BMW’s first all-electric car gets sportier
About four years back, we had driven the first i3 in Amsterdam surrounded by the beautiful scenery splashed with wind mills all around. Since then BMW has sold over 65,000 i3 cars globally making the carbon-fibre bodied i3 the third best selling electric car of all time, behind the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S. It was already contemporary, with cutting edge technology, one of the most advanced chassis seen on any roads till now along with a battery pack that lasted the life of the car. So what could BMW possibly do more to give the car a fresh lease of life in its first generation? And why would we want to drive it once again considering that the i3, unlike its only other “i” sibling, the
i8, never made it to India? Well, first, BMW has made the car more sporty by tinkering with its suspension and its powertrain, given it cosmetic changes and added the latest from the BMW bin of parts as we discover and given the direction the Indian government is heading towards the need for electric cars, it makes sense for us to drive the car again, not to forget that BMW might be launching the i3 in India.
As far as the cosmetic changes go, the car has a redesigned front bumper and some minor changes to the front end, so it does not look radically different from the i3 that also gets some of these changes. However, the larger wheels are apparent as not only has the size increased from 19in to 20in but the profile has decreased from
70 to 55mm and the width has also increased to 190mm. This makes the car look sporty as does the 40mm wider track and the fact that the car sits 10mm lower than the regular i3. The badging has also been changed and is not a rather distinctive i3s badge. Overall, the effect has been to make the i3s look more sporty by making it lower and wider and equipping it with a wider rubber.
There is not too much different in the interiors of the car. It still retains all the positives from the i3 as the essential architecture is the same as before. The motor sits at the rear and drives the rear wheels and if one opts for a range extender then the engine sits at the rear as well. This architecture liberates a whole lot of in-cabin space that makes the i3 spacious and BMW has from day-one made the interiors funky and they continue to be so. It feels like sitting in a lounge with a lot of space all around. What has changed though in terms of equipment is the infotainment system and now the i3s gets the same 10.3in screen (larger) that we recently saw in the BMW 5-series along
LARGER WHEELS ARE APPARENT AS NOT ONLY HAS THE SIZE INCREASED FROM 19IN TO 20IN BUT THE PROFILE HAS ALSO DECREASED FROM 70 TO 55MM
with the upgraded software with larger icons, a more intuitive layout and a smartphone kind of design with apps to scroll through for the various functions.
Apart from all the changes already described, the car retains the same 33.2kWh battery pack that powers the normal car but both power and torque have increased marginally, though the car retains the same range as before. Maximum power has gone up by 13bhp to 181bhp and peak torque has also increased to 270Nm. The difference is there to feel–and the drive experi- ence is a whole lot more sporty not that the car was a slouch in the first place. But the best part is the confidence the broader tyres impart to the driving experience. One can push the car harder without feeling that the car is on spindly tyres and now has plenty of grip. Nor do you feel that you are sitting too high up though seating is still on the higher side but with a wider track the car feels more planted.
However, there is a big compromise on ride quality which wasn’t great to start with. On some of the cobblestoned streets that we en-
countered on the drive, the ride quality was harsher than what we experienced on the M5, as we drove the cars back to back. And the engineers at BMW have also preferred to minimize body roll making the overall package a sporty one. The acceleration is spectacular as before and with more confidence in the dynamic abilities of the car one was able to push it much harder as well, especially on the winding roads near the Estoril circuit. However, continuous spirited driving and demand for max power through high performance can be limit- ed by the load on the battery, as we discovered. When the discharge rate of the battery crosses a certain threshold, the ECU restricts the supply of current and the car goes into a sort of a limp mode that is good enough for normal driving but restricts sporty driving.
For those who do not like this transformation of the electric car into a sports machine, the i3s is also available as the i3 without many of these sporty transformations but with the cosmetic changes as well as the upgrade to the interiors.
1. For a small city car, with a strange 3.5-door layout, there is plenty of space inside. 2.
The iDrive has to share the narrow console between the front seats with a cup holder and the electric parking brake. 3 & 4. Twist and go – it’s with this knob or gear lever that is on the steering that one can select the drive mode – it’s as simple as that
For those who thought that the i3 was not sporty enough, did not have the looks or the grip levels to go with what the motor could deliver, BMW has provided an answer and the i3s takes care of all those shortcomings. There is always the range extender available to take care of the range anxieties that anyone may have. For those looking for a sporty alternative to a city car, the i3s ticks all the boxes. But one has to remember that electric cars are expensive and the i3s counts itself at the premium end of electric cars.