by Adam Lynton
BMW's i3 electric city car shook up the electrified realm when it debuted with futuristic styling, unique packaging, and a carbon fiber chassis. It was the car – along with the i8 – to introduce the world to electrified BMWs, and it's been a big success. Everyone knows the i3, and everyone knows it's electric – but the first bash at it wasn't without its flaws. BMW's face lifted i3 has arrived though; featuring revised tech, updated styling, and for the first time, an i3s – an electric hot hatch.
The BMW i3 is all about sustainability. Housed within the carbon fiber shell, the interior itself is a mix-up of interesting materials, including pressed, recycled fibers forming the dash and door panels, and raw wood inlays. But there are still familiar BMW design cues, such as the steering wheel and iDrive infotainment system. But it's packaged unlike any other BMW, with an eye on city driving, a compact exterior houses four occupants in a relatively upright manner – it's comfortable for short journeys, though longer ones take a higher toll on the body.
Large door apertures make ingress and egress easy for front occupants, but the suicide-style doors to the rear are somewhat awkward as rear passengers can't enter and exit without the driver/front passenger removing their seatbelt and opening the front door first. But once inside it's spacious, with masses of head room, and a decently sized trunk of 9.2 cubic feet that can swell to 38.8.
You'd think a rear-wheel drive BMW would have enticing driving dynamics – but at least in base form the i3 is the furthest thing from a driver's car. Being tall and riding high on skinny, low profile tires, there's a constant feeling you're about to capsize when you corner. It's partially to do with the perch-like seating position, but the steering – light and devoid of feel – doesn't help either with its arcade-game responses. But the i3 does have a low center of gravity going for it, with a floor-mounted battery pack keeping the weight centralized. However the additional weight creates its own problems – and it pairs with large diameter alloy wheels to create a ride best described as lumpy. On anything bar silky smooth surfaces, secondary ride is severely compromised, and larger bumps make the ride feel very unsettled. The i3s, with its wider track, lower suspension, and wider tires should go some way to settling the ride and making it a keener drive.
The i3's electric motors kick out 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of instant torque to the rear wheels, whilst the i3s packs 184hp and 199 lb-ft. The i3s' improved outputs improve acceleration, enabling a 6.8 second 0-60mph sprint time – without the range extender. Both models can be optionally equipped with a small two cylinder range extending generator that increases the range from a claimed 124 miles to just over 200. As for charging, on a level 2 system a full charge takes just shy of 5 hours, though a DC fast charge grants 80% charge in less than an hour.
Four main trims, Deka-, Mega-, Giga-, and Tera World equip the i3 with a range of colors and interior finishes, though in the way of standard kit and optional extras most are the same. Features like navigation and cruise control are standard, along with a rear-view camera, heated front seats, and rear park distance control. iDrive 6.0 is standard, but an optional Technology + Driving Assistance Package adds real-time traffic information, adaptive cruise control, and a larger 8.8-inch screen to the mix. The i3 achieved predominantly Good scores in testing from the IIHS, and the latest version features a new stability control system that responds quicker and more precisely on each wheel.
The BMW i3 was flawed at launch, and in some ways still is; but the revisions have made it easier to live with, as well as adding a dash of extra performance. The i3s, with extra power, sports suspension, and a new ESC system finally embraces the performance potential of electric driving!