow-up.

BMW i3 2019
BMW i3

Introducing the Chevy Bolt

The Bolt is Chevy’s attempt at a commuter EV. In fact, it’s a lot more than just an attempt. This car went toe-to-toe with Tesla’s Model 3 and came out pretty well.

The Bolt is a little compact SUV. Well… sort of. The EPA calls it a small station wagon, GM calls it a crossover, but car people call it a compact SUV.

It was first launched in 2016 with model-year ’17 available to the public. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to talk about its first 4 years on the market. It wasn’t until 2020 and 2021 that the car started being a real force in the EV market.

Why? That’s the year that Chevy made some big changes. An upgrade to its battery, safety features, and charging speed was among the big points on the list.

We’re still in the first generation run of the Bolt, so it’s just an infant in the car world.

Chevy Bolt 2
Chevrolet Bolt

Which Trims am I Comparing?

Just to be clear, I’m going to compare the base-level trim for both of these cars. The highest-level trim has a much bigger difference between the two, so I want to keep things fair.

That means that I’m picking the 21 BMW i3 120 Ah RWD and the 21 Chevy Bolt LT FWD.

The Ultimate Comparison: 2021 BMW i3 vs 2021 Chevy Bolt

Now, I’ll step through every category worth discussing. In each category, I’ll declare a winner of the match-up. In the end, I’ll tally up the points and see which car is better.

MSRP

The very first thing I want to look at is the price of both cars. This will put everything into perspective. If you compare a Porsche and a Suzuki without looking at the price tag, you might be completely mind-blown.

While this isn’t a Porsche-Suzuki difference, the price gap between the Bolt and i3 can explain a lot.

The i3 has an MSRP of $44,450 and the Bolt has an MSRP of $36,500. 8 grand is a lot in the car world.

As such, you’d probably expect the i3 to have more bells and whistles, more power, and a better feel of luxury. Stay tuned to see how those categories fare.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Chevrolet Bolt Exhibition

U.S. News Rating

There’s this magical place called U.S. News that tests different cars and ranks them. They go through a ton of different criteria before giving a singular overall score out of 10 for each vehicle tested. It explains how great (or not so great) the car is.

In this case, the Bolt stomps out the i3 with an overall rating of 8.1 compared to 7.2. Though a 7.2 isn’t a “see me after class” grade, it’s still a difference of nearly a full point.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Horsepower

Just to be upfront, you shouldn’t buy these cars if you’re looking to qualify for the Daytona 500. Still, these cars are quicker than you might think.

The horsepower isn’t telling you the full story. It’s really a matter of electric versus combustion engines. The next category talks about speed, but this category is about what’s under the hood.

You’ll get 200 hp in the BMW and 170 hp in the Chevy. That’s almost identical to an entry-level Camry and Civic, respectively. 

For cars of this size and stature, that’s a good amount of horsepower.

Winner: BMW i3

BMW i3 bonnet hood logo

Comparing the Speed

Now let’s talk about speed. Speed is the byproduct of horsepower, tire grip, and weight of the car.

Top speed:

  • Chevy Bolt: 93mph
  • BMW i3: 93 mph

0-60 time:

  • Chevy Bolt: 6.5 seconds
  • BMW i3: 7.2

Pump the brakes, are you as confused as I was? The BMW has 30 more horses under the hood but it’s slower and has the exact same top speed? It’s all a matter of weight.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Curb Weight

The curb weight is how much the car weighs before you step foot in it. The i3 might have gone a little turkey crazy at Thanksgiving because it outweighs its comparably sized Chevy brother by nearly 600 pounds.

The i3 weighs 3,563 lbs, and the Bolt weighs 2,972 lbs. That alone is the reason why the Bolt is so much quicker off the line.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Chevrolet Bolt EV electric side fender car, logo and sign

Front Room

When I look at a car, I really care about the room in the front seats. I don’t care how my rear passengers feel (sorry, mom).

Looking at these cars, you might feel cramped in either option. The i3 has 40.5 inches of legroom and 39.6 inches of headroom. The Bolt is about the same with 41.6 inches of legroom and 39.7 inches for your head.

Comparatively, a Civic has 39.3 for the head and 42.3 for your legs.

Winner: Tie

US Sales Figures

No comparison is complete until you see what the market has to say. As the investors in Shark Tank say, money talks louder than words.

In this case, we care about how many sales each car had in a single calendar year. I’ll avoid the figures from 2020 since that year was really weird for car sales. In 2019, BMW sold 4,854 i3’s [ and Chevy sold 16,418 Bolts (see all the USA EV sales figures here).

This is a huge win for Chevy, with more than triple the sales of BMW. Surely, all of those customers saw something in the car.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Predicted Reliability

Predicted reliability is another interesting category. It goes through and looks at the car’s build, predicting what issues an owner might run into and how reliable the vehicle will be.

