From £30,2508
New 94Ah battery improves on the Range Extender i3's already impressive range, while its long list of strengths remains

Our Verdict

BMW i3

BMW made waves with Europe’s first premium-brand compact EV, and continued development means the i3 keeps upping the ante

  • First Drive

    2016 BMW i3 94Ah Range Extender review

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

    2016 BMW i3 94Ah review

    New battery pack gives BMW's appealing electric hatchback a useful increase in driving range but it doesn't come cheap
5 October 2016

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. 

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

Join the debate

Comments
11

5 October 2016
These new batteries just make one query the role of the range extender. At the end of the day, you're carrying a completely separate generator and fuel just to get another few miles - chargers are so much more plentiful nowadays however, and with a much bigger battery, doesn't it just make sense to charge. I think it is a fly in the ointment of the inherent benefits of an electric car - simplicity & reliability.

Really think the range extenders and hybrids are just bridging to full EV, and we're already coming to the end of the bridge.

____ !

5 October 2016
...how many seats does it have? Answer, four. Strike that off of the contenders list then. I guess it doesn't have the Golf and Leaf "beat" in the equipment stakes either.

5 October 2016
Merod is right - why build a car with such a fundamental flaw? 4 seats....didn't even contemplate this not because of range, but because of 4 seats and high cost.

____ !

5 October 2016
"BMW claims the resulting 33kWh capacity significantly improves the i3's electric range, boosting it from 118 miles to 195 miles."

No. No, please stop this. The range, in the real world, of an i3 with the new battery is about 115 miles. The existing model has a range of about 80 miles. Despite what the tests claim, you won't get 195 miles from a battery-only i3 unless you tow it for a significant period of time.

6 October 2016
Cé hé sin wrote:

"BMW claims the resulting 33kWh capacity significantly improves the i3's electric range, boosting it from 118 miles to 195 miles."

No. No, please stop this. The range, in the real world, of an i3 with the new battery is about 115 miles. The existing model has a range of about 80 miles. Despite what the tests claim, you won't get 195 miles from a battery-only i3 unless you tow it for a significant period of time.

If you read further they do state (However, the i3's new, longer real-world range of around 124 miles). This fits in with what you said.

6 October 2016
Cé hé sin wrote:

"BMW claims the resulting 33kWh capacity significantly improves the i3's electric range, boosting it from 118 miles to 195 miles."

No. No, please stop this. The range, in the real world, of an i3 with the new battery is about 115 miles. The existing model has a range of about 80 miles. Despite what the tests claim, you won't get 195 miles from a battery-only i3 unless you tow it for a significant period of time.

As an owner of a new i3 REX and having done 2500 miles in it i can say that you are incorrect. Range 'in the real world' is very stable and our household gets between 130-150 miles per charge in normal driving conditions with no effort and using 'performance' and '4 up' most of the time. You are also incorrect in your assumptions regarding the range of the BEV. I know owners who are 'hypermilers' who have achieved 200 miles on battery alone and have proof. So please, unless you own one or have experience first hand, stop these 'assumptions' from a position of no actual knowledge. It is possible, FACT.

6 October 2016
I couldn't care less about the range. It's so ugly I would not even sit in it. Real world range for me = 0. I'm sure someone must love it, not me I'm afraid. A cut and shut styling job.
Spanner

11 October 2016
I owned a 2014 i3 range extender for 2 years and 18000 miles and now have the larger battery version.
I believe saying 130-150 miles of range with 'no effort' in real world conditions with 4 up (as team sparky does) is rather optimistic.
BMW quotes 115 miles or so for the range extender and a bit more for the BEV and that seems right to me. I have hit 150 miles once or twice but a more realistic estimate might be 120 to 130 miles, and thats before winter kicks in. My first i3 could drop as low as 64 in very cold conditions (from an average of 75-80) and i expect the new model will see a similar percentage drop. Obviously owners of the new 94ah i3 will not know this as yet, in the UK at least.
All this said i love the car (which is why i got another) but i think it might be wise to manage expectations with a little more care.
Many things impact range including route/inclines, temperature, driving style and top speed.
To address the poster querying the need for a range extender, it has made the range of the car much more useable and is well worth having. If your journey is 'on the edge' of your range it can be very stressful with road closures and the like being a real pain, in the range extender you can keep on going easily and refuel fast on the rare occasions you use the car for a longer run.

16 October 2016
beauty in front of my eye

11 January 2017
Hi
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...

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