BMW INTRODUCED ITS i DIVISION AS A WAY OF DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY - LOOKING AT ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS TO EVERYDAY MOBILITY.
The electrically powered i3 led the charge (if you’ll pardon the pun), providing useful driving range and packaging it in bodywork and carbon fibre construction that looked like nothing else on the road.
Now the electric hatch has been given a higher capacity battery, making it even more flexible - and that’s before adding the optional petrol powered Range Extender (REx) with an onboard generator that makes the i3 almost unstoppable and removes all traces of range anxiety.
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $65,900 - $71,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 125kW/250Nm electric motor (plus 0.6 litre 2cyl petrol for i3 REx) | single-speed transmission
Fuel Economy Claimed: 0.0 l/100km, 12.9 kWh/100 km EV | 0.6 l/100km, 13.5 kWh/100 km REx
Though only 254 of the BMW i3 plug-in electric car have been sold here over two years, BMW has reaffirmed faith in the concept by adding two new variants to the range, effectively doubling the number of variants available in Australia.
As with the original version, the new additions comprise a purely electric model (EV) or a range extender (REx) which adds a two-cylinder petrol engine to top up the batteries in the run.
Dubbed the i3 94Ah, the name is modelled on the 94 Ampere-hour battery array, boosted from the previous 60 Ampere-hour battery of the original version which is still offered as a more affordable model.
A range of three trim levels will be available in Australia starting with the entry-level Lodge specification with specific timber trim pieces and interior colours.
Moving to Loft specification is a no-cost option to suit different tastes, or the more expensive Suite trim option gains more upmarket materials, floor mats and LED courtesy lights for the door handles, priced at an extra $1538.
Prices for the i3 with the previous 60Ah battery start at $63,900 for the EV and $69,900 for the REx. Moving to the i3 94Ah will cost from $65,900 for the EV and $71,900 for the REx.
Though the 60Ah model remains available, BMW expects most buyers will order the 94Ah model, with the 60Ah moving to ‘special order’ status.
- Standard Equipment: Wool cloth and natural leather seat trim, cloth and leather door inserts, single-zone climate control, manual seat adjustment, multi-function steering wheel, 5.7-inch digital display instrument cluster, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 10.25-inch colour display, DAB+ digital radio, 20GB hard drive storage, Bluetooth connectivity, USB inputs, satellite navigation, BMW ConnectedDrive online services, Four-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 260 litres minimum, 1100 litres maximum
Though the BMW i3 is technically a five-door hatch the reverse-opening rear doors require a backside-first entry to the rear seat and only give a pretty tight opening which can only be accessed once the front doors are opened.
Once you’re seated there’s a surprising amount of legroom, but seating capacity is limited to four bodies with no rear centre seatbelt to accommodate a fifth.
At the rear, boot space is at a premium owing to the high-set floor, with space under the floor dedicated to the i3’s batteries, the drive gear and Rex engine
Moving away is as simple as having the key in your pocket, pushing the on-off button and selecting a gear with the stubby wand to the right of the steering wheel.
The rest of the interior is a bit more science-experiment, though, with a slightly disjointed look to the amalgam of screens and buttons.
But there’s real timber inside and lots of recyclable and renewable materials, although some of the door trim and dashboard material looks a bit like the flocked material that lines the boot of some sedans.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 125kW/250Nm electro-synchronous motor (plus 28Kw/56Nm 647cc two-cylinder petrol range extender on REx)
- Transmission: Single-speed transmission, rear wheel drive
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs, with variable regenerative braking
- Steering: electric power steering, 9.9 metre turning circle
The BMW i3 94Ah boasts more grunt - but not in driving terms - instead the beefier battery back’s storage capacity has grown to allow a greater electric driving range.
Useable-energy increases to 27kW-hours (kWh) compared to 19kWh for the 60 ampere-hour version, with both models running the same electric motor an identical 125kW output.