In this comparison, it’s another runaway. The Bolt achieved a perfect 5/5 rating when it comes to predicted reliability. The i3? It only got a 3.5/5.

Again, this value is above average, but it’s not good enough when you’re facing off against the Bolt.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Chevy Bolt EV Rear

Estimated MPGe

MPGe is a funky term. It refers to how far an electric car will go on a comparable gallon of gas. Don’t go squirting gas on your battery pack, though. This is just a term to give an apples-to-apples comparison of a gas-powered car and an EV.

The Bolt offers 118 combined MPGe and the i3 can achieve 113 combined MPGe.

Though it might not seem like a huge difference, it’s 5 extra fuel-ups for a driver that puts down 12,000 miles a year. In the gas-powered car world, that’s upwards of a hundred bucks. In the EV world, that’s a few days you don’t have to worry about plugging in each year.

Winner: Chevy Bolt (barely)

Mile Range

Another big consideration for a buyer is how far the car will go. This is determined by its mile range. If you have a fully charged battery, this is the total mileage that the vehicle will go before the battery dies and needs a recharge.

The BMW i3 can go 126 miles, and the Chevy Bolt can go 259 miles. Wow. That’s a difference of more than double.

But, wait a second, didn’t I just say that both MPGe values were pretty close? That’s right, in the case of total mileage, it’s also a question of how big the battery is. Sort of like how many gallons of gas a car’s tank can hold.

In this case, the Bolt’s battery can hold much more juice than the i3’s.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Seating

Even though both cars are pretty small, you can squeeze one more person in the Bolt. The Chevy offers 5 seats and the BMW only has 4. The center of the i3’s back row is a convenient set of cup holders instead of a fifth seat.

The rear legroom and headroom aren’t bragworthy in either option, but that’s beside the point.

If you want to haul around four friends and none of them want to lay on the roof and hold on tight, the Bolt is the only option here.

Winner: Chevy Bolt

Luxury

What about the luxury in these cars? Though it might not be the first thing I’m looking for, I always like to feel pampered when I’m sitting in a car.

Between these two cars, the i3 wins it by a mile when it comes to luxury.

You can tell almost immediately when you sit down in the driver’s seat. You’ll find wood finishes, big digital displays, and leather everywhere. Meanwhile, the Bolt has a lot of hard plastics and cheap details around the vehicle.

It has heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, and a bunch of added tech that the Bolt doesn’t offer. This is likely due to the $8,000 price difference between the two.

Winner: BMW i3

BMW i3 Interior
BMW i3 – interior

Aesthetics

Now is a category that took me a little while to put together. I was looking for nice ways to say this, but I think honesty is the best policy. If you own one of these cars, you might want to look away now.

I think that both of these cars look bad. Like, really bad. I don’t know why electric car manufacturers think we want to see terrible body decisions in the name of an “EV Styling”.

The Bolt looks like a mashup of a Prius and a minivan and the i3 looks like a Smart Car that ate its Wheaties. I do like the black hood on the i3, but that’s about it.

With that said, the interior of both of these cars is impressive. The i3’s looks like a car from I, Robot, and the Bolt’s looks like something from SpaceX. I really like them both.

Winner: Tie

Country of the Make

When I compared Japanese and American vehicles a little while ago, something became pretty obvious. There are some big problems with American cars as you compare them to international manufacturers.

In this case, I think the same argument can be made. Chevy is an American brand and BMW is a German powerhouse.

In almost every case, I’d take a German car over an American one, especially if it’s going to be my personal ride for a while.

Since neither car has been out more than a decade, I can’t make a definitive case here. Still, it’s something worth pointing out.

Winner: Tie (but I want to say the BMW i3)

2018 BMW i3 electric car

The Final Verdict: BMW i3 or Chevy Bolt

With all the comparisons completed, I’m ready to give my final verdict. The results of this face-off are as follows:

  • BMW i3: 2 wins
  • Chevy Bolt: 9 wins
  • 3 ties

I’d say that this puts the Chevy Bolt pretty far ahead of the BMW i3. Of the 14 categories, the Bolt took home 9 wins. It’s cheaper, faster, more reliable, goes further, weighs less, and has a much higher U.S. News rating.

In the BMW, you’ll spend more to enjoy more luxury and more horsepower (though the horses don’t amount to a faster car).

I feel comfortable saying that the Bolt is the better car for most consumers. Actually, I don’t need to say that because the market already has (with the Bolt selling 11,500 more cars than the i3 in 2019).

Conclusion

That’s it for this match-up between the Chevy Bolt and the BMW i3. It seems like Chevy Bolt took the crown. Check out the rest of my blog for more car news, match-ups, and guides. Be sure to pick up the products you need for your car.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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