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Car reviews - BMW - i3 - 94Ah

Our Opinion

We like
Silky smooth powertrain, funky and spacious interior, real world usability, legit green car cred
Room for improvement
Pricey, not suitable for rural areas, ride comfort suffers from extra weight in the Rex, lack of charging infrastructure

BMW logo7 Oct 2016

By TUNG NGUYEN

THERE is no doubt that the BMW i3 is a quirky car that skews to a very niche market – a customer base who is not only concerned about the ongoing running costs of a traditional petrol or diesel powered car, but also a buyer who is environmentally savvy and looks for sustainable solutions wherever possible.

Since the i3 first launched in late 2014 with a 60Ah battery, it has managed to move just 254 units throughout its life but BMW is betting that this new 94Ah version will have more of a mainstream appeal thanks to an increased driving range.

And we think they are onto something here.

The new battery increases the driving range of the pure electric i3 94Ah BEV by up to 50 per cent and can carry you up to 200km with passengers, air-conditioning and the radio all on.

Picking up the i3 93Ah Rex – which adds a 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine to charge the battery on extended trips – will extend the driving range to about 330km, more than enough for a daily commuter or even the occasional road trip.

While having access to a charging point is essential, customers would not buy into an electric vehicle unless they had access to a port either at home or at work for daily use. According to BMW, it will only cost about $5 in electricity to recharge an i3 and can also be done at various ChargePoint stations around the country.

We sampled both versions on a tight inner-city Melbourne route (the natural habitat of an i3) and, despite only receiving a bigger battery, still walked away just as impressed with BMW’s baby EV even after two years on the market.

Our pick of the two has to be the pure electric BEV. Not only is it cheaper ($65,900 before on-roads compared with the $71,900 Rex), but with less weight (1245kg versus 1365kg) it feels noticeably more sprightly and eager to turn in.

While the REx does offer peace of mind knowing there is a 650cc two-cylinder engine backup ready to kick in and charge the battery when charge levels get too low, the vast majority of commuting can be easily done with battery power, especially with the added range that the 94Ah battery affords.

The BEV also has a smoother ride, thanks to the absence of an engine and nine litre fuel tank, and still features all the cool tech including Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation, and digital radio and voice commands as its more expensive sibling.

BMW’s i-Drive system is an absolute delight to use easy, intuitive and accurate. While we did not get any confirmation, from what our eyes could tell, the wide infotainment screen looks to be a higher resolution than other recently tested BMWs, displaying a crisper image with brighter colours and deeper blacks.

The instrumentation has also been tailored to the i3’s unique design, featuring a rectangle shape display with all the usual information including speed, headlight functions and seatbelt status, but also how much juice is left in the battery and remaining range.

A woodgrain dashboard and exposed door panelling hint at the i3s green credentials, and a lack of transmission tunnel opens up more useable interior space. BMWs says the boot space is big enough for 260 litres and up to 1100 litres with the rear seats folded down.

As you would expect for an all-electric pioneering vehicle, driving the i3 is a unique experience.

The regenerative braking system BMW has employed is at first aggressive, almost overly. Take your foot off the go pedal and it instantly feels like someone is depressing the brake pedal.

However, once you learn how to use the system to your advantage, it actually allows for one pedal driving simply by modulating the throttle and not coming off the gas all at once. That may sound counter-intuitive but it works well, although buyers may have to rethink their driving habits to get the most out of the i3.

Luckily the learning curve is gentle and once you get the hang of it, it can be very rewarding to see a red light ahead, ease off the accelerator to feel, and see, energy being recouped to the battery.

Steering is sharp and responsive, and it is actually loads of fun pushing the rear-drive hatchback around corners thanks to 125kW/250Nm being fed through a single-speed automatic transmission. As is typical to electric vehicles, torque is available instantaneously and overtaking is effortless in higher speeds, on par with a 435i according to BMW.

There is just nothing quite like the BMW i3 – an all-electric city runabout with a premium feel and head-turning styling.

Nissan’s Leaf is the BMW’s closest rival, fitting into the small pure electric hatchback mould with a similar range and at around $15,000 more affordable than the i3, but the Japanese option can’t brag the Euro charm, styling and driver-focus of the German contender.

While Toyota’s Prius has been a long-running stalwart of hybridisation and Audi offers an A3 e-tron with an electric motor, the Toyota will still require trips to the bowser and the Audi will only get you 50km before needing a recharge.

Tesla offers electric only vehicles in the form of its Model S sedan and Model X SUV, but both vehicles have a starting price north of $100,000 and with options ticked, that figure can easily venture into expensive territory.

Let’s be honest, no one who is looking to buy an i3 is going to use it for cross country commuting. For the vast majority of its life, the i3 will be a city slicker and this is where BMW’s entry level electric vehicle excels.

The inclusion of a improved 94Ah battery enhances the BMW i3’s potential as a legitimate city commuter and for many Australians could be their sole method of transportation.

Although the pricetag is high (most cutting edge technology is), the BMW i3 could be the all-electric vehicle alternative many have predicted would replace combustion engines. If the i3 fits into your lifestyle, go for the pure electric BEV version and you could legitimately cut petrol out of your life altogether.

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