The i3’s upright body profile, its relatively high centre of gravity and the profile of its tyres (designed as they are to minimise rolling resistance and maximise battery range) continue to present the car with significant dynamic hurdles to overcome. Even so, the i3s succeeds in two key dimensions: by being at once a more grippy, settled, balanced and compelling proposition than a standard i3, and a much more engaging and charismatic car to drive than any of its all-electric rivals.
That it still doesn’t feel as stable, purposeful or rewarding as any of the piston-engined hot hatches you could spend its asking price on may be true, but it’d be a very uncharitable basis by which to deny it due credit here.
It’s the i3s’s steering that provides the first hint of its ambition to offer a more athletic drive than the average battery car. There’s a noticeable amount of heft here, particularly at low speeds, and its quick gearing lends the i3s plenty of easy agility.
Then there’s the way it rides. The i3s is firm-riding – not to the point of being in any way uncomfortable, but just a little short on suppleness over rougher surfaces. A compromise is being struck here, of course, between day-to-day comfort, outright grip, handling response and terrierish motive temperament; and for a performance-oriented car, it’s probably the right one.
Its uprated sports suspension contains body roll well, although the i3s still pitches fore and aft more than the average hot supermini might. Those standard-fit 20in alloys (the base i3 makes do with smaller 19s) make for a bit of secondary fuss and fidget over small lumps and bumps but not enough to make you question the wisdom of fitting them. In terms of outright grip level, the i3s isn’t quite at a true hot hatch’s adhesiveness.
If you drive it hard on slippery roads, it doesn’t take that much to trigger the dynamic stability control as the car begins to squat on its hindquarters under power and understeer around bends a little. But that stability control is very good and always keeps the car true to its course. There’s also more than enough purchase and balance here to enjoy a spirited flit across A-roads and B-roads.