The BMW i3 has been on the market since 2013 but is still a unique proposition on the EV market. This is the only premium BEV, if you except the Tesla models S and X, the
upcoming Jaguar I-Pace and the not-sold-in-Ireland non-fast-charging Mercedes B250e.
So what is the BMW i3 ?
The i3 is 5 years old but still has an extremely up-to-date design. It has an awesome architecture : An aluminium chassis integrating batteries, topped by a carbon fibre body shell and plastic panels. The motor is in the back below the boot (so is the optional range extender), and like a respectable BMW, it’s rear-wheel drive. At 4 meters long it is slightly shorter than a Renault Zoé, a bit wider, for a similar height. It originally came out with 170hp and a 60Ah battery (21.8 kWh) and then that pack was upgraded to 94Ah (33.2 kWh) in summer 2016. For 2018 the i3 has been face-lifted with the addition of the i3s variant tested today (without range extender), offering a more than respectable 184 hp on tap. This car can go from 0 to 100 kph in just 6.9 seconds so we’re in hot hatch territory when it comes to pure acceleration.
Range, Charging and driving modes
The i3 has a 33.2 kWh battery pack, or 27.2 kWh useable. Not small and I think underestimated as per what I’ve found out during the week. It uses the CCS standard : You can charge at up to 50kw on the DC but also 11kw on AC ! The BMW i3 is one of the rare cars (with the Renault Zoé) to accept 3-phase charge. Only I couldn’t verify that as the car was supplied with a single-phase 32amp cable. I could therefore only enjoy 7kw AC during this test. Make sure you tick that 3-phase cable option box when you get your i3 ! This gives a NEDC range of 280 km on this i3s (300 km on the i3 on 20” wheels, 312 km with 19” wheels), which is better than a Nissan Leaf 30 (250 km) and similar to a Hyundai Ioniq (280 km), but significantly less than a Renault Zoé ZE 40 (370 to 400 km, depending on motor). This good range performance is explained by the lightweight structure. This i3s is just 1340 kg, that is 60 kg over the standard i3 but 140 kg less than a Zoé ZE40. Note that the range extender (aka Rex) option is adding 120 kg to the i3’s weight, will not only affect performance … but also EV range, reduced to 220 km on this i3s (Of course the Rex will allow total range of around 330 km, with the peace of mind of being able to easily top up in dinosaur juice).
But enough with NEDC figures, we’ll move to WLTP soon anyway… So what’s the real range ?
If you drive economically, you can reach an average economy of 11.5 kWh/100 km, which gives a theoretical real range of almost 260km . On the motorway, without sparing the car (ie cruising at 120 kph) I reached 18 kWh / 100 km which is pretty much the worst the i3 can do in summer. On a trip from Limerick to Galway, I managed 17.5 kWh /100 km, at an average speed of 93.2 kph to drive 100 km exactly, while the gauge went from 88% to 29%. Pretty good!
Remember that the heat pump is an option, so winter range will be significantly affected if you like your cabin to be nice a toasty. But thankfully heated seats are standard. Coincidence ? I don’t think so.
It charges quicky too. During a fast charge (from 11% to 95.5%), it took only 39 minutes to get no less than 29 kWh, ie 44.6kw average charging speed. If you can get such charging speed to 95% on one of these triple standard units from ESB Ecars units with your EV, please take a picture and send it to me!
