Road test review: BMW i3s is assault from battery
GREEN now has a mean streak. BMW's updated electric i3 hatch silently rolled into showrooms this week with a new sporty variant the headline act.
The BMW i3s comes with extra power and an athletic mode which ups the ante via hefty acceleration shunt and improved cornering prowess.
Pricing has risen by about $600 for the entry-level vehicle to $68,700 plus on-roads. Getting into the sports model attracts a $1200 premium, while those chasing peace of mind with a back-up two-cylinder combustion engine mounted under the boot (that can charge the battery on the move) will set you back an extra $6000.
While wearing new clothes the i3's driving range is the same, about 200km from one charge - the range extender models are good for another 130km.
Not convinced? Don't worry, BMW's upper echelon wasn't either a few years back.
When the 'i' division was launched in 2006 it was buried in the old fire station of BMW headquarters. Today, BMW is transitioning from an "automotive company to a technology company”.
Most notable changes come from the more potent i3s. Beneath the modern skin is an electric motor package that packs an extra 10kW and 20Nm.
Compared to the standard i3, the sporty sibling can sprint from standstill to 100km/h faster - 6.9 seconds compared to 7.3 - and its top speed is bolstered from 150km/h to 160.
Distance between the rear wheels has been extended by 40mm to improve high-speed stability and it also rolls on meatier 20-inch alloys that are 20mm wider than before.
Across the range there are new front and rear aprons that are designed to make the i3 look wider and not appear like a tallboy on wheels.
All-LED headlights are also standard, along with new horizontal turn signal indicators.
Another cool new function is when you plug in a destination into the satnav, the i3's digital display will adjust the available range to reflect that route - so it'll factor in regenerative braking through urban routes. It can also show how the driving modes (Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport) affect its operating distance.
Silent at start-up, all the noise usually comes from the driver on first introductions. The BMW i3s packs some punch, with a rapid response under acceleration.
Quicker than any mainstream hatch, the right foot response coming from this electric hatch would rival some of the quickest compact sports cars off the line. It's also remarkably quick from the 80-120km/h range - the perfect accomplice for overtaking.
Performing like a dodgem car, you can use the engine braking to slow the vehicle and often there is no need to use the left pedal.
From start-up it's a quirky experience, with the large gear shifter on a large column stalk, while take-off is accompanied by a gentle whir.
Doing its best work in traffic or city streets, the i3 has quick steering and an ultra-compact turning circle of 9.8m. Three-point turns would become a rarity.
When attacking the bends, care is required when applying the accelerator to avoid the traction control kicking in, while the silent electric motor operation emphasises road noise. It manages the twisty stuff without hesitation and feels robust in the process.
The ride can be firm given it features a carbon fibre tub ... it's not bad, just don't expect the pillowed performance you get from a 7Series.
Getting inside can be challenging for adults with the rear-hinged back doors, but once inside there is reasonable floor, knee and leg room.
From the moment you step inside, the green credentials are on show. Trim materials are made from recycled plastic fibres and wool - even the key fob. And it's all put together in a factory run solely on renewable energy.
New gear includes a 10.25-inch central colour screen connected to an intuitive system that incorporates satnav, digital radio, 5.7-inch driver's instrument cluster and 20GB of storage for audio files.
Wireless Apple CarPlay is an extra $623, while a Harmon/Kardon stereo is $1550.
Colour choices include metallic red, two shades of blue, grey (which all add an extra $1417), along with non-metallic white or black.
When it comes to servicing, the i3 is less expensive than any of its combustion engine counterparts due to less mechanical requirements, and you can take a package for $895 which covers servicing for five years or 80,000km. Intervals are condition based, but expect it to be longer than annual ... which is a pretty good deal.
While you can charge from a standard household plug, it's best to go for the $1990 BMW i Wallbox (plus installation costs) that will fully recharge the battery in about 3.5hours.
Use the standard cable and it would take 12hours. Fast-charge facilities pumping out 50kW can do the job in about 40 minutes.
Depending on your electricity deal, we estimate a 200km journey would cost about $7.50 to cover 200km (at 25 cents per kWh). That could be cheaper if you have solar on at home ... or an encouraging employer.
The battery has an eight-year 100,000km warranty.
Think the electric revolution isn't coming? Might be worth getting a shovel to bury your head further in the sand.
While it's still expensive technology, expect electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to come at us fast.
The i3s continues on the same path as its predecessor, with a more sporting edge.
Range remains the sticking point, but for the majority of Aussies, the 200km is more than enough for daily duties.
AT A GLANCE
BMW I3 AND I3S
PRICE $68,700- $75,900 (expensive)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING 3yrs/unlimited km servicing $895 for five years (ok)
ENGINE 125kW/250Nm, i3s, 135kW/270Nm (quick)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, radar cruise, auto park, forward collision warning, auto emergency brake (good)
THIRST 0-5.9L/100km or 3.6kWh/ 100km
SPARE None, run flat tyres (not ideal)
BOOT 260L (small)