2018 BMW i3s with Range Extender review: Exotic little EV is more fun, less of a value

Has been more than three years since I last checked out BMW’s bizarre electric i3. Underneath its silly exterior design, the i3 is still a technological marvel, featuring an electric powertrain within an advanced carbon fiber chassis and a stunning cabin made from sustainable materials. I continue to be impressed with this strange little ride.

But there is something new this year. The model acquires a new sportiness “S.“trim level that builds on efficient electric performance with slight spec improvements for power and agility. Now it’s slightly faster, slightly sportier and a lot more fun when driven with spirit. But how does it fit with the i3’s green mission?

Widen the wheels of the wagon

The BMW i3 is known for its strangely tall and narrow tires. The standard model turns, accelerates and stops surprisingly well on its Bridgestone Ecopia EP500 155 / 70R19 – which is like a tight temporary replacement – the unconventionally shaped contact patches of the tires.

The i3s still run on Bridgestone Ecopias, but switch to wider contact patches of 175mm in the front and 195mm wide for the rear wheels. This improves overall grip when cornering. The new rubber is wrapped around larger 20-inch wheels with shorter, stiffer sidewalls and hangs from firmer suspension for improved responsiveness and agility.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

The i3s rolls on slightly wider tires, but these are still pretty tight contact patches.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

This is still a pretty tight rolling stock – even the very unsporting Prius Touring rolls on the much wider 215 – but the BMW is still surprisingly nimble. However, the tighter i3 tends to follow road ruts more aggressively than the standard model, so it requires more attention to stay straight at highway speeds.

A little more power

The i3s increases the power of the rear-wheel drive electric motor to 181 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 11 horsepower and 3 lb-ft over the standard model. This is a modest performance boost that would realistically be difficult to notice from the driver’s seat.

Like the standard model (and most electric cars in this class), the i3s feels very responsive at city speeds thanks to the way its electric motor delivers maximum torque from zero RPM. With just one gearbox, there is no shifting to deal with, just an uninterrupted thrust up to its terminal speed.

The 0-60mph sprint is reduced from 7.2 seconds to 6.8 seconds for the more powerful i3s EV. That said, the additional weight of the optional range extender brings it back to 7.6 seconds, so it looks like you can have more performance or more range, but not both. Top speed has increased from 93 to 99 mph, although you probably don’t want to spend too much time there. It’s hell in your range.

Regenerative braking recovers kinetic energy in the form of electricity during acceleration or deceleration. The system is so aggressive that it is possible to drive the car mainly with only one foot; you raise the accelerator and the car immediately begins to slow down. It takes some getting used to, but I like this driving technique.

The i3 features a few driving modes to help drivers customize their balance of performance and economy. I3s drivers will, no doubt, be interested in the Sport mode which amplifies the throttle sensitivity during dynamic driving. Eco Pro mode reduces throttle response in pursuit of maximum range, while the more aggressive Eco Pro + setting takes it a step further by shutting down the climate control system and limiting top speed to 56 mph.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

The i3 features a DC combo charging port that allows for 75% fast charging in just 45 minutes.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

Cruise range

With a light foot, the standard i3 gets up to 114 miles of range per charge from its battery pack, according to EPA calculations. The fleshy tires of the i3s mistake rolling resistance for its grip, which reduces the estimated cruising range to just 107 miles.

Charging time is the same for i3 and i3s – the 94 Ah (33 kWh) lithium-ion battery pack charges in about 5 hours at a 220-volt level 2 charging station. In a pinch, you could use the included maintenance cable to charge from any 110-volt wall outlet, but it will take around 20 hours.

The fastest way to charge, however, is a 50kW DC charging station, which allows for 80% fast charging in just 45 minutes.

My i3s comes with an optional petrol range extender. This two-cylinder gasoline generator kicks in when the battery is low, adding about 70 miles of range and bringing the total cruising distance to about 180 miles.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

The optional range extender allows for longer trips, but power is significantly reduced once the battery is discharged.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

The range extender isn’t physically attached to the powertrain at all – it’s basically a small, loud, portable generator with a 2.3-gallon tank – and barely produces enough juice to run the i3. There is a noticeable drop in power when pushing into the extended range of the i3. It will make you go straight to the nearest DC charger.

