BMW became an earl adopter of electric vehicles, launching the i3 in Australia in late 2014 with a 60 Ah (Amp-hour) battery capable of taking the car 140 kilometres on a single charge, depending on driving conditions.
A year later, with a two-cylinder petrol engine range extender fitted to hold the battery – but not increase its range, the distance was increased to about 320 km. The downside of the petrol unit (borrowed from a BMW motorbike engine) was added weight, a higher price and the introduction of exhaust emissions.
Fast forward five years and battery upgrades have almost doubled the distance, so the MY19 i3 has unloaded the petrol motor, hence less weight and zero emissions, leaving the car with a range of 260 km under electric power alone.
How does the BMW EV stack up? Frankly, not all that well – Hyundai Kona Electric Elite, at $59,990, plus on roads, claims a range of 449 km, the Nissan Leaf ($49,990 and 270 km) while the Tesla Model 3 (from $66,000), boasts 460 km.
The BMW i3s has been given an injection of sportiness, courtesy of a wider front spoiler, which includes a high gloss bumper finish. The rear has also been given added character with sharpened contours and 40 mm wider track.
Black wheel flares and exclusive 20-inch light alloy wheels with a new rim design complete the upgrade.
I have to admit to some ambivalence about the car’s looks. The test vehicle was made up of odd shaped white and black body panels, lacking aesthetic appeal, and on the surface, aerodynamic purpose. The result was an awkward appearance, which did not go unnoticed.
Far more pleasing to the eye are i3s models with single-colour overall, especially in darker shades, which hide the higgledy-piggledy crease lines, adding a touch of sleekness to the chunky hatchback.
The cabin comes standard with an all-new Electronic Brown trim panel and cloth upholstery made from almost 100 per cent recycled polyester.
Options on offer include upgraded cloth upholstery, while a top-of-the range leather finish, Dark Truffle, includes a choice of open-pore Fine-wood Eucalyptus matt or Oak Dark matt finishes.
A tilt-slide sunroof is fitted with separate manually operated open-weave shades for driver and passenger, allowing in some light and, no doubt, summer heat to match.
Instrumentation is BMW basic with the company’s Comfort Access System, which includes Apple CarPlay and wireless phone charging as standard.
Other standard features include satellite navigation with a 10.25-inch colour display ConnectedDrive with Concierge Services.
MOTOR / TRANSMISSIONS
At the heart of the i3s is its 120 Ah lithium-ion battery, up from 60 Ah. While the capacity has doubled, the size has stayed the same, to the benefit of cabin space.
Safety carries a five-star ANCAP rating with six airbags, stability and traction control, plus battery-switch-off in a crash.
Standard Driving Assistant Plus includes active cruise control with Stop & Go function, speed limit information, forward collision warning with pedestrian alarm, while the Driving Assistant Package includes rear-view camera, Active Park Distance Control and fully automated parallel Parking Assistant.
Adaptive LED headlamps, including High Beam Assistant are options, with anti-dazzle High Beam and cornering function.
Thermoplastics used in the car’s exterior have high deformation properties and prevents panels from being permanently damaged at low impacts, while reducing the weight of the car and cutting repair costs.
With maximum torque of 270 Nm on tap from the word go, the BMW i3s manages 100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds, the 135 kW of power and fully automatic transmission winding the car up to a top speed of 160km/h.
The newly-designed Automatic Stability Control works more quickly than before and provides more traction and stability during acceleration and braking. The optimised Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) is even available in turns and up to a speed of 100 km/h and more.
There’s a Sport driving mode which, providing the battery has sufficient charge, has the car reacting instantly the accelerator pedal, while more responsive steering, plus sport suspension, lowered by ten millimetres, increase handling agility.
Storage is everywhere, including a spacious well on top of the central dash which will take light objects not subject to annoyingly sliding around. There is a deep glovebox and centre console bin. Door pockets include room for larger bottles.
The i3s ride suffers from the short wheelbase syndrome, picking up almost every blemish in the bitumen. Sport driving mode only goes to accentuate this.
The wide front door, together with the rear-hinged back door (ie: no conventional B-pillar), is possible thanks to a carbon fibre reinforced plastic monocoque structure, making for easy access to the second row of seats. The downside is the front door has to be opened before the rear one.
The rear seating is strictly a two-person proposition, with a pair of contoured seats separated by double cup holders. Shoulder space and headroom are generous.
As the charging tackle is stored at the front under the bonnet, boot space, at 260 litres is not intruded on by battery or cable. A domestic charging lead is provided as standard, allowing for convenient refuelling via a regular power point.
The test i3s, under a split 12-hour home charge, took on enough juice for 130 km, which equates to a charging rate of 10.8 km per hour.
A BMW iWallbox Plus cuts the time to about three hours for a zero-to-80 per cent charge.
Owners of i3 and i3s receive a three-year subscription from BMW to Chargefox, which includes a 250 kWh per year allowance, which equates to more than six complimentary charging sessions where the vehicle is charged from zero to full.
In addition, this complimentary charge allowance with the three-year subscription allows BMW i3 and i3s 120 Ah customers to use the new Chargefox Ultra-Rapid EV chargers, which are powered by 100 per cent renewable energy.
Potential buyers of the BMW i3s have to decide whether they are going to shell out nearly 70-grand (plus on-roads) to be at the dawn of the electric vehicle era and demise of the internal combustion engine, or not.
AT A GLANCE
BMW i3 120Ah EV automatic $68,700
BMW i3s 120Ah EV automatic $69,900
Note: These prices do not include dealer or government charges. Contact your local BMW dealer for drive-away prices.
(BMW i3s 120Ah EV, 1sp automatic)
Maximum Power: 135 kW
Maximum Torque: 270 Nm
Fuel type: Electric
Economy: 16 kWh / 100 km
Range: 260 km
CO2 emissions: zero
Drivetrain: 1-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4011 mm
Width: 1775 mm
Height: 1598 mm
Wheelbase: 2570 mm
Gross vehicle weight: 1730 kg
Turning circle: 10.3 m
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc
3 years / unlimited kilometres