driving.ca | Andrew McCredie | 08/20/2018


Since its debut a little over five years ago, the BMW i3 has been a respectable sales performer for the German automaker – at least as far as electric cars go, ranking as the third best-selling all-electric vehicle in history, and the planet’s best-selling EV in the premium segment.

Of course, ‘all-electric’ is a bit of a misnomer in the case of the REX models—or those equipped with the range-extending, two-cylinder gasoline engine—that are included in that overall sales figure. That said, the 38-horsepower engine is onboard to charge up the batteries when they run low, not power the wheels directly, so the i3 REX models do have many of the attributes of a pure EV. And with 2018 models boasting an all-electric range of around 160 kilometres, if used as an urban runabout—which is its design intention—that combustion engine could sit idle for weeks.

That proved the case for my weeklong road test of the 2018 i3s REX, the all-new sport model to join the base i3 in the BMW i stable. As soon as I hit the go button on the B-segment hatchback, a warning flashed on the dash indicating that the gasoline engine would soon fire up on its own as it had not run for awhile and needed to do so to circulate fuel in its 8.7-litre tank. As it would turn out after a week of silently zipping around Metro Vancouver, it was the only time the engine came to life.

Before getting into how the new sport model differs from the base model—on the spec sheet and on the road—let’s get the i3’s proverbial elephant in the room out of the way. Every time I have driven an i3, invariably a BMW owner approaches me offering a similar refrain: “I love the idea of an electric BMW, but how could a company that makes such beautiful cars come up with this?” Yes, the polarizing looks of the i3, and now the i3s, continue to dog the otherwise remarkable little car.

One longtime Bimmer owner did concede, “At least its rear-wheel drive.”

It is indeed, and when behind the wheel of the i3, and particularly the i3s, you get many of the same handling and performance attributes that have made the German vehicles legendary. It’s got sharp steering, tight suspension and a first-rate EV powertrain that provides quick acceleration and precise regenerative breaking thresholds, that when mastered allow for the kind of ‘one-pedal-driving’ that is all the rage in the EV segment these days.

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So, how does this sport model differ from the base i3?

Well, mechanically it’s more powerful and more dynamic. And aesthetically it flexes a sportier persona. On that latter note, contour tweaks to the front and rear aprons set the ‘s’ apart, as do black, blue and grey accent finishes on the front fascia, the signature BMW kidney grille, the roof line and the A-pillars. That new sports suspension drops the height of the ‘s’ by 10 millimeters, while the black wheel arch moldings’ emphasize an increase of 40 millimetres track width.

Setting the inside of ‘s’ model apart are available seat belts in BMW iBlue, along with different colour schemes on the dash and seats. What the ‘s’ cabin does share with the base model is a commitment to sustainability, with over 80 per cent of the surfaces visible to the passengers are made from recycled materials or renewable resources. In addition, like the base version, occupants in the ‘s’ cabin benefit from the roominess created by the lack of fixed B-pillars and transmission tunnel.

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But as with all BMW sport models, the real business takes place under the skin.

The all-new high output electric motor generates 184 horsepower and a peak torque of 199 lb.-ft. – 14 and 15 more respectively than i3 – and its updated drive system features modified motor control and specific taper roller bearings, which have been utilized to optimize power delivery and the performance curve at higher rpm, an improvement of up to 40 per cent over the i3. This makes the driving dynamics and enhanced e-Driving abilities really come into their own at higher engine speeds. That aforementioned suspension upgrade includes specially developed springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. Harnessing that full potential is achieved by selecting Sport mode, providing more direct accelerator response and tighter steering characteristics.

Also new to the i3 family is the i3s’s much-improved traction system. Engaging the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) mode increases agility at higher speeds and during hard cornering, and even allows mild and safely controllable drifts when grip levels are reduced.

All told, these sport enhancements spirit the i3s from a full stop to 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds, a full half-second quicker than the i3. Top speed is 160 km/h, 10 more than the base version.

All of this innovation comes at a price of course, with my tester topping out at $66,646 before any government rebates. The base i3s lists for $56,950, with available add-ons. In the case of my tester, this included a $3,500 Premium Package (jet black 20-inch alloy wheels, Harmon/Kardon stereo, Nav system, park distance control, and universal remote control), a $2,350 Driver’s Package (Apple CarPlay, enhanced phone connectivity and driving assistant plus) and three stand-alone options: Dalgergia Bown Leather ($1,750), glass sunroof ($1,200) and the red and grey paint job ($895).

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One final thought on the looks of the i3s. Don’t be surprised that if in the next half-decade the i3 lineup disappears altogether from the BMW product list. With the reveal of the Concept iX3 in April at the Beijing Motor Show, the company signaled clear intentions to begin migrating its proven electric powertrains into more traditional-looking platforms, in this case a luxury sport crossover. No doubt plans are on the drafting boards in Munich HQ for a 3 Series EV.

Love it or hate it, the i3, and now the i3s, will have played a major role in that transition, and I’m guessing it will go down in history as very important, if not the sexiest, vehicles in the 21st century evolution of Bayerische Motoren Werke.


Source: https://driving.ca/bmw/i3/new-car-preview/hatchback/road-test-2018-bmw-i3s-rex