Proper travel planning, standard DC fast charging, and city-centered performance envelope likely eliminate the need for the range amplifier for most potential i3 buyers. I’d save the money and skip this $ 3,850 “upgrade”.

Sustainable cabin

It’s a bit clunky on the outside. The i3 wraps the futuristic plastic and carbon aesthetics of the BMW i8 around the silhouette of a squat sedan. The compact features a four-door design, although the rears are half-hinged, reverse hinged doors that cannot be opened independently from the front.

The squat silhouette of the i3 gives way to a surprisingly large cabin with its small footprint. The vertical windshield, pushed far forward, and the high roof give the front row an airy look. The slim-profile front seats and the lowered window beltline also make the second row more spacious.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

The cabin of the i3 features a unique design and a mix of high quality sustainable materials.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

Not only roomy, the i3’s cabin is also surprisingly gorgeous. The shape of the dashboard is both visually interesting and functional with smart storage compartments and integrated shelves.

The i3 is available in four trim levels: Deka World, Mega World ($ 1,400), Giga World ($ 1,800) and Tera World ($ 2,600) – with increasingly high-quality cabin materials. The Giga World is the sweet spot of the range with the best mix of real eucalyptus wood veneer, fabric and leather, metal accents and panels composed of renewable and sustainable plant fibers and recycled plastic.

Sufficient technology

In front of the driver is a small LCD screen that acts as a digital instrument cluster. Front and center, a second display floats on the dashboard: it houses the iDrive infotainment suite.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

The iDrive cabin tech suite isn’t bad, but there are plenty of minor annoyances and omissions.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

I have a love-hate relationship with iDrive. On the one hand, I dig the interface and the iDrive controller. I find them easy to use and understand for most of the onboard functions. The on-board maps look great and the connected features make it easy to find charging stations on the go and monitor the vehicle remotely.

On the other hand, many features that are rarely accessed can be difficult to access in the deeper areas of menus. Also, I’m constantly bothered by the lack of Android Auto and inconsistent Bluetooth connectivity, which makes listening to my favorite media sources awkward. Apple CarPlay connectivity, which is optional, can also be complicated to set up and activate.

Driver assistance technology

Advanced driver assistance technology is not the strong point of the i3. There’s a standard rear camera, “Park Distance Control” rear proximity sensors and that’s it.

A $ 2,500 tech package upgrade adds adaptive cruise control that maintains a fixed distance behind a leading car even in stop-and-go traffic, but there’s no lane departure warning, no assist technology. steering, not even blind spot monitoring. Aside from adaptive cruising, this is a very simple highway setup.

The rear proximity sensors can be upgraded to the front ones is rear as part of a $ 750 option. An extra $ 200 adds automatic parking steering assistance, which is a nice touch.

The i3’s driver assistance suite is a mixed bag. If you’re looking for a more modern mix of high-tech driver assistance features, take a closer look at the new one Nissan Leaf… Or maybe get in line for one Model 3.

An expensive display piece

The 2018 BMW i3 starts at $ 44,450 for the base model before a $ 955 destination tax, but also before any EV incentives you might qualify for. The sportier i3s go up to $ 47,650 but, personally, I don’t think the modest performance gains are worth compromising on the already limited range. Stick to the standard model.

BMW i3 2018 with range extender

Sure, you pay more for quality, but the small and squat i3s doesn’t look or perform much better than the less expensive competition.

Antuan Goodwin / Roadshow

While you’re at it, skip the optional range extender. The i3 isn’t really built for long trips one way or another, and the standard DC fast charger is a better solution for range anxiety.

Take the Giga World interior trim, metallic paint ($ 550), technology packages and parking assistance, and add the destination to arrive at a spot price of $ 51,245.

The i3 is a technological marvel and an expensive one too. You’re not just paying for an electric car; you’re also paying for the advanced carbon fiber and aluminum chassis – there is no such production car – and the sustainably designed cabin. For some, this innovation, craftsmanship and technology is worth its high price.

But I can’t confidently recommend the i3 either Why it is so expensive. Chevrolet Bolt, for example, it’s a much better value that comes fully loaded with nearly double the range and better tech for just $ 43,905. No, the Chevy is nowhere near the eco-chic premium showpiece that is the i3, but it is a much better car and, indeed, better value.

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