Don’t underestimate it. The i3s hides fierce robot-to-robot acceleration underneath its chic looks. Pic: SUPPLIED
Don’t underestimate it. The i3s hides fierce robot-to-robot acceleration underneath its chic looks. Pic: SUPPLIED

The BMW i3 is one of a trio of pure electric cars that have been available in SA thus far – along with Jaguar’s recently launched
I-Pace SUV and the Nissan Leaf, which is about to be launched in its second-generation model.

They’re part of what a small number of SA early-adopters have termed “the Future”.

The quest to massage more electric mileage out of batteries may not be over the “difficulty years” yet but with the i3s, BMW has fitted a longer lasting 120Ah battery pack. The driving range is amped up to 260km from the 200km of the older 94Ah batteries.

It’s a more comfortable real-world range on full charge for commutes. BMW-specific quick chargers are still scattered mostly at its dealerships to liberate you from restricted travel and although they are still not as quick as filling a car with liquid fuel, more have been erected in popular public spaces where you can re-energise your car.

 

Although there is plenty to look at in the i3s, your eyes will be glued to this section. Pic: SUPPLIED
Although there is plenty to look at in the i3s, your eyes will be glued to this section. Pic: SUPPLIED

The farthest I was willing to reach without a recharge was two days, or an estimated 150km of personal driving patterns that include work, home, gym and friends. When I finally hauled out the charging cable the car had 110km of range in store, which could cover at least one extra day’s travel. But this is a life subjective to individual lifestyle needs. Mine is quite mile-heavy and requires planned charges well ahead.

The increase in battery capacity for the latest i3 seems to have brought a new challenge. Charging through a simple domestic power socket has become so slow it’s now virtually pointless. Plugged into one of these in our work basement for a full work day’s hours, the i3s test car charged at a rate of about 1km gained per hour, a far cry from the 15 hours to charge to 80% claimed by BMW. It’s now clear that a home BMW wall box charger is an essential rather than a cost option, or life with the i3s BEV is a nonstarter.     

In addition to a bigger battery pack, the car’s looks have been tweaked a bit. There are more gloss black trim, changes to the headlights and newly shaped bumper mouldings. I’ve always loved how the i3 looks and our test car’s black and white theme was very head-turning.

The interior is a roomful of style and tech. Pic: SUPPLIED
The interior is a roomful of style and tech. Pic: SUPPLIED

It’s a cabin unlike anything else out there. You sit fairly high up, like in a large crossover SUV. There’s a very usable boot too and the airy and spacious cabin is free of typical car obtrusions such as a central tunnel to house a transmission is eccentric yet designed with BMW familiarity in mind.

The recycled plastic materials used for the elaborately long dashboard and olive leaves used as skin tone for the leather upholstery on the well-shaped seats are fitting for the theme of a clean and sustainable green life.

Though now abridged with an ear towards performance, the i3s is still very much the electric car that owns all of your senses. You are constantly monitoring every inch of the remaining range with a hawk’s eye. You push a start button; twist the gear lever into D, depress an electronic hand brake and off you go, silently, into life.

With outputs of 135kW/270Nm — a 10kW and 20Nm advantage over base models of the i3 — the numbers are not particularly seismic but performance is helped by employing high levels of lightweight carbon fibre in construction. This gives the i3s the muscle to shoot away from just about anything you’ll line up next to in everyday traffic, including some from the quad-tail pipe squad. A 10mm drop in ride height and 40mm wider wheel track add meat to the “S” in its moniker.

It’ll cover ground quickly up to its 160km/h top speed and the firmer suspension plays its part to keep lateral control of its tallish body above standard i3. It still pitches more than the average hatch in the corners and although there is good enough all-round grip, its ultrathin rubber discouraged me from a full-on bend attacks.

You can instead use that urge to nip in and out of urban gaps particularly well or once in a while to teach a few pessimists a lesson in electric off-the-line performance.

Use the BMW i3s with a well-planned, internet urban living and the 120Ah battery’s increased range will truly banish the fossil fuel era out of your life. If range anxiety is still quite a thing, the i3s is available with a range extender petrol motor that will add peace of mind and a 120kg overall weight penalty.

Rear boot storage is ample for regular luggage needs but the thin rubber discouraged this tester's curiosity about the i3s dynamic driving envelope.
Rear boot storage is ample for regular luggage needs but the thin rubber discouraged this tester's curiosity about the i3s dynamic driving envelope.

Tech Specs

ENGINE

Type: eDRIVE

Capacity: 120Ah battery

Power: 135kW

Torque: 270Nm

TRANSMISSION

Type: Single-speed Auto

DRIVETRAIN

Type: RWD

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: 160km/h

0-100km/h: 6.9 sec (as claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 14.6kWh/100km (as claimed)

Emissions: 0

STANDARD FEATURES

Electrically adjustable and heated side mirrors, automatic air conditioning, cruise control, free standing colour display instrument cluster, multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth telephone and voice control, 12V power sockets, AUX/USB connection, wireless charging, navigation with real time traffic information, six airbags, Dynamic Stability Control, ABS,  tyre pressure sensor, acoustic protection for pedestrians when driving electrically up to 30 km/h, front park distance control

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: 8 year/100,000km high voltage battery warranty

5 Year/100,000km Motorplan

Price: R716,900

Lease*: R15,326 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

 

BMW i3s

WE LIKE:

Looks, interior space, acceleration, electric drive

 

WE DISLIKE:

Wall socket charging, dynamic handling

VERDICT:

Not as electrifying as a sports hatch

 

MOTOR NEWS

star rating

 

*****Design

*****Performance

*****Economy

***Ride/handling

****Safety

****Value For Money

****Overall

 

Competition

None