More range, less worry, zippy performance and street smarts, BMW’s i3 remains the ultimate concrete jungle bushwhacker
SINGAPORE — It’s not often you get to see history in the making, but the BMW i3 is pretty much history in the flesh since at its launch here in 2014, it was the first electric vehicle (EV) to go on sale to the public.
While we all know EV sales haven’t exactly gone through the roof, the i3 was convincing as a real-life product, and now, four years on, is still relevant (if not even more so) as the embodiment of a sustainable motoring future.
The i3 actually has had a facelift, including the announcement of the sportier i3s model, but the LCI (Life Cycle Impulse, aka BMW speak for facelift) unit will only be in Singapore from late June onwards.
In the meantime, CarBuyer never got around to testing the i3 with its larger battery, a minor update the car was handed in 2016, and that’s the machine you see here.
The battery cell expands in capacity from 22kWh to 33kWh, while staying the same size, but gaining weight. The i3 (with the on-board range extender, or REX, as tested here) now weighs 1,440kg, up from 1,390kg previously.
There’s a non-REX model of course, and it’s a significant 120kg lighter, and cheaper too, at $26k less than the i3 REX’s $211,888 with COE.
The battery boost from 22kWh (gross) to 33kWh (gross, with 27kWh usable) means BMW claims a 50 percent boost to range, from 190km to 300km, under NEDC cycle testing for the non-REX model.
For th REX model, the EU test cycle figures go from 170km to 230km, or a more modest 35 percent range increase.
As you can see, there’s even more balancing to do with regards to weight, and the pure EV version can go further than the REX battery alone, though the REX adds about 100km more of range, and the flexibility of using petrol if you need it.
In our own test drive experience, BMW’s range figures are quite accurate. When we tested the original i3 in 2014, we managed nearly 150km of electric-only range without resorting to the REX.
With the 94aH model, at the end of 170km of driving, we still had roughly 60km of battery range left, meaning a total of 230km, so usable battery range, by our reckoning, has increased by a huge 53 percent.
While cars like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric present EVs in a more conventional fashion, driving the i3 is really like nothing else around.
BMW designed it from the ground up as an efficient, city EV, with its carbonfibre upper passenger cell, lower aluminium platform, tall, specially-designed wheels and thin tyres for less rolling resistance.
You’ll only find this much structural carbonfibre in cars costing much, much more
The lounge-like interior is still pleasing to be in, with its wood, felt (recycled plastics) and other materials all sustainably sourced.
Its unique appearance means not everyone will like it, but not everyone will like EVs either – we figure it’s better to go full weird-cool and special. If you’re thinking of an i3, you’re probably a proud early adopter type, anyway.
The i3 is small in stature, at four-metres long, making it shorter than a compact hatch, and a full 60cm shorter than a Toyota Corolla Altis.
But like all clever city cars, it makes maximum use of space. Not having to deal with an engine and all that plumbing helps, and with the wheels pushed out to all corners of the car, there’s plentiful room for four on board.
Boot space is unchanged at 260-litres, and 1,100-litres with them down.
The tall seating position (and tall wheels) means visibility is excellent. In fact the i3 is almost a sort of MPV/SUV cross, with its combination of a good view and plentiful room. The big wheels do contribute to a busy ride – another SUV trait – but it’s still superior to some of the more fashionable, small crossovers out there.
But with its major mass (the battery) under the floor, and a punchy 170hp motor, it’s still shocking (pun intended) how fun the i3 is to drive.
The gas-it-and-you-have-it torque is huge, and rockets the car forward at such a hilarious rate you can almost see other drivers think, “What the hell was that?!”. That also makes the i3 good for zipping into spots, and a master of the instant overtake.
The i3’s range is more than enough for the average Singaporean driver
Being an EV though, it’ll more than likely make you cruise along in almost silent contentment, being pleased at how much pollution is being made (zero) and how much less you’re paying per-km than everyone else (a lot less).
Singapore is a perfect place for EVs on paper, but a nightmare for them in reality. That the BMW i3 can thrive in such an environment just shows what the rest of us are missing.
BMW i3 94Ah REX
|Electric Motor||170hp, 250Nm|
|Engine||647cc, inline 2|
|Range||200km EV / 330km with REX|
|Charge Time||3h 45min (80 percent, with 7.4kW wallbox)|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
|Price||$229,999 with COE|