Review: BMW i3s

Review: BMW i3s
Review: BMW i3s

More power, less height and more fun for the small electric car

The BMW i3 has been many things in the last three years, but huge fun hasn’t really been one of them. BMW aims to fix that with this little ‘s’. The aim is to make it more exciting while at the same time taking nothing away from a package which is one of the most interesting cars on the road.

Adding that small ‘s’ is backed up by another 13bhp, giving a total of 181bhp from the electric vehicle, which still has the same 33.2kWh battery pack. Torque is up a bit too, at 199lb ft, showing one of the advantages of running on electric power – lots of go from low.

But that wouldn’t work unless you did some upgrades on the rude mechanicals. So the ride height of this tall vehicle is down by 10mm, the track is widened and, conversely, the wheels are bigger. What does all that feel like – exciting possibly?

BMW i3s

Price: £36,975
Engine: electric motor
Power: 181bhp
Torque: 199lb ft
Gearbox: NA
Kerbweight: 1265kg
Top speed: 100mph
0-62mph: 6.9sec
Fuel economy: NA
CO2/BIK: 0, 9%

There’s no doubt straight away that you’re in a different car to the stock i3. Performance is stronger, with that lovely linear drive you get from electric propulsion. To get a claimed 0-62mph time of only 6.9 seconds is pretty impressive, and around town this will be a perky performer for sure.

Of course, you may not want to go hammering the go pedal all the time, otherwise you’ll be worrying about range anxiety – the electric car equivalent of ‘buffer face’. BMW reckons a real world range of about 125 miles and we’d say that was about right. Heading off to Land’s End isn’t really going to be on the itinerary – unless you live in Cornwall of course.

While the performance is stronger, the springs and dampers have been altered to better cope with it. Generally handling is improved, with more stability and less keenness to go jumping and skipping about. While the lower ride height and recalibrated suspension help the handling, the larger wheels and low-profile tyres do nothing for the ride quality. It’s the usual thing – those 20-inch rims look good but they let too much of the road surface through into the cabin. It’s a firm ride, perhaps too firm for some – for whom BMW makes the standard car.

The cabin was always a light, airy and confident place to be and that has only improved. It looks vaguely futuristic, and premium in there, and certainly a little more extravagant than the usual conservative BMW taste. The new 10.3-inch infotainment system adds practicality as well as quality. You can see out easily and you can also get in and out easily thanks to the rearward opening rear doors.

It’s quite a special place to be, in a good way, but it’s also a far from cheap place to be. Even with the current government rebate (thank you, taxpayer), the price starts at £32,475 but that can easily rise with some options.

What the majority of people do is choose the range extender version, with the two-cylinder petrol engine, which does give you much more range and of course allows you to refuel as you go – perhaps Land’s End wouldn’t be so far out of reach after all.

Whichever version you go for, this i3s is definitely a step up on the standard model, albeit one with an even firmer ride thanks to those big alloys. But in terms of driver enjoyment, we’d now place the i3s right up there with the BMW i8 or even a Tesla Model S in full Ludicrous mode. And who’d think we’d say that about the BMW i3?

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