Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BMW i3 Earns 4 Out of 5 Rating in Euro NCAP Crash Tests

The i3 scored very high marks for passenger safety in all crash tests, so why only a 4 of 5 star rating?
Much to the surprise of quite a few people, the BMW i3 earned a 4 out of 5 rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests. BMW has been proudly proclaiming how incredibly safe and strong the car is due the the rigid carbon fiber passenger cell. In fact it was so strong, they were able to eliminate the need for a proper B-pillar and offer the coach style door setup. So why not a top score? Well like anything, the devil is in the details.

Most people don't want to waste time reading crash test scores, they usually just look at the star rating. If they see a five star rating, they assume the car is as safe as it should be and anything less than a 5 out of 5 can be viewed as a failure on the manufacturers part to produce a car that's as safe as possible. So what went wrong here? We've been hearing how strong the CFRP passenger shell is and how incredibly well it will protect the passengers in the event of a crash for a couple years now. In fact I personally had a lengthy conversation with BMW board member Ian Robertson about this and he went on and on about how incredibly well the i3 did in their internal crash tests, so why now did it not do well? The truth is, the car actually did very well in crash tests, in fact it did actually score a 5 star rating in crash tests for passenger protection, but the overall combined score fell a couple points under the threshold for 5 stars.

What held them back? When I tell you you'll either laugh off your seat or shake your head at the foolishness that allowed them to miss the coveted 5 star rating. Ready? Here goes: For some crazy reason, they made the seat belt warning light for the rear seats not a standard feature, instead you have to get it in a package that is an optional (I'm still confirming this - it's possible that it may not be offered at all though). EDIT: There is no rear seat seatbelt warning system on the i3.  That, plus the fact that the speed regulation is optional in most European countries (that is the feature that displays the current speed limit of the road you are driving on and it's a standard feature on all US i3's) conspired to give the i3 an extremely low score in the "Safety Assist" category. Those two oversights caused the overall score to dip just below the 85% needed to achieve a 5 star rating. The fact that they were rated 4 of 5 stars really had nothing to do with how the passengers fared in the crash tests, because the i3 actually had high scores in that area. In fact, the i3 achieved a higher score for passenger safety than a Chevy Volt, which did achieve an overall 5 star rating. (see graph below for comparison)
The BMW i3 compared to the Chevy Volt in the Euro NCAP safety rating
This is a pretty substantial mistake on BMW's part in my opinion. While the car tested out to be very safe in crashes for all of the occupants, the 4 out of 5 rating will give the casual observer the impression that it may not do well in crashes. Could it be BMW thought the crash scores would be so high they would overcome the low score in the Safety Assist category and still average out to be 5 stars? Whatever the cause I can't help but think this was a major faux pas. This sets the stage for an interesting and highly anticipated crash test rating for the US when NHTSA and the IIHS get their hands on some i3's in the Spring.


  1. Interesting. Thanks for explaining that Tom. An amazingly foolish oversight if you ask me, and one that will cost them sales. You are one hundred percent correct people won't investigate to learn for themselves the details of the score, they just look at the stars. I didn't even know that information was available or where to look for it. Government website?

  2. Almost every article I read on this subject used words like, "poor" or "failed" to describe the crash test. So most reader comments slammed the i3, so like any electric car if one minor flaw appears, like lions on a wounded zebra, the (misinformed) haters jumped all over it. It was a stupid mistake on BMW's part, I don't know of any other BMW that leaves this little safety feature off as an option. But I'm happy to know the car is safe, I read the crash report, the car did great and 4 out of 5 isn't a big deal.


    1. Yeah, it actually did very well in protecting the occupants in the event of a crash, which is really what I'm most interested in anyway. But the headlines and the criticism will hurt the i3 for sure. Really strange how BMW could make this mistake - especially when it seems like it could have been easily avoided.

  3. The greatest feature of our newest cars today is that they are safer than ever. One of the reasons we bough a second Volt. New cars these days always seem to get a bad wrap when it comes to the press needing to sensationalize the smallest detail. So I'm ready to see some bad reporting on the i3 by the ignorant. The real test for me will be our own Gov. and Ins. testing here in our country. The i3 will benefit from the Volts bad battery press as I'm sure the NHTSA has figured out how to handle damaged live batteries by now.
    Thanks Tom. You are of course our official BMW crash tester. :)

    1. Jeff: The Volt is a VERY safe car. I've seen pictures of them after crashes where they have been rolled and crushed and the drivers all fared well, that's why I used it as a comparison for the post. The i3 actually scored slightly higher than the Volt in the EURO crash tests yet the i3 only gets 4 out of 5 stars because of the "details" I noted above which is unfortunate. I can't see how you can look at this any way but to say BMW screwed up somewhere with this and it will likely hurt i3 sales.

  4. I am not sure you are arriving at the correct conclusion here.
    Sure, the items you mention play a role here, but pedestrian protection is also a problem.
    The comparison with the Volt is flawed, since that was tested in 2011, and NCAP changes their criteria every year.
    In 2011 it might have been possible to get five stars with such low pedestrian protection and just a bit more driver's assistance. Doesn't necessarily mean it's the same in 2013.

  5. Is there information available how the conventional sheetmetal (what's in a name) shops must anticipate on carbon damage assessment and repair? And is there also a plan for the car Insurance companies....