For the first time since it launched the i3 in 2014, BMW has revised its electric hatchback. It’s improved the city car’s performance and treated it to a new, more powerful battery, which has increased its range. Here we’re driving the Range Extender version of the i3, which has a 0.6-litre two-cylinder petrol engine working as a generator to provide back-up charging for the battery. Together, the engine and battery provide an official 276 miles of range, or around 231 miles in real-world driving.
The slightly heavier Range Extender version takes a little longer than the pure-electric i3 to complete the 0-62mph sprint, but it still feels supremely able darting away from traffic lights and accelerating into gaps with its instantly available power. It feels most urgent in Comfort driving mode, when the accelerator is at its most responsive, rather than in range-preserving EcoPro mode, which dulls the accelerator (and air-con) and limits the car’s top speed. The i3 drives in near-silence, the only sounds being a faint whine from the motor and the increasing road and wind noise as you speed up.
Even the tiny rear-mounted engine’s distant hum doesn’t disturb the calm inside the car. The i3’s ride is very firm, with its standard 19m wheels and low-profile tyres bumping on sharp ridges at low speeds. Once it reaches higher speeds, however, those same ruts become less intrusive. Firm suspension and quick steering mean lots of small steering corrections are needed through fast bends, while the car’s relatively narrow tyres don’t offer great grip. Still, at town speeds, few electric vehicles (EVs) are more agile. Added urban prowess comes from the i3’s good driving position and excellent all-round visibility, which make it easy to judge the car’s extremities.
The 94Ah in the updated i3’s name refers to the battery, which has improved energy density, giving it a 33kWh capacity. This significantly improves the i3’s electric-only range to an official 195 miles. In real life driving it should be able to cover around 124 miles. The i3’s charging system has been upgraded, too. A specialist DC (direct current) charger can now be used to charge the battery to 80% of its capacity in around 40 minutes.
Inside, there are no material or infotainment changes, but neither was needed. The i3 has one of the most interesting interiors of any new car, and its iDrive infotainment system remains the benchmark. Two tall adults will sit comfortably in the front seats, but two averagely tall adults will find head and leg room in the rear restricted. The i3’s boot, meanwhile, is only really big enough for one suitcase.