The BWM i3 offers 3 driving modes (plus a 4th one on the i3s) : Comfort is the default mode engaged each time you start the car. It offers a quite important regenerative braking (that is not adjustable) and you can drive with just one pedal. High deceleration will turn on the brake lights so the motorists behind you wouldn’t get surprised. EcoPro is my favourite mode. It tempers the acceleration as well as the deceleration, and it makes it easier to find the “coasting” middle-spot. Upon deceleration, it will leave a small gap of time before applying full regeneration, allowing a smoother driving experience. This is in my opinion the real “comfort” mode. The speed is limited to 120 kph but the full power is available at anytime so it’s not really affecting the performance of the car! EcoPro+ is a bit more hardcore. The speed is now limited to 90 kph and it cuts the air-conditioner and heater, just leaving a minimal flow of ventilation. Then there is the Sport mode, only available on the i3s. The accelerator is even sharper than on the comfort mode and the steering is more direct. It results in a very engaging driving experience. Sadly bit too engaging for the state of our country roads. The suspension (10mm lowered compared to the standard version) is quite firm and it doesn’t like roads that aren’t perfectly smooth. On top of it the steering is direct but not as precise as you might expect from a hot hatch so you can’t ask too much to this car. The seats, without much side support, wouldn’t allow you to get crazy in the bends anyway. You can still have fun with this mode, especially in town where the power + tight steering + small turning circle make it the ultimate city machine. On top of it, the slightly higher seating position (you almost feel like in a SUV) and large windows surface (not so common these days) make the visibility just perfect. I really think that’s the best car you can have in town.
How is it as an everyday car ?
The i3 is a small car but the interior feel spacious, especially in front. In the rear, the front visibility is a bit impaired by the large front seats and leg room isn’t huge, but nothing bad for a 4 meter car. The lack of engine in the front allowed a shorter bonnet and and an extra storage for your cables (unfortunately not waterproof). You’ll be happy to store these there as the rear boot is quite high and volume isn’t huge. But you can appreciate its boxy usable shape. And should you fold the rear seats, it will give you a perfectly flat surface.
Interior is quite modern and you feel like you are in a true premium car, a mix of eco-friendly and high quality materials. The interior pictured here is called Atelier, the standard offer (with optional blue seat belts). There are beautiful optional interiors, from modern and clear Loft and Lodge or the more classic Suite with its brown leather upholstery, all offered with stunning eucalyptus wood trims on the dashboard and over the glove-box.
One of the interesting features of this car is the way the rear doors open. You need to open the front door in order to access the rear seat. It can either be seen as a glorified 3-door car (great rear access) or a challenging 5-door (you can’t open rear windows). One of the benefit this architecture has is the possibility to comfortably place a child in a baby seat. Both rear seats have Isofix standard (yes, it only seats two). In between the 2 seats you’ll find 2 handy cup-holders but that’s the only sort of storage you’ll find in the back. Front door pockets are large enough and the lack of center console allows you to place big items in front between the driver and passenger legs.
The cockpit is very easy to operate, ergonomics are good, with a screen in front of the driver displaying essential data (speed, battery status, trip computer information). The climate control panel is simple to use, and heated seats switches are ideally placed next to it. On top of it, you have 8 buttons for shortcuts. These could used for anything in the multimedia system, for a radio station or a particular feature that you use often. It is really useful as this system has an endless number of functions and adjustments. You can spend hours navigating the menus and understanding what each function does. The Harman and Kardon sound system (an option at € 883) is extremely good.
As with almost every EV, there is an app you can install on your smartphone to monitor some elements of your car : charging status, remaining range of course, but on the i3 you can also lock or unlock the vehicle (good if you have OCD) and even flash the lights.
Should I buy one ?
The BMW i3 range starts at € 37,950 (including the VRT rebate and SEAI grant). The i3s starts at € 42,130. It’s good to know that every i3 now have the BMW Professional navigation system, and full LED headlights. That’s about € 2,000 of extra equipments over the pre-facelift i3. Unfortunately, besides the heat pump, you will also have to pay extra for the reverse camera, comfort access (to enter the car without actioning the key fob) or privacy glass. Best is to have a look at BMW’s configurator to build your favourite i3
It is quite difficult to judge the price as this is a unique model on the market. The competition is not really existing. In terms of small EV, you have the Zoé that will cost much less but has a significantly lower quality and performance levels. Then if you want to go for another premium EV with high performance, you have to get to Jaguar Tesla which are then bigger but will also cost twice as much.
If you don’t need the space of a family car but still look for a fun to drive EV, the BMW i3 is actually the best proposition on the market, with the added benefit of being sure you won’t have the same car as your neighbour.
Thanks to BMW Ireland for lending the car.
Photo credit : Guillaume Séguin