REVIEW | BMW's refreshed i3 REX

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Image: BMW
Image: BMW

There's a quiet race happening in the automotive world. Carmakers are going all in and investing in electric vehicle strategies as the main protagonist in the future of their businesses. 

Elon Musk's electric vehicle company Tesla may be making the most noise in the (international) market, but don't disregard the traditional car companies. 

BMW, for example, is using fuel cell technology with hydrogen-powered cars but also have hybrid and full-electric cars under the i brand name.  

I recently spent a week with the refreshed i3 with the Range Extender option, which adds an inline two-cylinder petrol engine to what BMW calls a new generation of high-voltage batteries that now features an increased cell capacity of 120-ampere hours (Ah) and a gross energy content of 42.2-kilowatt hours (kWh).

The combined power consumption is 13.1kWh/100 km, says BMW. 

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Image: BMW


What's new? 
There are tweaks to the engine and exterior, most noticeably new front and rear aprons, there's a chrome strip running across the full width of the rear. 

For me, it's the front of the car that will have fans of the i brand noticing the newer car, LED headlights as standard, while two LED daytime running light strips on integrated into the front apron in the form of horizontal strips. There are also LED indicator lights. 

Inside, BMW says over 80% of the surfaces visible to the passengers are made from recycled materials or renewable resources. 

Under the skin, the fitment of the latest battery technology has made the i3 better suited to being a city car. Unlike in Europe, where drivers cover shorter distances, in South Africa the i3's relatively low range suffered because of the far distances. 

The latest model sees to those range anxiety problems, and charging should happen like one does a cell phone: don't deplete the vehicle's charge before charging. 

I was fortunate that there's a BMW dealer opposite my office in the Cape Town CBD and I charged it there during the day, collecting it when I left for home. 

Another option is to charge the car overnight and have it fully charged in the morning, and hoping that Eskom doesn't implement Stage 6 blackouts. 

What's it like to drive? 
In a word: different. Mainly because the i3 doesn't make a sound. BMW claims a 7.3 second 0-100km/h sprint time and it feels rapid because of the electric motors instant torque. 

It does suffer from a bit of body roll because of its high stance, and the steering isn't the most accurate with a lot of assistance. 

The low weight and zippy performance mean I could have fun with the i3 on one of my favourite twisty roads in the city: De Waal drive. I was able to chuck it into corners and it showed high levels of grip to provide a satisfying driving experience. 

I even attempted a 120km trip from the city to the seaside town of Hermanus with close to 90% range when I left, in the end, I relied on the petrol range extender to get me home. But it was a fun trip and I had to be extremely frugal with my right foot. 

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Image: BMW

In conclusion, the i3 is still a car that turns heads. It was ahead of its time when launched seven years ago, and this updated model does enough to see it as a viable city car. 

It really cool, features the updated BMW Connect infotainment system, seats four people comfortably and has suicide doors.

Priced at R746 200, the i3 is a novel purchase. One that's made with a conscious head and focusing on zero-emissions driving (only in electric mode), so I'm not surprised to have seen a couple of the new models already.  

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Image: BMW



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