Auto123 reviews the 2019 BMW i3 Extended Range all-electric car
BMW's i3 electric model has been on the market for six years now. It marked the German manufacturer's first real foray into the world of the electric car, and was on hand for the birth of the i division, dedicated to all things electric. The i3 was followed in 2014 by the sporty i8.
From the outset, the model stood out because of its atypical design and its interior presentation, as original as it is whacky. The i3 also stood out because of two elements that could be considered "problematic": the rather limited electric range and the rather painful price point. Fortunately, a gas engine was there to alleviate the first problem. As for the second, well...
Over the past year, a lot has been said about the i3, and some of that has involved pessimistic predictions as to its future existence. BMW recently announced it is committing to a second-generation model. It’s not actually hard to understand the company’s decision, seeing as how sales have climbed steadily globally since the model’s troubled first year or two. The 2019 figures were the best for the product since its introduction.
More range than ever
Last year, BMW made a final series of improvements to the current i3. The most significant of these was in terms of its capabilities. From 60 Ah (ampere-hour) in the early days, it is now 120 Ah, after having been 94 Ah in recent years. This increase corresponds to a capacity of 42.2 kWh, allowing the model to travel 246 kilometres on a single charge, a 30% increase over the models offered in 2018.
With the world of the electric car evolving so rapidly, it’s important for automakers to keep their models up to date in terms of range. In the case of the i3, the irony is that even though it comes with a combustion engine as a backup, it’s perceived as an all-electric car and is judged as such.
That gas engine is small mind you, a 0.647-litre, 38-hp, 2-cylinder unit. It comes to the aid of the battery if the latter’s capacity drops below 6%. In so doing it increases total range by about 150 kilometres, if needed. Don't look for it under the hood, though. It's located in the trunk, next to the batteries. It has a 9-litre tank and is filled from the front. The rear hatch that you can see in the photos is reserved for recharging.
There are two variants of the i3 120Ah: the basic version as well as the i3s 120Ah version. Power is the same in both cases, with the equivalent of 170 hp at the disposal of the driver. With the purely electric model, the time is 7.2 seconds at 0-100 km/h. The car we tested, with the Range Extender (REx), takes 8 seconds to reach the same speed.
To be honest, that last statistic doesn't really matter, because torque is instantaneous and the vehicle runs like a rabbit; overtaking is also effortless. In any case, you don't procure yourself an i3 to break land-speed records; range is much more relevant here.
On the road
In terms of behavior, you can recognize this BMW's German genes when you’re at the wheel of the thing. The steering is precise and handling is right on target. But the fun really ends there. The i3 isn't the most comfortable car, as it tends to hop around a bit, the result of a wheelbase that's closer to that of a golf cart than a car.
In fact, it’s hard not to conjure up the Chevrolet Bolt in this regard. However, we'll give the German EV the upper hand over the Chevy when it comes to comfort, thanks especially to the seats that are much more welcoming. The freedom of range of the little Bolt is far superior, though.
In either case, the energy is well distilled. The official numbers are borne out in real-world driving, and if you’re careful in the way you drive, you can squeeze extra kilometres out of the battery pack.
In fact, as with any electrical product, drivers’ behaviour behind the wheel tends to change. While we're sometimes tempted (as I am) to put the pedal down hard to take advantage of the instantaneous torque, we're also encouraged to get the best possible fuel efficiency.
Modern and trendy
One undeniably appealing element of the i3 is its modern interior, which still feels up to date six years after its launch. The dashboard, for one, would be worthy contestant in a design contest. What’s more, 80% of the surfaces we see are made of recycled materials. An A for effort.
There's not a ton of room in the back and for cargo, though, but you have to take what you get when you opt this model. Headroom is good – and all you need to understand why is to look at the shape of the i3.
When it comes to connectivity, the i3 has everything to please those who like to be continuously close to their devices. Amazon Alexa services will even be offered in the near-future. Truly, reality is beginning to surpass fiction.
Driving aids are also present in droves, but beware, because as is often the case with BMW products, you'll have to take a pencil to the options list to take advantage of many of them. If you like to take care of your driving yourself, your wallet will be all the better for it, because when you add extras to your i3, its price easily rises to the level of ridiculously stratospheric.
The model we tested had two packages and a few individual options. The $3,500 Premium Package adds navigation, front and rear parking sensors, harmon/kardon audio system and BMW's Connected Services, among other things. A $2,500 Driver Assistance Package and other additions increased the price of our tester from $53,600 to $62,245.
And there’s the rub with the i3.
What’s more, because of its luxury-car base price, forget about government discounts. Ouch!
This has nothing to do with the quality of the product; this is a good vehicle that generally delivers on what it promises. But it’s also a model that too expensive for what it offers, especially when take the time to compare offers from other EV makers.
So really, the i3’s buyers choose it for its difference... and because they can afford it.
Original, still-current interior
Range is starting to be interesting
We like less
Road handling a bit messy
Range, because it’s already being overtaken by the competition...