GWA take a look at the BMW i3 to see if this electric city car stands up to the test.
Despite its futuristic styling, the BMW i3 was a big step towards normalising electric vehicle ownership when it launched three years ago. Not only was it a clever product, being lightweight, space efficient and great to drive. But the wider ownership experience was tailored to make electro mobility a simple choice.
BMW has put its efforts into keeping pace with the latest battery technology. That’s enabled the i3 to accommodate a new 27.2kWh battery pack into the same overall space as the original 18.8kWh unit, boosting energy capacity by 50% for a mere 50kg weight penalty.
It makes the fully electric version considerably more appealing, now offering a range of 195 miles. There’s also a new charging system that is 50% faster, at four hours for a full charge or an 80% top up in 40 minutes.
At the moment, over half of UK customers opt for the range extender, and it’s significant here too. The i3 REX isn’t a plug-in hybrid with its 647cc two-cylinder bike engine is only ever used as a generator for the battery, and the electric motors always turn the wheels. Adding a larger battery means drivers need hardly ever use it, but the option of long journeys with fuel stops is there if it’s needed. Brimmed and fully charged, it will travel 276 miles.
The i3 lives up to BMW’s reputation as a manufacturer of great driver’s cars. Its carbon fibre structure, aluminium chassis components and lightweight panels help make the most of the 168bhp and instantaneous torque, offers hot hatch acceleration. Despite the skinny tyres, a near 50/50 front to rear weight balance, a low centre of gravity from the under-floor battery pack and quick steering mean it feels as agile as it does brisk off the mark.
It’s also very usable. The cabin is still a masterpiece of modern design, spacious and airy, with the rear bench accessed through reversed-hinged doors. Load space is competitive with its flat folding rear bench, and satellite navigation with connected services including smartphone control, a detailed map of range and charging points, and intermodal planning, is included as standard. It also gets BMW’s selectable driving modes, the most extreme of which deactivates climate control and seat heating and sets a 56mph limit.
The i3 has lost none of its futuristic appeal after three years, and it’s starting to find real traction with company car drivers and businesses seeking to show their environmental credentials. Clever, upmarket and a genuine driver’s car, this subtle upgrade is another step towards making electric mobility a desirable, usable option.
A brilliant piece of engineering that’s also great to drive, extra range and faster charging make the i3 even more usable. But that desirability comes at a price.
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