What is it?
BMW has tried to make its i3 electric car more appealing with a range of upgrades including a new, more powerful motor to create the i3s. It’s a ‘sportier’ version to sit alongside the regular i3.
How much does it cost and what do you get?
There are still two choices for the i3s – choosing it with or without a petrol range-extender engine. We tested the fully electric model which is priced from $69,990 (plus on-road costs), while the i3s REX is $75,900.
As well as the new motor there are a number of other changes for the i3s, including unique front and rear bumpers to try and give the tall, boxy city car a wider, sportier look. Other changes are full LED headlights and redesigned 20-inch alloy wheels.
What’s under the bonnet?
There’s a new, upgraded electric motor that adds more power and torque – 10kW and 30Nm respectively – to take total outputs to 135kW and 270Nm.
The i3s also adds a new Sport driving mode which improves throttle response. While it isn’t ludacrously fast like a Tesla (0-100km/h takes 7.0secs) there’s plenty of performance on tap because all that torque is available immediately.
There’s excellent rolling acceleration in the i3s. It may look like a odd-shaped city car on the outside but when you plant your foot you could be mistaken for sitting inside a big-engined performance car.
BMW claims a range of 200km, but in the real world around 150km seems more likely based on our experience in the car. While that may sound short, in reality it’s more than enough to comfortablly complete your daily commute if you live within a reasonable distance to your work, school or shops.
What’s it like to drive?
That feeling of being in a performance car fades when you get to a corner. The tall, narrow body and skinny tyres mean the i3s is limited dynamically.
But it’s not designed to go around corners fast, it’s built for navigating tight city streets. And on that front it does a good job, with sharp, direct steering.
Unfortunately Australia’s bumpy and pothole-covered city streets are not ideal for the i3s and its firm ride. So it tends to bounce down the road and you’ll notice any of the bigger bumps thanks to a jolt to the cabin.
It’s also a noisy car inside. Despite the whisper quiet electric motor (or perhaps because of it) you notice a lot of wind noise at anything over 60km/h.
What’s it like inside?
Like no other BMW. Instead of the cookie-cutter interior design of the regular Beemer range, the i3 designers were given free reign. The result is a funky cabin with a mixture of unusual – and sustainable – materials, such as natural woods and a fur-style matting on the dashboard. Although, the faux-fur looks cool it does create an annoying reflection on the windscreen that gives the false impression the ‘screen is covered in a layer of grime.
Other positives are the two digital screens, a large infotainment one that appears to float in the centre of the dashboard and a smaller one that acts as the instrument cluster.
There’s plenty of room up front, with a fully flat floor and a high roofline, but the seats themselves are flat, lacking lateral support.
The rear space is tighter and accessed via suicide doors that require the front door to be open. While it looks cool it isn’t very practical, especially if you have kids because the front seat passenger has to unclick their seatbelt and get out of the car to let the passenger out.
Is it safe?
One of the most notable elements of the i3 design is its use of carbon fibre reinforced plastics for large body components. The passenger cell frame is made from the hi-tech material that is usually reserved for high-end supercars and racing cars. It means the i3s is both as light as possible but also has an extremely strong survival cell.
Would I buy it?
There’s a lot to like about the i3s – zippy acceleration, head-turning looks and a funky cabin – but ultimately it feels too compromised in so many areas to really find mainstream appeal.
Personally I’d rather wait for the Hyundai Ioniq EV or new Nissan Leaf, they’re both more practical and should be cheaper without any significant loss of performance or range.
What else should I consider?
Not much at the moment but brace yourself, the electric revolution is coming. As mentioned, the Ioniq EV and new Leaf will arrive in Australia by the end of the 2018. There’s also the Tesla Model 3 that’s meant to arrive sometime in 2018, assuming the American brand can build enough.
Beyond that there’s electric cars coming from most major brands in the next few years including Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
2018 BMW i3s price and specifications
Price: From $69,990 plus on-road costs
Engine: Electric motor
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive