Will a larger battery make the more potent version of BMW's electric hatchback fun to drive outside of commuter hours? We have six months to find out

Why we’re running it: To see whether this trailblazing small EV has evolved enough to still be considered the best in its class

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a BMW i3 S: Month 1

Electric commuter car has six months to prove its worth beyond just city driving​ - 23rd May 2018

The i3 was the original defining electric car. It was BMW’s vision of the future, one that beat Tesla to the mainstream market by two years and aimed to prove that EVs could be different from the established three-box norm.

Five years have passed since it first appeared and, in that time, cheaper rivals have come along. But BMW hasn’t stood still. Today’s i3 exists in pure-electric form only, improved with greater range and a sportier, more engaging i3s version. The arrival of a new 42kWh-capacity battery (120Ah) makes this the ideal time to revisit and see if it’s still the best compact EV out there.

I was deemed its obvious custodian. My commute to and from Autocar’s Twickenham office usually packs me onto six different trains like a sardine for up to two hours each way – a privilege for which I pay £10.50 per day. Travelling by car is slightly faster, even with traffic, but falls foul of the London congestion charge (£12 per day). Even before adding the cost of petrol or diesel, I’d be out of pocket, and the newly introduced Ultra Low Emission Zone ruled out running an old econobox on the cheap.

Over the next six months I plan to spend with BMW’s electric hatchback, I stand to save £1240 on public transport, or as much as £3500 on fuel and toll charges. Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? There is, of course, the small proviso that I live in a fourth-floor flat. I’m not planning to buy an extra-long extension cord so will be largely relying on public charging points.

The office has a 7.2kW charger, so I’ll be fine during the week. For those longer journeys – and there will be many – I’ll be completely reliant on destination charging, or the odd three-pin overnighter when visiting relatives out in the sticks.

BMW says the i3’s new longer-range 42kWh battery is good for 177 miles under WLTP, but the next six months will likely prove as much a test of Britain’s electric car infrastructure as of this quirky electric hatchback.

It will also be a test of my restraint, as the 181bhp and a 6.9sec 0-60mph sprint of our more potent i3s is rapid enough to bother some hot hatchbacks. I’m fully expecting the instant torque to be more tempting at the traffic lights, though, where only other EVs have a hope of keeping pace to 30mph.

Our car arrives in two-tone Melbourne Red and Frozen Grey metallic paint on 20in black alloy wheels and BMW’s Suite ‘interior world’ – which means brown leather upholstery and dark oak wood trim to you and me. It’s a combination I wasn’t sure of at first, but it has quickly grown on me. The cabin feels more expansive than it really is thanks to the lack of transmission tunnel and minimal dashboard, and the darker materials don’t make you feel at all confined.

It’s a fully loaded example, with £6135 of options ticked, including the essential (£790 Driving Assistant Plus, £360 reversing camera), useful (£395 wireless smartphone charging, £330 keyless entry) and nice but frivolous (£125 blue seatbelts). The £235 Apple CarPlay preparation will largely go unused, as I have an Android phone. Unfortunately for me, BMW and Google don’t yet see eye to eye, so it’ll either be a dashboard mount or the built-in iDrive infotainment for navigation and media. Thankfully, there is an Android version of BMW Connected, the smartphone companion app that will grade my driving on a five-star scale, let me send navigation directions remotely and pre-heat the cabin for any cold morning commutes – at least those when I’m not desperately trying to conserve battery.

Factor in the government electric car grant and you’re looking at a £40,305 outlay, making this very much a premium choice among city-friendly EVs. BMW says 60% of customers think it’s worth the extra over the vanilla i3. It has six months to convince me of the same.

In the 1000 miles I’ve spent with the i3s so far, the inability to charge at home has yet to make this venture a literal non-starter. Even with a lead foot, I can usually make it from the office and back with only around a quarter of the battery drained. Fully charged, the impossible-to-miss remaining battery indicator on the dashboard informs me it has 155 miles in reserve, jumping to over 190 if used in Eco Pro+ mode.

This reduces top speed to 56mph and throttle response to something altogether more restrained while disengaging the climate controls and switching off the heated seats. I’m hoping that will be something of a last resort for all but the longest of journeys. I’ll be interested to learn how quickly the battery can be sapped at a 70mph motorway cruise.

I haven’t felt the need to curse the giant alloy wheels or sportier suspension yet, although the i3s does certainly ride rather firmly for a car most at home in the city. I’m looking forward to driving on more engaging roads, when I know I have a charging point waiting for me at the end, to see if it delivers on the promise of engaging handling.

I’ll also be after any tips on hypermiling and squeezing out every drop of range from a charge, so if you have any, please get in touch. I’m probably going to need them.

Second Opinion

To my mind, the i3 has always been a brilliant flag bearer for electric mobility, but flawed in several important design aspects and in some of its minor details. The question this test should answer is whether it’s a flawed genius, or just frustratingly short of the very best. 

Jim Holder

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BMW i3 S specification

Specs: Price New £34,170 (including government grant) Price as tested £40,305 (including government grant) Options Melbourne Red paint £550, i3s Plus package £1100, Suite interior £2000, keyless entry £330, reversing camera £360, blue seatbelts £125, eDrive exterior sound £80, front and rear parking sensors £170, Driving Assistant Plus £790, Apple CarPlay preparation £235, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging £395

Test Data: Engine electric motor Power 181bhp Torque 199lb ft Kerb weight 1265kg Top speed 99mph 0-62mph 6.9sec Range 177 miles (WLTP) CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
8

7 June 2019

£40,000?, that a lot!, the big draw are the saving I guess ,but that’s short term, you won’t notice because you’ll spend it on something else, your not exactly going to bank it are you?!

Peter Cavellini.

7 June 2019

Spending the money saved means you are noticing the saving, because you are spending money you wouldnt have had otherwise.

That would be like suggesting you wouldnt want a pay rise, you'd only spend the money on something...  

 

List price is high though, although Im (enviously) seeing alot of i3's now. SH Rex models are almost in my budget, but used prices have gone up in the past year, frustratingly. 

7 June 2019

Bit of a niche, on COST alone it's £5.5k cheaper than a Model 3 but £5k cheaper than a LEAF so a good comparrasion would be the LEAF e+ for a £2k more

Any chance of a video:  A family of 4 getting out in the wrong order with a car parked either side, I've heard it can be a bit comical.

Finally £400 for a phone charger, should be illegal!!!

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

7 June 2019

meant ...." on COST alone it's around £5.5k cheaper than a Model 3 but £5k more expensive than a LEAF "

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

7 June 2019

I've done 28K miles in 18 months in my 94Ah REX i3, bought primarily to do and 75-80 miles a day commute, taking in a mixture of rural, city, nose-to-tail and open motorway roads.  I tend not to hold back too much, the instant acceleration never ceasing to raise a grin. It covers the distance with ease, and having a home charger means it's always nice and toasty on cold Scottish winter mornings. Recently did 1100 miles in the Scottish Highlands, using public chargers all the way (only two of which were chargeable).  Was basically 1100 miles for under a tenner (most public chargers being free in Scotland...for now).  

I really love it for the purpose I own it. It's smooth, refined, perfectly sized and with the perfect blend of performance for commuting. It garners a lot of positive attention, and is surprsingly good fun to boot. 

Yes, they are a bit pricey, but there's enough innovative tech, not to mention actual usable tech (I still think iDrive is the best OEM infotainment system out there) to just about justify it. 

Worth also adding that I've only put petrol in twice. It's nice knowing the REX is there, but I'm past the anxiety stage and now hate the fact I'm carrying around a fuel tank and REX motor. 

Very interested to see what kind of range you get from the new 120Ah. 

7 June 2019

As above, a great car for commuting. I do @ 80 miles a day mostly motorway and have 35-40 miles when I get home (2018 smaller battery version). Fortunately I can charge either at work or home- home is significantly cheaper.

Other reason for an i3 or i3s is BIK as a company car user. As of next April my BIK goes from 16% to 2%. Yep 2%. That's like having a large pay rise just for driving to work. I'm not sure how widely  known this is but it should be borne in mind by anyone in a company car scheme who is up for a change over the next 10 months or so.

7 June 2019

As above, a great car for commuting. I do @ 80 miles a day mostly motorway and have 35-40 miles when I get home (2018 smaller battery version). Fortunately I can charge either at work or home- home is significantly cheaper.

Other reason for an i3 or i3s is BIK as a company car user. As of next April my BIK goes from 16% to 2%. Yep 2%. That's like having a large pay rise just for driving to work. I'm not sure how widely  known this is but it should be borne in mind by anyone in a company car scheme who is up for a change over the next 10 months or so.

10 June 2019

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