What comes to mind when you think exotic cars? Probably something like a carbon fiber shell and an engine behind the driver. You might be surprised to learn that can have both with a warranty, and it will cost you well under $20,000. These days, the unusual and ultra-efficient BMW i3 is really cheap.

If you have a short daily drive and the ability to plug your car in at work or at home, a lightly used BMW i3 could be a great alternative to your typical boring commuter-mobile.

Advertisement

Let’s start with the basics: the body is carbon fiber. Yes, the same material that you find in Formula One racecars and hyper exotics like the McLaren P1. The motor is in the rear and pumps out the electric equivalent of about 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque that is available immediately. This means the little car can scoot to 60 mph in about 7.2 seconds. While that’s not M3 quick, the lightweight and instant power make it a super fun runabout for city and urban driving.

While all that sounds like a hoot, a brand new BMW i3 has a starting price of over $42,000 before you start checking off your options boxes. However, since the first batch of i3 models are just now coming off their three-year lease period and gas is cheap, the market is flooded with super cheap cars, most of which have a BMW Certified Pre-Owned warranty.

Some careful shopping could land you one of these carbon fiber electric hatchbacks for less than $16,000:

Now the downside is that these early i3 models had an effective range of about 83 miles. So it really only worked for people scooting around town or didn’t have to drive far to work. If you wanted to go a bit further you could get a gasoline Range Extender model but that will set you back closer to $20,000.

Advertisement

Not a bad deal for something way cooler than a Prius, but keep in mind that even with the Range Extender, your range will still be limited—the i3 has a tiny gas tank meant to boost the electric engine, not replace it. So this won’t ever be a road trip car. It’s only ideal as a commuter with charging options close by.

While the BMW i3 may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Ultimate Driving Machine,” it is actually an excellent mix of the lightweight, fun-to-drive BMWs of the past that everyone pines for mixed with the technology that will be the future of driving. Be aware of the inherent compromises and you can score a solid deal.