Launch Report: BMW i3


Staff reporter (Leader Live)

At first glance it’s just another i3 and if you look at the oily bits underneath you’d still be hard-pushed to spot the difference, but this i3 has a secret that’s quite literally been tucked away under the carpet.

As ever, there’s a bank of batteries in the car’s floor, but the 94Ah suffix denotes the amount of power those batteries can store. Whereas the standard i3 only holds 60Ah, the 94Ah model holds half that much again and that means the range has increased by 50 per cent to 195 miles. If you go for the version with the petrol-powered range extender, though, BMW says you’ll be looking at squeezing 276 miles from a single charge.

But despite the extra range, the new battery fits in exactly the same box as its predecessor, so there's no visible difference. In fact, BMW will even let you swap out an old 60Ah battery and replace it with a 94Ah one. It’s a quick job – BMW say it’s around an hour and a half’s work – but it is costly. Including tax, the German company estimates it’ll set you back around 9,000 Euros, about £7,600.

The i3’s looks have always been divisive, but even its biggest critics wouldn’t hesitate to call it striking. Even though it makes very little in the way of noise, it’s a car people will still turn around to look at.

Inside it continues the left-field look, but it’s strong on its environmental credentials. The plastics on the dashboard and door cards for example are made from plant fibres, and there’s any number of recycled bits and bobs lurking in other areas. Whether they love it or hate it, whoever comes along for a ride will certainly have an opinion.

For all the i3’s technology, it isn’t actually that practical a car. Although it’s tall – it’s actually about the size of a high-riding Ford Fiesta – the boot measures just 260 litres, so it’s less than you'll find in the back of a VW Polo.

There’s plenty of headroom in the rear though, and even if the legroom is a little limited, access is made simple by the so-called ‘suicide’ rear doors. They can only be opened after the front doors, and they open the other way, meaning there’s no B-pillar to obstruct you as you try to get in or out.

With the extra power capacity, the 94Ah i3 certainly offers an extended range. The quoted 195-mile striking distance is probably a tad ambitious, especially if your right foot becomes leaden or you try keeping up with traffic on a motorway, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting 140 or perhaps 150 miles from it.

If you do get the urge to bury your right foot in the bulkhead, though, you’ll find there’s no improvement in performance, but then the i3 never has been a slouch. The sprint from 0-62mph takes 7.3 seconds and the buckets of torque produced by the electric motor make it feel even faster.

Through the corners, its height and front-wheel drive layout make it roll and understeer if you get a bit too enthusiastic, but the trade-off is ride quality. It’s a comfortable machine, with suspension that's firm without being jarring, and soft seats that offer more support than you’d expect just from looking at them.

Prices start from £27,830, including the government’s £4,500 grant, but if you can’t get the money out of Ms May – for whatever reason – you’ll be looking at a bill for about £32,000. Opt for the range extender and that will rise to more than £35,000. Whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot of money.

But considering that the i3’s closest rival, the top-of-the-range Nissan LEAF, is only a couple of thousand pounds more expensive but is far less of a premium product and has a shorter range, it looks like relatively good value.

The i3 is a great second car for anyone who regularly drives into the city centre, but even with the extra range, it’s of limited use as a tourer. Still, if you want a nippy, environmentally friendly hatchback to complement your main set of wheels, but don’t want to sacrifice the premium feel, BMW has built the car for you.

BMW i3 94Ah

Engine: Electric motor, 168bhp Performance: 0-60mph 7.3secs; 93mph; Torque 250Nm

Economy: 49.6mpg combined

Price: £27,830 (after £4,500 government grant)

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