It’s been a while since I’ve driven the BMW i3, so when BMW NZ said there was a new Sport version to try out, I jumped at the chance. The (originalish) i3 that I had been behind the wheel of did a lot to change my preconceived ideas surrounding electric vehicles. It was funky looking, full of natural materials and oh those suicide, I mean carriage, doors.
My (and probably most people’s) biggest issue, is vehicle range and the anxiety that comes with the fear of being stranded in the middle of nowhere hunting for a power point. It’s a rookie mistake to run out of fuel and have to hike to a petrol station (probably in the rain), or worse, call a friend/family member or AA to come bail you out. So, to me, the same thing applies when running out of charge, but with obvious extra limitations for topping up!
The previous i3 I drove had a range extender that eliminated these cares, a small tank of fossil fuel that would cut in when (clean) battery power fell below ‘get home’ range. However, although the new i3s boasts a range of around 200km, BMW had removed the range extender life raft, I would be going solo, therefore all the anxiety came flooding back. I’ll explain this further in a moment.
First, let me tell you about the i3s itself. As previously highlighted, the i3 is a very funky looking vehicle and (like its sportscar sibling the i8) it is very much an attention grabber on the road. The i3s has taken its otherworldly charm and muscled it up. By widening and lowering its stance, (broader front bumper, bigger 20” feet, flared arches, creative use of black on the body panels and taking the rear badges to the edge of the tailgate), it gives the BMW a sportier kerb appeal.
The cabin is racier too, uncluttered, with aqua blue seatbelts and i3s badging. It comes with both driving and sportscar-like aids, cruise and parking assists, automatic stability control, dynamic traction control and a Sport mode that has the i3s reacting quicker to driving inputs such as acceleration and steering.
Then there’s that EV motor. Producing 270Nm and 135kW, it will take you from 0-100km/h in a sports-hatch embarrassing 6.9 seconds, all while offering zero emissions—overall performance stats that have to make you feel good. Well, most of the time.
You see, I had a few things going on during my time with the i3s. There was the most amazing Auckland weather system that decided to hose down rain on me whenever I chose to leave the vehicle—this is normally not that much of an issue, except I was running a live cable from under my garage door to charge the i3s. I also had an event to attend at Hampton Downs (the launch of the new BMW M5) which meant (according to Google), a one-hour seven-minute (96.4km) trek in a vehicle that when charged forecasted 196km—yes it would apparently do it, but would you risk it? No, me neither. Especially since I had to stop by the city office on my return too.
The ride to the motorsport park was great. The i3s handles as advertised, it’s quick, silent, comfortable, easy to use and very informative, especially the range forecast that you become fixated on as you go. I arrived at the track with around 100km used so immediately set about looking for a power socket to trickle charge up. Following a morning of fun and frivolity, plus more than four hours of charge, I headed back off to the office (and then home) with enough juice to be carefree, all thanks to Hampton’s outside plug. Checking the ‘fast charge’ map, there is a Chargenet option in Pukekohe, so I could have detoured there, grabbed a coffee or two and been sorted (however, explaining that to my boss would have been as uncomfortable as the wait). Back home, the rain began as I plugged the car in again, I kid you not.
Rather bizarrely, my commute experience the next day was a polar opposite. In the heavy traffic, the i3s barely touched the range monitor, and I arrived back home without the need to plug in, something I repeated several more times—all the commutes being a joyful experience (aside from the work bit in between), tunes on loud, heated seats, AC, I used it all.
This was one of those times where I managed to get a wide range of real-world use out of the vehicle I got to review and it really gave me a better understanding of where we’re at. Summing it all up: around town and its surrounding areas, the i3s is most excellent. Plenty of power underfoot, stylish, easy to manoeuvre and offers fun on the twisties. Longer runs require forethought and planning, a range extender or certainly ample time.
So as my son often asks when on a road trip, ‘Are we there yet?’ I’d say not at the moment, maybe around the next corner.
Words: Dave McLeod