As you will have read in Motor News late in 2017, we travelled to Lisbon, Portugal, to sample the sixth-generation M5, which is due in SA in March, but also to sample the updated BMW i3 electric vehicle that is touted for local introduction in April.
As an avid Motor News reader, you will recall the team being custodians of the pre-facelift BMW i3 for six months during which we learnt a great deal about the technology.
Our recent drive of the updated version, which includes new standard LED headlights and cabin appointments, only reinforced our affinity with the model as it comes with an even denser battery pack, which means improved travel range. The 94Ah/33kWh battery now gives the i3 a claimed 300km range, which is essentially double of what was offered before.
The model can still be had in both battery electric vehicle (BEV) or range extender, the latter incorporating a 647cc motorcycle engine under the boot floor to act as a generator and provide electricity for the battery pack without actually propelling the vehicle in the traditional sense by directly powering the wheels.
Maximum power output has remained unchanged at 125kW and 250Nm, while top speed is still pegged at 150km/h.
For those with a penchant for even more performance, there is the i3s version, which bumps power up to 135kW and torque to 270Nm. That slashes the 0-100km/h sprint from 7.7 seconds for the standard model, to 6.9 seconds in the i3s, while the top speed is 160km/h. The i3s also gets slightly bigger shoes measuring 195/55/20 at the rear to go with a 40mm wider track and 10mm lower ride height. It all conspires to give the model a less jittery and bouncy ride and more confidence-inspiring grip.
The model is however not destined for our market at this stage with BMW SA citing the already low uptake of the standard i3 and indicating the i3s might not make a strong business case here as it will also command a higher premium.
To get a better understanding of the new i3 models, we sat down with Carina Gartner, global product manager of BMW i, during the launch of the model in Portugal.
Having started at BMW AG as an intern, Gartner moved into the product planning department prior to her current position. Speaking quite fervently about the i brand in general and the i3 in particular, Gartner says when she and her team proposed a more performance-oriented version of the i3, the management at first frowned on the idea, mentioning something along the lines of the i3 not having been conceived to spawn a more performance-oriented derivative. However, having driven it, it seems there was method to the madness among Gartner’s team as the i3s manages to capture the essence of BMW’s rear-wheel drive dynamics to a certain degree.
The i3 was a test bed for us to build the most advanced, efficient and safe electric vehicle
Asked about talks of the next generation i3 being constructed from steel, Gartner says the current model is labour and energy intensive, as the chassis is made of carbon fibre. To reduce the costs for consumers, the next-generation i3 will more than likely be a more palatable proposition as far as capital outlay is concerned.
"The i3 was a test bed for us to build the most advanced, efficient and safe electric vehicle and we take all that we have learnt from the project to make future i cars more accessible."
Quizzed about whether a more family-oriented BMW i model, such as the rumoured i5, will make it into production, she says we will see more practical vehicles coming from BMW’s sub-brand beyond 2020 and we should just watch this space.
Gartner is also watching many of her rivals closely, so we asked her what she thinks of Elon Musk’s Tesla products and the company’s business model and whether BMW would consider working closely with Tesla on future projects.
BMW’s main focus will always be sustainability, she says, arguably a diplomatic corporate answer, although one can easily read between the lines.
As the electric car market expands, it will be interesting to see what products the Bavarian marque has in store.