Driver appeal; electric thrust; city manoeuvrability; interior charm
Firm ride; lacking some active safety features; road noise active safet features; roard noise
HOWíS this for a reality check? Right now, private buyers in Australia shopping for an electric car (that isnít a $100K+ Tesla) have just one choice: the BMW i3. While the rest of the industry tramples over itself to blow more smoke about future EVs, the pioneering i3 is getting on with it, and has been since 2014.
In 2016 a 94Ah/33kWh battery upgrade boosted the COTYwinning EVís range, and now this mid-life facelift introduces a sportier variant called the i3S in battery electric (BEV) and rangeextender (REX) formats at a $1200 premium over the regular car.
Peak outputs rise by 10kW and 20Nm to 135kW and 270Nm, but a more important change is in the delivery. The electric motor spins to almost 12,000rpm as before, but can now serve up more power beyond the 5000rpm point where the old i3 tapered off. Zero to 100km/h acceleration improves by almost half a second to 6.9sec, with immediate, addictively grininducing step-off thrust that feels quicker than the numbers suggest.
A new Sport mode sharpens throttle and steering sensitivity in what was already an alert and agile car. A passive sports suspension is standard, lowering the i3S by 10mm using modelspecific springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. The ride is firm and sends thumps through the carbonfibre body even at low speeds, but the pay-off is an i3 thatís raring to change direction on tyres that are 20mm wider and run on 1.0-inch larger wheels.
Those 175/55R20 front and 195/50R20 rear hoops are still skinny for aerodynamics, but donít think that means a lack of driver involvement. The i3S hooks into corners with only a hint of understeer before the deftly calibrated dynamic stability control intervenes. BMW intends to roll out this faster-acting DSC set-up to the rest of its line-up, and even suggests the prospect of mild drifts in the i3S.
Inside is where the eco difference is emphasised. A wider, higher-resolution 10.25-inch screen Ďfloatsí above the sculpted dashboard displaying BMWís latest iDrive 6 infotainment. Sadly at this price, the i3S misses out on some active safety tech like AEB and lane departure warning. Distinguishing the i3S in traffic are revised front and rear bumpers, fully LED lighting and bodywork thatís 40mm wider to fit over the carís broadened track.
Vincent Van Gogh died having sold just one solitary painting, and though BMW has clearly sold more than one i3, thereís still a chance the fun-loving talent of this electric city car wonít gain widespread recognition until itís out of showrooms and EVs are driverless pods. Itís a great car, and that would be a real shame.
Charging an i3 or i3S should now be more convenient with BMW switching to the Type 2 CCS plug used in Europe and chosen by local operators as the standard for Australiaís emerging EV infrastructure. An 80 percent charge using a conventional domestic plug takes 15 hours. Thatís halved when using a BMW Wallbox ($1750) on single-phase power. The time it takes to brim the last 20 percent of the lithium-ion cells is apparently too variable to put a figure on. Claimed real-world range is 200km for BEV models and 330km for REX variants.