How green a car is – used or new – isn’t just about its tailpipe emissions. Sure, that’s the forefront of the concerns for most of us, but there are the emissions and materials used in its production, and how recyclable it is at the end of its life. What is the greenest used car you can buy?

And there’s no better used car for all of this than the BMW i3.

For a start, it’s available both as a pure electric car or as a range-extender complete with a thrummy little two-cylinder, 650cc petrol engine that functions as a generator to keep the batteries juiced up when they’re getting low. 

Opt for the pure electric i3 and, to state the obvious, you’ve got no tailpipe let alone tailpipe emissions. Go for an early car and you’ll be seeing a range of around 80 miles in real-world driving, and it’ll charge up to 80% of its 18.8kWh battery capacity at a fast charger in around 40 minutes, or some eight hours for a full charge from a home wall box. A face lift in 2016 brought a bigger 28.2kWh battery, which brought real-world range (not the misleading NEDC claimed figures) up to some 120 miles.

So, the appeal is clear. This car is rated very highly as a used buy, and it stacked up well even when new. It was launched in 2012 with a 1.4 or 1.6-litre petrol engine, or a 1.6 diesel in two tunes – 109 or 126bhp. Automatic gearboxes were offered on all the 1.6 engines. An estate followed a few months after the hatchback, and is a remarkably spacious and dependable used family buy. A facelift in 2015 brought some updated engines and a more up-to-date seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

If that range fills you with fear of being stranded, the range extender could be more your kind of thing since the petrol engine backup means you can cover around 180 miles before you need to refill the tiny 9-litre petrol tank, or the face lifted 2016 cars will do more than 200 miles before you need to fill up with fuel or charge up the battery, since it also got the same battery improvements as the pure electric car.  

Even with that engine (actually a motorbike engine) on the go it’ll do around 35mpg, but the point is that this is great for those who do short commutes in the week and go a bit further at the weekend.

Given the i3 Range Extenders’ decent pure electric range and the fact that it’ll do around 35-40mpg when the engine is running means that it’s still squeaky clean by any standards including today’s ever-more stringent rules. The i3 will, for instance, get free entry to the London Congestion and ULEZ zones and even the range-extender is free of road tax, so you can feel rightfully smug about keeping air quality up, and tax and fuel costs down.  

But the fact this is an electric car is only one reason why it’s such an eco-conscious car. It was designed from the ground up to be manufactured in the most environmentally sensitive way. 

Its core structure features carbon fibre that is made entirely with hydro-electric power, and which is itself from 10% recycled sources. It also foregoes conventional plastics in favour of kenaf – a plant-based material that’s lighter and more sustainable to produce. Parts of the seats and doors are made of recycled plastic bottles, too.

BMW went to extreme lengths with the environmental focus of the production, too. The electricity to make the car comes entirely from four wind turbines at the company’s Leipzig factory, plus the energy required to produce it is cut by 50% over a conventional BMW, and the water usage by 70%. 

The BMW i3 is also impressively recyclable when it’s time to scrap it. BMW reckons that it’s up to 85% recyclable, including those batteries. You can [link to battery recycling article]read more about electric car battery recycling and re-use right here[link].  

All-in, it doesn’t get more environmentally conscious than the BMW i3, now or when it was launched in 2013. So the fact that you can get such an avantgarde car complete with tech that’s well ahead of its time for such a low used price is pretty remarkable. It’s not the cheapest used electric car, so if you want a more affordable option check out [link] our pick of the best used electric cars[link], but if you want the greenest used car – and a properly classy car at that – the BMW i3 is it. 

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