BMW i3s: Great handling and performance with low running costs

BMW has sold more than 8,000 of its i3 city cars since it first went on sale in 2013, proving itself as a genuine all-electric alternative to a conventional hatchback.

BMW i3s PH

BMW i3s Price: From £36,975

What is it?

Now, the German manufacturer has chosen to introduce a little more sportiness to the i3 with this – the i3s.

Offering more power than before as well as more dynamic looks, it’s there for people who want lower running costs, but still want an element of driving excitement from their battery-powered city car.

What’s new?

This latest i3s gains more power than before, but we’ll look at that in a little more depth further on.

The exterior now benefits from a variety of silver elements designed to lift the look of the car, while lower sports suspension – dropped by 10mm over the standard i3 – gives it a good degree more presence too.

You’ll also find a 40mm wider track than the conventional car, as well as all-new 20-inch alloy wheels.

A newly developed stability control system has also been added to the i3s, giving the car better mid-corner agility as well as allowing for a little more wheel slip than the regular vehicle.

What’s under the bonnet?

The BMW i3s uses a synchronous electric motor linked to a 33kWh battery.

Here, it produces 181bhp and 270Nm of torque, which allows it to hit 60mph in just 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 99mph. Because of the nature of electric motors, all of that torque is delivered instantly, so the i3s’ acceleration feels far brisker than the numbers lead you to believe.

BMW claims that the i3s will return 174 miles on a single charge, while replenishing that battery to 80 per cent is said to take 11 hours from a conventional socket, or two-and-a-quarter hours via a higher-power wallbox.

That said, if you do want better range, BMW is offering the i3s with a range-extending engine, too.

BMW i3s PH

BMW i3s Engine: Electric motor linked to 33 kWh battery

What’s it like to drive?

The most noticeable aspect is the acceleration. It’s immediate and, thanks to more power than before, it’s more sustained, too. It doesn’t feel out of puff on the motorway where many other all-electric vehicles tend to falter, but it’s equally good around town.

Light steering and a relatively small turning circle makes the i3s a doddle to drive around town, and this is likely where the vast majority of owners will be using them. Sport mode does give the i3s keener responses, though in truth it’s just as happy left in normal mode.

One negative is the ride. On 20-inch alloys it’s harsh, and does tend to send a lot of the shockwaves from the road into the cabin, which isn’t ideal in inner city environments. There’s also a good degree of wind noise generated by the upright windscreen when travelling at speed.

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BMW i3s Range (NEDC): 124 miles

How does it look?

The regular i3 was no shrinking violet in terms of styling, looking more futuristic than run-of-the-mill.

The i3s is just an extension of that, with added trim pieces as well as a wider track beefing up its looks somewhat. It’s still likely to divide opinion, though that’s no bad thing in the electric car segment – better to look too different rather than too boring.

You’ll now find LED headlights fitted as standard to the front of the car, while the rear has been brightened up with additional styling elements. That wider track does give the car a little more presence on the road; though thanks to its styling, very few people miss an i3 driving past.

What’s it like inside?

The i3s’ interior still feels like a very well-made place to be. In truth, it’s not changed a huge amount over the regular car’s, though that’s not a bad thing.

The integration of carbon-fibre elements and natural wood finishers still looks and feels special, while the fit-and-finish of all parts remains excellent. There are two new seat surfaces available, made from natural leather and sheep’s wool. It’s an excellent cabin and, most importantly, it feels special.

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BMW i3s Power (bhp): 181

What’s the spec like?

The new i3s costs from £36,975 excluding the government’s electric car grant.

There’s no denying that it’s a lot of money for a car of this size, but then it does pack in a lot of technology.

As standard, you get a 10.25-inch colour screen that accesses BMW’s latest iDrive infotainment system, while Apple CarPlay is fitted too.

One of the biggest benefits of the system is its ability to identify nearby charging locations, as well as their availability.

Once you’ve inputted a destination into the car’s satellite navigation, it can even calculate the amount of range you’ll have once you arrive, while a range map gives you a clearer idea of the distances you’ll be able to drive using the available charge.

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BMW i3s Charge time: 3 hours 45 minutes from BMW i Wallbox

Verdict

The i3s makes for a more compelling prospect than even the regular car. It’s a little faster, a little more dynamic to look at and a little more involving to drive too.

Keener drivers who want an electric car will be happy with the i3s’ performance and handling, while those who want a low running cost runabout with a little more punch will be fans too.

It may not be a huge step forward compared to the standard i3, but it’s still a great option for those who want more pace from their electric city car.

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BMW i3s Max speed (mph): 99

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: BMW i3s

Price: From £36,975

Engine: Electric motor linked to 33 kWh battery

Power (bhp): 181

Torque (Nm): 270

Max speed (mph): 99

0-60mph: 6.6

Charge time: 3 hours 45 minutes from BMW i Walbox

Range (NEDC): 124 miles

Emissions (g/km): 0

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