Truly one of the most unique vehicles I have driven in some time, the 2018 i3s from BMW was as fun as it was quirky, and all the while quite impressive. Think of a luxury electric golf cart with windows and infotainment center and add an onboard power generator to calm range anxieties.
The i3 is BMWs all-electric vehicle that can carry four adults and features all of the latest driving and safety technology while offering a not too unlike BMW driving experience. Handling is taut and crisp while still being quiet and comfortable. Plenty of space for occupants and some of the best craftsmanship this side of an Ikea showroom. And did I say it is electric?
On the “green” scale, the BMW i3 ranks about third overall with its 109 MPGe rating from the EPA. That means it gets the equivalent of 109 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Our tester arrived with the optional range extender system that consists of a two-cylinder 650cc gasoline engine that basically operates as a power generator providing a charge to the electric motor and battery pack of the i3. This extends the operating range of the vehicle from 120(ish) miles to somewhere in the vicinity of 180 miles.
This was perfect for my situation, as I cannot charge at home due the age of my home electrical system. The home charge cord system provided with the i3 is very finicky (as we have found with almost all new EV models these days). Commercial charging is available in certain areas around town but we never found ourselves near one of the units that would work with the “charge” card provided by BMW with our tester. The motor activates automatically when the battery pack charge level reaches a minimum and the motor is fairly quiet and smooth from inside the vehicle. It is located at the rear of the vehicle and has a 2-gallon fuel tank for operation. When operating in generator mode, the vehicle is rated at 35 mpg. The electronic dash of the BMW electric has fuel gauges for both gas (for the range extender) and electric (of the onboard lithium-ion battery pack), and each system has its own “fuel filler” door on the passenger side of the vehicle.
BMW launched the i3 model about four years ago and new for 2018 is the i3s, a sporty version of the electric runabout. Our tester arrived with massive 20-inch wheels and tires and rides on a sportier suspension with sport mode also giving us a sportier steering feel. This car is not for the timid who wish to be completely removed from the road surface…the i3s is a bit bouncy so if you don’t like the ride of a sports car you won’t like this vehicle. For those who would love a sporty, powerful electric force beneath them, the BMW i3s is worth looking into. I really enjoyed my time behind the wheel and had a blast driving this vehicle. The pedal feel does take a bit of adjustment, as the regenerative braking is so powerful you will find yourself hardly ever having to touch the brake pedal. As soon as you lift from the accelerator the vehicle begins to slow quickly, capturing energy back into the battery pack.
This vehicle has hardly any metal in its construction, instead, BMW utilizes quite a bit of carbon fiber and composites. This translates to a quieter experience on the road as these materials are more “dead” than steel and do not produce their own harmonics. And since there is no constant gas engine running while driving, engineers and designers have had to pay extra attention to making the interior a quiet zone. You can almost whisper to carry on a conversation inside the i3 even at highway speeds.
The styling of the i3s is unique, to say the least. For comparison sake, the Bimmer electric has similar dimensions to the Kia Soul. There is a traditional 12-volt electrical system for a majority of the vehicle equipment and the high-voltage system that propels the unit consists of a 353-volt lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack rated for 94 Ah that feeds the electrical traction machine synchronous motor with a rated power output of 184hp and 199 lb. ft. of torque. A unique feature of EVs is that all torque is available at the press of the accelerator pedal and that is what makes for a more exhilarating driving experience, especially around town. The stalk-mounted electronic gear shifter is just as odd as almost everything else in the i3s and operates using traditional gear settings with a forward or rearward twist for engagement. The vehicle is rear-wheel driven and is quite maneuverable.
Peeking inside the four clamshell-style side doors one finds what I referred to earlier as an Ikea showroom. Styling and craftsmanship is to be expected from BMW with this vehicle a standout from traditional gas models in the showroom. The center display appears to float above the dashpad and the driver’s information display is all electronic. The i3s does feature standard infotainment and climate control functions with the majority of the latter causing a bit of drain on the battery system. We found just turning on the heater lowered our EV range by 10 miles. Trim levels offered are Mega, Giga, and Tera World lines with our tester arriving outfitted in Giga World that somewhat reminded me of a college professors tweed jacket. Optional BMW blue seatbelts arrived on this vehicle but for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to get these as they clash so glaringly.
The technology and driving assistance packages offer active driving assistant, active cruise control with stop and go as well as park distance control, parking assistant, daytime pedestrian protection, front collision warning, city collision mitigation, and speed limit info. Infotainment duties are handled by the new iDrive 6 interface with ConnectedDrive and navigation functions. Information is displayed on the 10.25-inch color touchscreen and features a center console controller.
Let’s talk about pricing. The 2018 BMW i3 begins at $44,450 for the base model with 170hp electric motor. The new i3s models start at $47,650 base or $51,500 for range extender. Our tester arrived with a final window sticker of $58,595.
I was impressed with the BMW i3s for not only what it represents but what it delivers. Rumors have it that the i3 model may be phased out in a few years but that will likely yield a new model along with other “i” showroom stablemates. The EV competition is heating up and while luxury choices are few, they are quite good. A bit pricey, yes, but much of that cost will be offset by fuel savings and tax incentives, not to mention the smaller carbon footprint of a vehicle such as this BMW i3s.