At first glance, not much about the BMW i3 has changed.
But the latest refreshed version of BMW’s pure electric car is more about the larger capacity battery that brings faster and further driving than any eye-popping exterior or interior changes.
Emissions-free mobility has historically come with short range capability and that’s been a deterrent for those considering an electric vehicle (EV).
But ongoing battery technology is changing that.
Take the latest-generation BMW i3 models and, more particularly, the sportier i3s tested by finweek.
It’s all about the battery
When the BMW i3 launched here in 2015 with its first-generation battery, the EV had a range of between 130km and 160km.
The second-generation battery brought an increase in everyday range to 200km.
Now, with the introduction of the new third-generation battery, the BMW i3s can cover 270km in everyday use in Comfort driving mode and – depending on road and weather conditions, driving style and tyre use – extend to 345km using the Eco Pro or Eco Pro+ mode.
While the size of the battery remains unchanged, this latest high-voltage battery has a capacity of 120Ah (ampere hour) against the first generation’s 60Ah and second generation’s 94Ah.
More amp hours is much the same as having a larger fuel tank and thus further driving capability.
And charging times for these larger-capacity batteries are also quicker.
It’s just 42 minutes for 80% of total power at quick-charging stations that run on DC power.
Connection to the BMW iWallbox achieves an 80% charge in 3.2 hours.
Plugging into a conventional household socket requires 15 hours for 80% power.
Few exterior or interior changes
The BMW i3s retains the distinctive i3 shaping and unconventional coach doors as well as its aluminium chassis and passenger cell made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic.
New styling accents, among these black A-pillars and roof lines that complement the trademark black belt running from the bonnet to the car’s rear, and tweaked front and rear aprons, bring a wider-looking girth to a car that has historically had a rather lanky appearance.
The i3s also has a sportier impression. It rides on 20-inch rims and wider tyres and a sports suspension lower by 10mm.
High-gloss black spats add to the energetic expression.
Quality finished recycled materials, well-laid-out instrumentation and colour display screen feature in the futuristic-looking cockpit.
Seats are exceptionally comfy, the cabin is roomy and the coach doors make for trouble-free entrance and exit for occupants.
This quirky EV comes with optimised connectivity and all the bells and whistles expected from a premium vehicle.
Standard offerings include heated seats, satnav, tyre pressure monitor and rear park distance control.
Adaptive LED headlights, wireless charging and wireless hotspot are among the options.
Hushed yet dynamic journey
Apart from the barely audible tyre noise and occasional whine of the electric motor, it’s a silent ride, as well as a smooth and comfortable one.
It’s easy to pilot with direct steering and good road feedback.
The rear wheel-drive BMW i3s is powered by a 135kW electric motor and its power is just as mindblowing as it was when I drove the first generation in 2015.
Power delivery from the electric motor is bonkers, and the torque instantaneous.
It’s a power that is constant and unbroken through acceleration.
The seamless delivery of that power is aided by the single-speed automatic gearbox.
It sprints from 0 to 100km in 6.9 seconds, 0.3 seconds quicker than its predecessor, and gets the thumbs-up for cheeky, stress-free overtaking and gap-taking.
Wider tyres, together with a lower sport suspension and battery deep in the floor that aids in a lower centre of gravity, bring a more planted feel to this slender i3s.
There is little need for brake use, courtesy of strong regenerative braking from the motor when decelerating.
It’s this regenerative braking that adds to the electric fuel pot, and adapting one’s driving style to make best use of this doesn’t take long.
Electric vehicles are a niche market and the uptake locally has not lit any fires.
Nor does the lack of a government incentive that would reduce the cost of EVs and encourage sales.
Higher upfront costs, though, come with lower running costs (see sidebar).
Ongoing fuel increases for fossil fuelled cars and the addition of a fuel carbon tax levy gives more weight to the green mobility argument.
Over 200 000KM of Staggering ‘ fuel ’ EFFICIENCY in an EV
“It is possible to go practically anywhere, over any distance, in an i3,” says the owner of South Africa’s highest-mileage electric vehicle, Shaun Maidment.
Maidment’s first-generation BMW i3 reached 200 000km making it the highest-mileage EV in Africa.
It’s also the 15th highest-mileage BMW i3 globally.
An early adopter of the EV model, Maidment has used his 60Ah BMW i3 as his primary vehicle for local and longer-distance trips.
Bought in 2016 with 3 000km on the clock, this milestone i3 still has its original battery that has only lost 9% of its original capacity, Maidment tells finweek.
“Even if I lost 50% of battery capacity, that would still leave 60km, which is more than most people drive in a day,” he points out.
“This car has changed my life,” says Maidment.
“I did cheat in the beginning. I bought the REX version (range extender i3 with a tiny combustion engine that adds 45km to the range) because I was scared like everybody else.
But it’s not complicated at all; it’s ridiculously simple.
There are many days when I drive 200km to 300km in a day.
You just plan your day slightly differently. “It’s exactly like a cellphone,” says Maidment.
You keep it charged.
“And the car is pretty accurate. It tells you when it is going to run out.”
Stopping to ‘top up’ has never been an issue, even in areas without dedicated EV charging infrastructure, he says.
He even uses the occasional-use charger he got with the car at home.
“I plug it into the wall and run it off a normal plug, charging it when I sleep.”
And the cost to his electricity bill?
“It pushed up my bill by around R700 a month,” he says.
But the telling aspect is in the energy cost per kilometre, which Maidment says is between 25c/km and 30c/km.
It’s an amount that a conventionally fuelled car with a combustion engine cannot compete with.
Even a small, extremely fuel-efficient urban runaround generally comes with a fuel cost of around 80c/km.
Maidment is not looking to part with his beloved BMW i3 any time soon and is now aiming to reach the 500 000km milestone.