2017 BMW i3 94Ah REx Review
Alex Rae’s 2017 BMW i3 94Ah REx review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: BMW’s i3 is the almost-perfect inner-city electric vehicle, but its styling and price stop it from hitting the mainstream.
2017 BMW i3 94Ah REx
Price $71,900+ORC Warranty 3 years unlimited kilometres Engine Electric motor, 125kW and 250NM; Petrol, 650cc two-cylinder, 28kW and 56Nm Transmission 1-speed automatic Drive Rear-wheel drive Dimensions 3999mm (L), 1775mm (W), 1578mm (H) Seats 4 Tare weight – 1365kg GVM 1760kg Fuel tank Battery: 94Ah, Range extender: 9 litres Fuel consumption Range extender: 0.6L/100km Fuel Electric and petrol Spare Space saver
THE BMW I3 isn’t just a hatch with an electric motor thrown in the back, it’s purpose built from the ground up on an aluminium chassis and carbon fibre parts so that it remains light yet drives with reasonable precision and doesn’t feel much different from the driving experience we are used to.
Yes, it is distinctive in design and the use of recycled materials elevates the sense that it’s not a ‘normal’ car, but because of it, the i3 garners more attention sitting in traffic than most other vehicles.
Having sold just over 250 i3s in the last two years, BMW has updated the battery to a unit which holds a higher capacity (ampere hour: Ah) and it delivers more kilowatts per hour (kWh) than before. The old battery was a 60Ah (ampere hour) unit and delivered, on spec, 160km of driving range. It’s not a great deal of driving unless you are an urban dweller, so the 60Ah i3 could be optioned with REx (range extender), a small two-cylinder petrol motor (generator) that extended range to 300km.
The latest battery is 94Ah and offers a range of 245km and, when combined with the range extender, will take you 370km… at least according to spec.
The BMW i3 94Ah is available with or without the range extender. BMW i3 without REx starts at $65,900+ORC and the REx model starts at $71,900+ORC. Cost options include Driving Assistant Plus ($1692), Innovations Package ($2700), electric sunroof ($2246) and comfort access system ($654).
The new battery also delivers more kWh than the old battery, 27kWh up from 19kWh, which allows for more power, required with the heavier battery.
The range extender is the same in both the 60Ah and 94Ah, and as it recharges at a rate equal to what the electric motor draws, you can effectively drive anywhere in Australia provided there’s a service station every 100km or so.
Aside from being green on the environment when driven, the car itself is made of, in part, renewable or recycled materials; recycled polyester, wool, olive-leaf extract and plantation timber is used inside while the chassis is partially built from recycled aluminium. To top it off, the i3 production plant in Germany is powered by a wind farm.
The car is more versatile than a pure electric vehicle that can only charge at a power point thanks to the range extender, but the i3 will still need to be charged overnight at home if you don’t want to be ducking into a servo every day. Charging at home can be done by plugging the supplied cable into a general power outlet or by using an optional 32 amp iWallbox accessory from BMW ($769). The iWallbox reduces charge time to around 8 hours for an 80 per cent charge. Regardless, the process of powering the battery back to full is nowhere as fast as fuelling a car, yet, and can be an inconvenience if you forget to plug it in at night.
What’s it like inside?
At less than 4 metres long the i3 REx is a compact car and within that small frame it has to cram in a battery pack, electric motor and petrol generator, but surprisingly, it feels much larger inside than it should. Leg room upfront is ample and there’s plenty of space between the two front passengers. The rear is a little more cramped and it only accommodates two, but it’s enough for the short trips the i3 is capable of. Entry into the rear is via a rear-hinged door and it works well. The windows in the rear don’t wind but the fronts are automatic up-and-down.
Inside, the finish feels premium and is mostly a good demonstration of how to recycle well. The timber accents the cloth and plastic recycled materials, highlighting Scandinavian inspired design elements. The timber is the most premium product in the cabin and by contrast the grey recycled plastic dash parts feel too light and flimsy, but alas this is the price of being green.
There’s two displays upfront, the main infotainment sits in the middle of the dash and a small display behind the steering wheel which shows driving information. The most common information available for the driver to use is speed, range left in the battery, range available from the REX and a basic report on how economical you’re driving.
The infotainment is similar to other BMW iDrive systems and unfortunately there’s no Apple CarPlay available, with Bluetooth the best method for connecting a smartphone.
The boot suffers for storage due to the batteries taking up space and only provides 260 litres in total, although the rear seats fold 50:50 flat and provide 1100 litres of cargo space. There is a front boot but the supplied charging connector takes up most of that space.
What’s it like on the road?
For an unintimidating car the i3 accelerates surprisingly quick, reaching 0-100km/h in 8.0sec, a smidge quicker than a Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre. The acceleration sensation is unique too as the electric motors torque delivery is almost completely linear. By contrast, and due to the regenerative braking system, the brakes don’t feel like they grab well enough until you’re used to them, but they are by no means below par for stopping power.
The transmission selector sits high on the right side of the steering column and as it doesn’t follow normal automatic transmission selector layout (P, R, N, D, etc), a couple of times I found myself selecting reverse by mistake when I wanted to go forward. The transmission is only a 1-speed unit, common on electric vehicles, and accelerating from a standstill to its top speed of 150km/h the electric motor has enough torque to push the single cog along.
Around town is where the i3 shines thanks to small dimensions that are great for negotiating narrow alley ways, U-turning and parking where most cars wouldn’t fear to tread. The nimble acceleration also prevents the car from feeling like sloth and it’s useful (for an electric car) range means you don’t have to keep an eye on your driving style all the time.
On the freeway hard suspension dampening and skinny (155 front, 175 rear) tyres lead to the i3 tending to wander, but road noise is low and the ride acceptable for trips out of town. The car does feel a little top heavy even though the batteries help keep the centre of gravity low.
A trip to the airport and back during our time with the vehicle (and a lack any charging facilities there) allowed a good test of the vehicles limits in everyday life. Leaving early in the morning and returning late at night meant the heater, demister and lights would all be operating through traffic on a roughly 200km round trip – all are range suckers in an electric vehicle. There was no reason to worry though, with the i3 reporting a range of 90km left after the round trip, and without touching the range extender.
Three driving modes – comfort, eco and eco pro+ – are the only options avialable. There’s no sport or sport+ as usual found in BMWs, so eco pro+ provides the most noticable change to the car turning off air conditioning, restricting heating to 21 degrees and limiting the top speed to 90km/h. If you can do without the climate control – say autumn and spring – it does provide a decent boost to economy compared to normal eco mode.
How safe is it?
The i3 gets a five-star ANCAP rating and standard safety features include ABS, ESC, EBD (electronic brake force distribution) and reversing sensors. The two front seats have seat belt reminders while the two rear seats do not. Two ISOFIX child seats can be fixed in the rear.
Driving Assistant Plus is optional and adds traffic jam assistant, Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, collision warning, automatic emergency braking and speed limit information which shows the current signed speed limit. Park Assistant is also available as a cost option which can automatically accelerate, steer and brake the vehicle when parking.
Why would you buy it?
The BMW i3 isn’t the holy grail of electric vehicle we’re waiting for – cheap to buy, looks good, great range – but that’s only because it’s still pricey (like the rest of them) and its looks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However if you’re ready to spend somewhere around $70K, it’s probably the best option for an all electric vehicle if you’re an urban commuter or inner-city dweller. The range extender should even entice anyone who needs to travel that bit further, but I wouldn’t rely on it as a replacement for an efficient petrol engine just yet.