The BMW i3s is a sported-up version of its i3 electric vehicle (EV) – does it amp up the driving experience, or is it just a weak spark?
Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to regular electric vehicles (EVs), which is why the notion of an all-electric sports model seems a bit incongruous – is extra sportiness what’s really needed when everyone has half their mind, rightly or wrongly, on trying not to run out of juice?
BMW though, as a long-standing purveyor of performance cars, sees nothing wrong with that. If it can sell sporty-looking versions of its bread n’ butter models, why can’t the same apply to the electric i3?
And so we come to what you see here, the BMW i3s. That’s “s” for sport by the way, and thankfully, unlike your neighbour’s 318i M Sport, the i3s’ newfound athleticism is more than just skin deep.
The addition of the i3s is actually concurrent with the mid-life facelift of the i3 range. Changes include tweaked bumpers, full LED headlamps (the high beams were previously halogen), and an updated infotainment system.
(Note how the round halogen bulbs on the blue pre-facelift car have been replaced by LED indicators)
Visually, the i3s can be identified primarily by gloss black inlays on both bumpers, which vaguely mimic the shape of the air intakes on M Sport-kitted models. The roof pillars are now also gloss black, and there are tiny little wheel arch extensions over each wheel.
Overall they inject a wee bit more aggression into the i3’s design, although its egg-shaped silhouette is still more cute than sporty.
Those extensions aren’t just for show either; they’re a clue to the not-insignificant handling revisions that earn the car that extra “s”. The suspension has been lowered 10mm for instance, the track has been increased by 40mm, and the 20-inch wheels are now 20mm wider all round (175mm front/195mm rear).
Beyond that, power output for the electric motor has been bumped up 14hp, for a total of 184hp.
Have those changes made an impact? Well, yes and no. The most obvious difference to the way the i3s drives is its handling. The i3s also remains more composed over mid-corner bumps. In the i3, the mass of the batteries often caused the car to wobble unsettlingly side to side, despite being mounted down low.
More significantly, the wider tyres muster up a lot more grip, which imbue a lot more confidence in hard cornering; where before, understeer (both of the turn-in and power-on variety) was terrifying, now it’s merely pulse-tingling. Unfortunately, they also muster up a fair bit more road noise as well.
Despite the lowered suspension, ride comfort has incredibly actually improved slightly. It’ll still jiggle occupants about on smaller bumps and cause heads to bob around on larger ones, but it’s less fidgety than before. No longer do painted letter road markings make themselves known in the cabin.
What hasn’t changed is that the i3s is still way out of its comfort zone on expressways, even our relatively small ones. The steering is extremely sensitive, and is far too twitchy at highway speeds. There’s next to no deadzone just off-centre, which means extra effort is required just to keep the car in the middle of the road, a trait shared by some Minis too.
On smaller streets though, the i3s is still without a four-wheeled equal. Now, that hyperactive steering means you don’t have to twirl the wheel so much, and of course the instantly-available electric torque means you can overtake and shoot for gaps in the blink of an eye. It’s stupidly hilarious how quickly you can pull a gap on the surrounding traffic, and is absolutely the best part about driving an EV.
(Brilliantly useful storage space below the screen)
Inside, things are pretty much the same as before, apart from two things. Both the base i3 and i3s now get the latest tile-based (instead of list-based) version of the iDrive infotainment system, and the i3s also features blue seatbelts.
That means the i3s continues to be a wonderfully refreshing to spend time in. BMW have really made the most of the packaging opportunities that an electric drivetrain allows for, with an appreciable sense of spaciousness (both physical and psychological), plenty of large cubbies to store your belongings during the drive, and expansive sightlines out in all directions.
And whatever you think of the styling, you can’t deny that it also looks like nothing else on the road; never have I driven anything that’s turned this many pedestrians’ heads, with a curious expression registering on all their faces.
The cruel reality of EV ownership in Singapore now is that owning one is more energy efficient than cost efficient. While cars like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric have brought EV ownership to a more acceptable price, it’s still costlier than a regular car, and even more so for the BMW.
200 grand is a lot to pay for what is essentially still a four-seater city car, though its quirky style, advanced construction and out-of-this-world interior will always remind you how special it is.
If you’ve already set your sights on BMW’s maiden attempt at a production EV, then the i3s is the one to get, thanks to the more settled ride and handling, and the fact that it gives the driver an extra jolt of fun.
BMW i3s 94Ah
|Electric Motor||184hp, 270Nm|
|Engine||647cc, inline 2|
|Range||200km / with REX|
|Charge Time||3h 30min with BMW i wallbox|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
(Note: our test car came with the optional petrol-powered range extender, which, in the National Environment Agency’s infinite wisdom, incurs the maximum $20,000 surcharge in the Vehicular Emissions Scheme. All customer cars therefore will not have the REX, and the above specifications reflect this)