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BMW i3 94Ah 2016 first drive

By raccars Published

BMW i3 Side View

BMW adds battery power to its clever all-electric i3. In doing so, it further boosts appeal of the leftfield EV

BMW i3 94An

● Price: £32,330

● Engine: Electric motor

● Power: 170hp

● Gearbox: Automatic

● 0-62mph: 7.3 seconds

● Top speed: 93mph

● Electric range: 195 miles

● CO2: 0g/km

● On sale: Now

Three 2016 BMW i3 facts

1: BMW offers the i3 in full electric and ‘Range Extender’ guise: the latter has a tiny motorbike engine that supplies power when the batteries run flat

2: The i3 is made from carbon fibre and other advanced composites, so is very light and strong

3: This model with the larger battery is called 94Ah; the original lower-power i3 is designated 127kW. Don’t be confused!

What is it?

The i3 is the most innovative family car BMW sells. Launched a few years back as a ground-up brand-new design, it is unlike any other car on sale as BMW aims to revolutionise the electric car sector.

The simplest way of describing it is as a small, MPV-like four-seater with maximum passenger space within minimalist dimensions. It’s less than four metres long, so similar in size to a Ford Fiesta, and seats four with a reasonable boot behind.

The chassis is made from futuristic materials including carbon fibre – like a Formula 1 car – and the passenger cell on top is made from advanced composites as well. BMW has packed the i3 with technology: there’s even a smartphone app so you can monitor and control your i3 from anywhere in the world.

After launching it with a normal battery, BMW is now taking advantage of the fast pace of development in electric car circles to roll out one with a more powerful battery – the 94Ah model. This one has a range that’s extended by almost 50% to nearly 200 miles, which BMW believes will broaden the appeal of the i3 enormously.

Styling and interior

One thing’s for sure, the i3 looks like no other BMW. It is a compact, tall machine with a futuristic profile and distinctive detailing. It looks tiny out on the road, but still feels commanding for those inside because they sit so high (and the carbon fibre construction makes it super-strong which helps swell passenger confidence).

Instead of conventional rear doors, the i3 has tiny rear-hinged doors that will only open if the front doors are open. They swing backwards to fully reveal the interior and make it easy to step in and out of the rear: it also exposes the open-plan interior of the i3 that, again, is unlike no other BMW.

Modernist and elegant, the futuristic cabin is full of natural materials and comfortable finishes that BMW says is inspired by loft living rather than the bare-bones sports car appearance of so many modern cars. Making occupants feel good is very much the name of the game here.

Four passengers sit high and have a clear view out; those in the front have as much space as in a much larger BMW and rear seat passengers will feel OK as well. There’s maybe more space back there than there is in a 1 Series. BMW’s big-car infotainment technology features inside as well – it’s a small car with the functionality of a 5 Series.

BMW i3 Inside

Performance

We guarantee, the performance of the i3 will amaze you. This is no exaggeration: BMW has made an electric car that’s as swift as a hot hatchback, and as fast to respond as a sports car. A powerful electric motor is the key here: it’s technology that’s shared with the BMW i8 supercar, and it shows.

0-62mph takes just 7.3 seconds and the alacrity with which it leaps off the line – aided by rear-wheel drive traction – is genuinely astonishing. Because it’s an electric car, power is there instantly, meaning the i3 will surge forward the very instant you stamp down the accelerator.

On the road, this makes it huge fun. There’s rarely a gap in traffic you can’t power into and, on back roads, rarely a car you can’t surprise and keep up with. You’re never left in the wrong gear and can always be sure the i3 is ready to respond.

The top speed is limited to 93mph, in order to conserve the range of the batteries, but this is not an issue in the UK: besides, the strength of the electric motors ensure it’s responsive even at motorway speeds. And the extra capacity of the 94Ah model simply means you have even more juice in the batteries to enjoy this performance. Take our word for it, the first time you drive an i3, you will be amazed.

Handling

The i3 is a tall car, but all the mass is positioned low down in the chassis, which ensures it also handles well – it drives like you’d expect a BMW to. The rear-wheel drive setup helps here: despite all the power from the electric motor, the front wheels don’t scrabble for grip and the precise steering is confident.

BMW has, however, fitted rather skinny tyres to the i3. This is to maximise its rolling efficiency, but it does mean the front wheels can start to run wide when you’re pressing on – something that’s easy to do, given the potency of the electric motor.

There’s a plethora of electronic safety aids to keep things secure and stable here, but it’s still worth remembering that although the i3 has hot hatch pace, it doesn’t quite have hot hatch grip.

The ride is a little jostly at times, but generally adept and big-car-like. You’ll sense it’s a small car on rough roads, where it can get bit bouncy, but it’s very able in town and the large-diameter wheels are good at shrugging off potholes.

Price and value

The BMW i3 is not a budget-priced electric car. It starts at over £30,000, and this i3 94Ah variant is £32,330. But you can take off £4,500 from this price, thanks to the Government’s OLEV Plug-on Car Grant.

The i3 contains all the essentials as standard, to which BMW offers a range of ‘interior worlds’ instead of regular trim lines. These are focused on furnishing the interior in a range of different materials, including natural wood and wool. They’re beautiful, but quickly become expensive: restraint must be exercised…

Fuel economy

BMW claims the more powerful batteries in the 94Ah model take the official NEDC-approved range to almost 200 miles. This, hopes the company, will help minimise range anxiety, and certainly mean most owners will be able to go several days without charging up their i3.

As most owners choose to have a fast-charger installed at their home, BMW believes the bigger battery will make the i3 almost as convenient as a conventional car even for longer journeys.

If this is a bit restrictive for you the i3 Range-Extender is available. When the batteries run low, a two-cylinder engine from a BMW motorcycle kicks in to charge up the batteries and provide power – the petrol engine doesn’t drive the car, but acts as a generator to extend the range.

Verdict: 2016 BMW i3

In installing a larger-capacity battery into the clever i3, BMW has simply extended the appeal of its clever all-electric model. Yes, it’s expensive, but a quick drive will soon reveal why. It is eye-openingly fast, spacious and welcoming inside, feels like an authentic BMW and oozes intelligent future-car appeal.

It’s still not for everyone, but if you’re seeking the most intelligent mainstream electric car on sale, it should certainly sit alongside a Nissan Leaf on your list of cars to check out.

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