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Driven: BMW i3 94Ah heralds ‘end of range anxiety’

Unplugged: The larger capacity 94Ah battery in the new BMW i3 will extend the vehicle’s driving range enough to cover a one-way trip from Melbourne to Shepparton on a single charge.

A denser battery for improved range and DC rapid charging for BMW’s new i3 94Ah

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BMW logo7 Oct 2016

By TUNG NGUYEN

ADVANCES in battery technology has prompted BMW Australia to release a pair of updated i3 electric vehicles (EV) with a denser 94 ampere hour (Ah) battery, boosting the driving range by up to 50 per cent compared with the older 60Ah versions.

Although the physical size of the lithium-ion batteries and the vehicles have not changed, the boffins at BMW’s i-division and Samsung SDI have improved battery energy capacity from 21.6kWh to 33.2kWh, resulting in an increase of usable power from 18.8kWh to 28.2kWh.

With two variants on offer, the purely electric i3 94Ah BEV can now reach a driving range of up to 240kms and the 650cc petrol engine-assisted i3 94Ah REx will travel up to 370kms before needing a recharge, although this figure drops to about 200km and 330km respectively with the use of air-conditioning and the audio system.

For perspective, the i3 94Ah BEV can travel from Melbourne to Shepparton on a single charge, whereas the i3 94Ah REx – which uses a small two-cylinder engine to recharge battery power over extended periods of driving – can travel from Melbourne to Lakes Entrance without needing a top up, according to BMW.

Compared with the existing i3 60Ah version – which can travel up to 160km for the electric-only and up to 300km with the range extender – the i3 94Ah adds a $2000 price premium at $65,900 before on-roads for the BEV and $71,900 for the REx.

However, all 94Ah variants also gain DC rapid charging as standard, giving them the ability to recharge from zero to 80 per cent in 40 minutes at compatible stations, and it is a $769 option on 60Ah variants, reducing the price difference to $1231.

Built at BMW’s Leipzig production plant, which is powered by wind turbines and uses 50 per cent less energy and 70 per cent less water than the average BMW plant, the i3 makes use of recycled and sustainably sourced materials, a key reason why customers are attracted to the i3, says BMW.

BMW Group Australia general manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher said it was more than the technology that draws buyers to an i3, it is also the mindset of sustainability and an environmental conscious.

“People are becoming more aware, despite what policy may be, people are accepting of climate change, they know it’s a reality and people are trying to do their bit, trying to do the right thing,” she said.

“So I think there are several things that appeal about the i3, it’s different, it’s not what everybody else has, the different materials and components used, the way its manufactured.

“The lower running costs really don’t even factor into it but they’re an added bonus.”

BMW says 80 per cent of i3 customers are new to the German brand internationally and in Australia, and, despite sales dipping this year – 71 i3s sold to the end of September compared with 124 over the same period last year – BMW Australia head of product planning Shawn Ticehurst said the sales slump was “expected”.

“Yes, this year it is down off last year,” he said. “So we have had a few people waiting for this car, so the downturn this year was expected. With this new battery, we’re expecting to see growth.”

While both 60Ah and 94Ah i3s will be sold concurrently for now, Mr Ticehurst said he expects sales of the older version to naturally die down.

“At the moment, there are both cars out there, 60s and 94s,” he said. “If someone wants a 60, we can get the car in for them, we will still build them, but we naturally expect the 94 will replace the 60 over time.”

However, BMW revealed that existing customers with a 60Ah battery will not be able to upgrade to a 94Ah battery by swapping modules due to regulation restrictions involved with shipping lithium-ion batteries back to Germany, but that the company was “looking into it”.

Power output remains unchanged across all variants, with 125kW/250Nm fed through a single-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.

However, the denser 94Ah battery does add an additional 50kg of weight, resulting in a 0.1 second slower zero to 100km/h time of 7.3s for the 1245kg i3 94Ah BEV and a 0.2s slower time of 8.1s for the 1365kg i3 94Ah REx compared with its 60Ah counterparts.

Zero to 80 per cent recharge times will vary with different power outlets. A standard socket will take 14 hours, whereas installing a high-power BMW i Wallbox Pure will bring that time down to four hours, and using free ChargePoint stations will give owners access to stations which will halve the charge time again.

Aesthetically, the i3 94Ah and 60Ah are identical, save for the new car’s Protonic Blue exterior paint option matched with Frozen Grey metallic highlights– a colour which, until now, was only available on the BMW i8 hybrid sportscar.

Other exterior colours available include Mineral Grey, Platinum Silver, Iconic Silver, Capparis White and Fluid Black.

Low rolling-resistance 155mm tyres sit at the front and 175 tyres at the front wrapped around 19-inch lightweight alloy wheels as standard, while a double-spoke style 20-inch wheels can be optioned for $769.

As standard, the i3 94Ah is fitted with grey cloth seats with yellow leatherette inserts, matching door trims, Eucalyptus wood-finished dashboard, and grey floormats and roofliner.

Customers can tick a no-cost option to restyle the interior with all-grey cloth and vinyl seats, door panels, floormats and roofliner with a contrasting black dashboard and interior trim or pay $1538 to upgrade to brown leather seats, door trim and dashboard with a dark oak dashboard, black floormats and grey roof.

Safety equipment includes driver and front passenger airbags, curtain and side airbags, central locking, dynamic stability control, brake assist and side impact protection.

Being a BMW, the expansive options list includes an alarm system ($654), sunroof ($2246), heated front seats ($562), LED headlights ($1077), premium Harman/Kardon 12-speaker sound system ($1192) and Driver Assistant Plus ($1692) which adds forward collision warning, active cruise control and tyre pressure monitoring.

2016 BMW i3 pricing*
i3 BEV (a)$63,900
i3 REx (a)$69,000
i3 94Ah BEV (a)$65,900
i3 94Ah REx (a)$71,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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