New 94Ah battery improves on the Range Extender i3's already impressive range, while its long list of strengths remains

What is it?

We've already experienced BMW's revised i3. Then we were sampling the electric car in Munich, but now we're in the UK driving on a mix of urban and country roads. 

To recap, the new ‘94Ah’ part of the name refers to a brand-new battery developed by BMW and made up of cells manufactured by Samsung. This lithium ion battery pack, which is mounted under the cabin floor, is the same size as the previous one but its energy density has been improved by an impressive 50%. BMW claims the resulting 33kWh capacity significantly improves the i3's electric range, boosting it from 118 miles to 195 miles.

The i3’s charging system has been upgraded along with the battery pack. A specialist DC charger can be used to charge the new battery to 80% of its capacity in around 40 minutes. A standard Type 2 charging cable is also provided should a DC point not be available. 

In Germany we focused on the purely electric model, but here we're driving the Range Extender, which, you may remember, uses a 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine as a generator in order to provide back-up charging for the improved battery. Together, they provide the Range Extender with an official 231 miles of range. 

What's it like?

Along with its range, the new i3's performance is also improved over that of the old model, so the purely electric version now sprints from rest to 62mph in 7.3sec, while this slightly heavier Range Extender takes 8.1sec. It's no surprise, then, that the i3 still feels supremely comfortable darting away from traffic lights and accelerating into gaps from a rolling start.

Its performance remains strong at motorway speeds, too. There isn't the same stomach-pinning sensation that you get from stationary, but even up at 50mph it still feels eager enough to make fast overtakes on country roads a safe endeavour. It feels most urgent in its Comfort driving mode, where the throttle is at its most responsive, rather than the range-focused EcoPro, which dulls the throttle (and the air-con) and limits top speed. 

Of course, all of this is done in near silence, the only sounds being a faint whine from the motor and the building of road and wind noise as speed increases - but never to annoying levels. Once the battery has depleted to 75% or below, it's possible to fire the two-cylinder generator and preserve the battery, but even its distant hum doesn't disturb the calm.

If anything lets the i3 down just slightly, it would be its ride and handling. Its large, standard 19in wheels and low-profile tyres pick up on sharp ridges at low speeds, but at least the i3 keeps its body from shuddering about at the same time. At higher speeds the same ruts become less intrusive.

And while the i3's brilliant performance made it more than a match for combustion-engined cars on our fast, rolling cross-country route from the Cotswolds and towards London, its chassis feels better set up for town driving than for brisk B-roads. The keen rebound from its suspension and aggressive yet uncommunicative steering had us taking several bites at bends, while its relatively narrow tyres don't offer the last word in grip. Still, for low-speed agility in town, few EVs are better.

That urban prowess doesn't just come from performance and agility, because the good driving position and excellent all-round visibility make it easy to judge the i3's extremities. There are no material or infotainment changes with this update, but then neither was needed. Here, BMW has achieved one of the most interesting interiors on sale, while iDrive remains a benchmark both within and beyond the i3's class. 

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That said, there are more practical EV choices. Two tall adults will sit comfortably in the front seats, but while the rear-hinged rear doors leave a decent aperture, another two adults won't want to spend much time in the rear seats. It's boot, meanwhile, is actually smaller than that of a Ford Fiesta, at 260 litres.

Should I buy one?

We've said it before and we'll say it again: electric vehicles are a considered choice and need to fit your lifestyle. However, the i3's new, longer real-world range of around 124 miles means the majority of commuters won't need a charging point at work for it to make sense. Indeed, this Range Extender version's 217-mile real-world range will fit in yet more easily, although its £3000 premium and higher BIK tax band mean the cheaper and enough-for-most regular i3 remains our range pick.

In either of its forms, the i3 has a Volkswagen e-Golf and Nissan Leaf 30kWh beaten for range, luxury, infotainment and equipment, but it has to be said that these rivals are the far more practical choices given their traditional hatchback design. In the Nissan's case, it's also far cheaper to buy in the first place.

As a premium product, the i3 is naturally closer to the e-Golf in what it sets out to do. That it feels genuinely classier than the VW and does so for slightly less money while going further on a charge will make it the more rounded choice for many. 

BMW i3 94Ah Range Extender

Location Cotswolds; On sale Now; Price £30,980 (after £4500 Gov grant); Engine Electric motor; Power 168bhp; Torque 184lb ft; Gearbox single-speed; Kerb weight 1440kg; 0-62mph 8.1sec; Top speed 93mph; Range 276 miles; CO2/tax band 12g/km, 5%. Rivals Nissan Leaf 30kWh, Volkswagen e-Golf

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Add a comment…
rogerhudson 1 February 2017

4 or 5 seats

Car widths are best left with two decent seats in the back, a centre seat makes all three seats compromised.
Perhaps designers believe in 2.4 children, silly.
Devoni3 11 January 2017

i3 Foibles

I too am a recent purchaser of an i3, it suits my driving requirements perfectly but would not be able to consider a non-rx version. In devon the charging infrastructure is still poor and as another contributor points out a diversion or road closure could cause significant issues with range being insufficient. The batteries in these and other modern electric vehicles are so big that on slow chargers (13amp 3pin socket and small 3.7kw chargers)it potentially could take 12 hours to top up from empty which on long journeys is not a realistic proposition.

That said this is by a country mile the BEST town car I have ever driven, silent , fast, nippy with excellent visibility. The traffic assist function takes all the stress out of driving in queues and the fit and quality of the cabin is superb. On a longer run on faster roads the reassurance of a state of the art cabin structure and backup safety systems (emergency call/concierge/camera variable cruise control) all add up to a really compelling package. Yes it is different and wont suit everyone, range can be an issue and longer journeys need a bit of planning but anyone who has been for a trip in it is amazed as to the capability. We use it as our main vehicle...take an extended test drive...

samra 16 October 2016

beauty in front of my eye

beauty in front of my eye