We’ve already driven BMW’s revised i3 on its launch in Munich, but now we’re trying it in the UK. To recap, the new ‘94Ah’ part of the name refers to a new battery pack. It’s the same size as before, but its energy density has been improved by 50%, resulting in a 33kWh capacity that significantly improves the claimed electric range from 118 miles to 195 miles. The charging system has been upgraded, too, with a specialist DC charger that can charge the new battery to 80% capacity in around 40 minutes. A standard Type 2 charging cable is also provided. Here we’re driving the Range Extender, which uses a 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine as a generator to provide back-up charging. Together with the new battery, this model has an official 231-mile range.
The i3’s performance is also improved, so the pure electric version now sprints from 0-62mph in 7-3sec, while the heavier Range Extender takes 8.1sec. As a result, the i3 feels supremely comfortable darting away from the lights and accelerating into gaps when rolling, and performance remains strong at motorway speeds. There isn’t the same stomach-pinning sensation that you get from rest, but at 50mph it’s eager enough to make safe work of overtakes. The i3 is most urgent in Comfort mode, in which the throttle is most responsive, rather than EcoPro, which dulls the throttle and limits top speed. All of this is done in near-silence, the only sounds being a faint whine from the motor and the building of road and wind noise. Once the battery has depleted to 75% or below, it’s possible to fire the two-cylinder generator, but even its distant hum doesn’t disturb the calm.
If anything lets the i3 down, it’s the ride and handling. Its standard 19in wheels and low-profile tyres pick up on sharp ridges at low speeds, but at least the i3 keeps its body from shuddering at the same time. Ruts are less intrusive at higher speeds. While its fine performance made the i3 more than a match for conventional cars on our cross-country route, its chassis is better set up for town driving. Keen rebound from its suspension and aggressive yet uncommunicative steering had us taking several bites at corners, while the relatively narrow tyres aren’t the last word in grip. Still, for low-speed urban agility, few EVs are better. That urban prowess is enhanced further by a good driving position and excellent visibility.
There are no material or infotainment changes with this update, but neither was needed. The i3 has one of the most interesting interiors on sale, while iDrive remains a benchmark. There are more practical EVs, though. Two tall adults will sit comfortably in the front, but another two won’t want to spend long in the rear. Its boot, meanwhile, is smaller than a Ford Fiesta’s, at 260 litres. EVs are a considered choice and need to fit your lifestyle. However, the i3’s new, longer real-world range of around 124 miles means the majority of commuters won’t need a charging point at work for it to make sense.
Indeed, this Range Extender’s 217-mile real-world range will fit in yet more easily, although it comes with a £3000 premium, which means the regular i3 remains our pick. In either form, the i3 has a Nissan Leaf 30kWh and Volkswagen e-Golf beaten for range, luxury and kit, but these traditional hatchback rivals are far more practical. In the Nissan’s case, it’s also far cheaper to buy. As a premium product, the i3 is closer to the e-Golf. That it feels classier than the VW and does so for slightly less money while going further on a charge will make it the more rounded choice for many.