The new battery pack occupies the same physical as the old one, but is packed more densely with electrolytes which give greater storage capacity and increase the weight slightly.
The original i3 60 Ah had a theoretical range of 160km for the EV or 300km with the range extender option, the 94Ah model claims up to 245km for the EV and up to 370km for the REx.
Real world figures aren’t quite as ambitious with BMW suggesting a maximum of 200km on electricity alone in the real world, allowing for the use of air conditioning, heaters, headlights, wipers, and such.
The optional 647cc range-extending petrol engine comnes from BMW’s motorcycle range and is and is there solely to recharge the batteries, not drive the wheels extending range by as much as 130km.
Official fuel consumption figures indicate the i3 REx uses just 0.6 litres per 100km and has tailpipe emissions of 12g/km, but with fully depleted batteries, the consumption figures blows out to 6.9 litres per 100km.
However, BMW says that’s simply not the point of the i3, so it isn’t being mentioned as a selling point even though it may help potential buyers overcome range anxiety.
The vehicle retains rear-wheel-drive through a single-speed automatic transmission and the structure of the car is carbon-fibre.
Acceleration is strong enough to throw you back in the seat a little, a sensation magnified by the lack of engine noise. There is a strong, linear feel to the acceleration as the little BMW powers away.
But for a car dedicated to city-dwellers the i3’s suspension seems overly firm and biased towards high-speed handling.
That shouldn’t be the case. We think the suspension tune could be a little more lenient given the i3’s low overall weight (just 1245kg in the EV), and with batteries under the floor keeping the centre of gravity low.
The tyres could be part of the problem owing to their low profile and low-rolling resistance designed to improve efficiency.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 33.57 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014.
Safety Features: Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, front side, and curtain), electronic stability control ABS brakes, reversing collision avoidance, tyre pressure monitoring, rear view camera, front and rear park sensors, and front and rear seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters.
Lane departure warning and distance keeping cruise control are available with the $1692 Driving Assistant Plus option package, or forward collision warning and distance keeping cruise control come as part of the $2700 Innovations Package.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometre vehicle warranty. Eight years/100,000km battery warranty.
Servicing: BMW’s Service Inclusive package for the i3 is priced from $850 and covers basic servicing for five years/80,000km (whichever comes first). Service Inclusive covers annual vehicle checks, oil changes, all filters, spark plugs (as applicable) and labour costs, for full terms and conditions consult your BMW dealer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s a true lack of competitors to the I3 in Australia. Buyers looking for something that runs on electricity alone might be swayed by the Nissan Leaf, which offers a promised 160km driving range.
Those looking for something more flexible might instead consider the Audi A3 e-tron which packs in 50km of electric driving which should be enough for the daily commute, but the petrol engine on board extends range to a more open-country 940km as required.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
So, how do you live with a BMW i3? First up, service station stop-ins will be a thing of the past if you opt for the all-electric model. Instead, BMW recommends that i3 buyers purchase an iWallbox charger for $769 which is installed in the home or work garage.
It allows for a charge from zero to about 80 percent in around eight hours, and 80 percent charge results in 80 percent of the potential range.
Away from home a public ChargePoint unit can roughly halve that charging time, plus the i3 comes with an “Occasional Use Cable” which plugs into a normal wall socket and can restore 80 percent of battery capacity in around 14 hours.
And it’s more than just green on the outside. Almost everything about the car is aimed at sustainability: production occurs in a German plant powered entirely by wind-turbines, as is the factory that produces the carbon-fibre for the car’s structure.
Up to 80 percent of the aluminium used in the i3’s contruction is either recycled or made with renewable energy and interior trim is made from a combination of recycled polyester and renewable resources like wool and plantation timber.
And while it may look a little science 'fictiony' from the outside (and from behind the wheel) the i3 is one of the first steps towards moving away from traditional fossil fueled cars, with a driving experience that isn’t as alien as it might appear.