First Drive: BMW i3s
BMW has added a sporty edge to its popular i3 – the result the i3s. With sporty looks and slightly improved performance, we get behind the wheel to see if it's worth having over the standard i3.
What is it?
The i3 has proved to be a popular venture into the electric car market, with 8,000 cars sold since 2013 and making the switch from conventional engines into electric alternatives.
It has never been something you could describe as 'sporty', though, which is why BMW has decided to add some more dynamic elements to its i3 with the i3s. It offers more power and some extra styling tweaks making it look the part.
Other than the power, which is now up to 181bhp, the i3s benefits from silver bits of trim that lift the look of the car, as well as lowered suspension. It also has a wider track than the standard i3 and 20-inch alloy wheels.
A new stability control system has also been fitted, helping to give the big i3s better mid-corner agility.
What's under the bonnet?
The powertrain in the BMW i3s is a synchronised electric motor that links to a 33kWh battery. It produces 181bhp and 270Nm of torque, allowing it to hit 60mph in a sprightly 6.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 99mph. As with most electric cars, the instant torque from the electric motor makes the acceleration figures feel much quicker than they actually are.
BMW claims that the i3s will manage 174 miles on a single charge and that you will be able to charge the battery up to 80 per cent using a standard domestic socket in 11 hours, or two-and-a-quarter-hours using a higher-power wallbox. If you are worried about the range of the fully electric i3s, like the standard i3, you can also get it as a range-extender to cover extra miles between charges.
What's it like to drive?
The noticeable difference between the i3 and the i3s is the acceleration. It immediately feels quicker thanks to more sustained power. It also feels perfectly competent on the motorway, where many electric cars simply run out of puff at higher speeds.
It is still suited to driving around town, though, thanks to its light steering and small turning circle. Unsurprisingly, this is where most i3's currently spend their time. While there is sport mode fitted to the i3s, for most instances you are better off leaving it in the normal mode.
Our only grumble is with the ride, which is not at all helped by large 20-inch alloy wheels. It's harsh and feels especially firm inside when you go over bumps or potholes – not exactly ideal for driving around cities. It's also quite loud thanks to the upright windscreen that generates plenty of wind noise when driving at speed.
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How does it look?
The i3 has always been an intriguing looking car, with BMW opting for futuristic looks for its EVs. The i3s simply extends that idea with added sportiness, thanks to its wider track, lowered suspension and added bits of trim.
While it won't appeal to all with its stylised looks, it's a smart-looking car that stands out in the electric car market. On the i3s you also get full LED headlights fitted as standard, with some additional styling elements at the rear.
What's it like inside?
Over the standard i3, the 's' model hasn't changed all that much which isn't a bad thing. As with most of BMW's models, it is very well-made and the added bits of carbon-fibre and natural wood make the car feel extra special. You also get the option of two new seat surfaces – natural leather and sheep's wool. The finish of the interior, plus these special touches, really make the i3s a class above other electric hatchbacks such as the Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf, which are both a touch bland.
What's the spec like?
The i3s costs from £36,975 – excluding the government's electric car grant. While it does look expensive compared to normal petrol or diesel hatchbacks, it is crammed with technology.
As standard it comes with a 10-inch touchscreen using BMW's latest iDrive infotainment system – it also has Apple CarPlay, too. It can even identify the nearest charging locations, a pretty nifty tool that is exceptionally useful in day-to-day driving. It also gives you an accurate range of how many miles left, as well as a map showing how far you could go with the available charge.
The i3s is a hugely attractive proposition. It is quicker than the standard car, better to drive and looks the part, too. While the ride might be firm on 20-inch alloy wheels, for those wanting a fun electric car that is involving to drive and cheap to run, it make a fantastic option. It is always worth checking the perfectly good standard i3, though, to see if you that satisfies your needs for less money.
Model: BMW i3s
Price: £36,975 (excluding grant)
Engine: Electric motor linked to 33kWh battery
Max speed: 99mph
0-60: 6.6 seconds
Range: 124 miles