Now that the diesel backlash has begun in Europe, the decision by BMW to build the i3 looks even cleverer than it did in 2014. And now its first ground-up electric car is getting even stronger, with more range and pace.
The facelift of the i3 electric car adds straight-line speed and swings in extra power and handling with the i3s, plus the extra range from a new 94Ah/33kWh battery pack.
It remains a brisk city car, rather than a blasting cap like the Tesla Model S, and it has nothing of the Californian brand’s marketing speed giggles, like its Ludicrous mode. Instead, the stock i3 reaches 100km/h in 7.3 seconds and that makes it eight-tenths of a second quicker than the range-extender model.
The standard synchronous electric motor delivers 125kW and the from-idle torque peak of 250Nm, with BMW limiting its top speed to 150km/h.
But that’s not as fast as the i3 range gets, with the new i3s model adding 10kW of power to that figure and stacking on another 20Nm of torque. To get there, BMW gave it new taper roller bearings in the electric motor and an upgraded motor control system.
It pulls the sprint to 100km/h down to 6.9 seconds from the rear-drive four-seater, with the heavier range-extender version losing 0.8 seconds mostly through adding 120kg to the 1,265kg i3s. It rips to 60km/h in 3.7 seconds and its top end is also 10km/h faster than the standard car at 160km/h.
Like the base i3, the i3s electric motor can recuperate energy under deceleration or down hills at up to 50kW. The i3s doesn’t stop there, though. BMW has pushed its rear wheel track width out by 40mm, its ride height is 10mm lower, its wheel rims are 20mm wider and it also uses specific anti-roll bars, dampers and springs.
It delivers 14.3kWh per 100km driven, which is just a touch worse than the 13.1kWh/100km the standard car delivers. That’s partly because the i3 uses 155/70 R19 tyres front and rear, while the i3s prefers 175/44 R20 front and 195/50 R20 rears.
Both models have the option of the controversial range-extender on both the standard and i3s models, with the two-cylinder scooter motor stretching the stock i3’s claimed real-world range from 200km to 330km. The 650cc range-extender, or Rex, adds 28kW but never directly drives the wheels. Instead, it drives the generator that produces electricity for the battery, adding another 150km of range to the battery pack.
Like before, the rear-drive i3 sticks with its single-speed transmission, running at a 9.665:1 ratio and combines it with a five-link rear suspension and a MacPherson strut front end with a turning circle of just 9.86m. Its 353V lithium-ion battery recharges to 80% of its capacity in just 39 minutes from a 50kW charger or, at worst, 11 hours from a household domestic socket.
There are also two levels of BMW’s own wall charger, with the 3.7kW/16 amp version taking 7:50 for an 80% charge and the 7.4kW/32 amp unit taking half that time.
BMW still won’t follow Tesla with an over-the-air system for software updates for the i3, though it is doing it for navigation data. Another upgrade comes via its electronic safety systems, now more accurate with specific wheel-speed controls, along with the ability to run Level 2 autonomous in traffic jams at up to 60km/h.
It also has the option of parking assistance, which will locate free car parks and do everything to place the car into them.
There’s also a Driving Assistant Plus collection of optional assistance systems, which will deliver the i3 a City Braking function (which includes pedestrian warnings), speed limit information, active cruise control and a stop-go function.
While the exterior design tweaks are more modest than the first two full pages of BMW’s press release would indicate, they do their best to push the visual width of the narrow car (it remains 1,775mm wide, though the i3s moves to 1,791mm) and give it some length.
As before, more than 80% of the i3’s interior surfaces are made from recycled materials and BMW has swung in three interior equipment levels.
There is a new, optional larger multimedia screen, pushed out to 10.25 inches and it comes with the Navigation Plus package. It covers all of the standard infotainment, communications and navigation functions and there’s Apple CarPlay, which it didn’t have before.
The i3 also scores on-street parking information, which it can use with real-time traffic information in Navigation Professional, if you want to pay even more money and if it is available here.
We have no idea on how much more the new models will cost, but expect more details closer the launch of the new i3 in SA in the second half of 2018.