Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan / BMW
Published: December 5, 2016
LISBON, Portugal - The BMW i3 was always a peculiar choice in the electric vehicle (EV) spectrum. It didn’t have the longest range, the best looks, or even the cheapest price tag, but it drove like a proper rear-wheel drive BMW and handled like no other EV on the market. The steering was direct and faithful to the tarmac, acceleration from a standstill was exhilaratingly quick, and the car’s low center of gravity meant it handled corners like a tauter and more agile BMW 3 Series.
But not every EV customer values driving dynamics over the former attributes, making the i3 a rather difficult proposition (even with government incentives) of urban transportation over the Hyundai Ioniq, Chevrolet Bolt, and Nissan Leaf, all of which offer just as much (or more) range with more frugal price tags. Surely, the fear of range anxiety and lighter wallets weigh heavily on skeptical consumers.
But the i3 still has one trick up its sleeve and this new sporty version, the i3s, aims to spruce up the flavour and ignite the flame. With performance in mind, the i3s receives a boost in power thanks to software optimization, up 14 hp and 15 lb-ft. for a total of 184 hp and 199 lb-ft. Along with new bearings for the electric motor and wider wheels to help get that power to the ground, the i3s pounces from 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds, 0.4 seconds quicker than the standard i3.
BMW has left the fantastic steering rack and rear-drive layout untouched, and a fixed sport-tuned suspension with specially developed springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars are included in the setup. The Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system has been revised, and when Dynamic Traction Control is selected via the center console button, the systems allow for what BMW calls "mild and safely controllable drifts when grip levels are reduced." There’s a Sport mode now too, which sharpens up the power delivery and steering.
Overall range has yet to be rated by the EPA, though we are expecting it to be just a hair lower than the 201 km range for the standard i3 due to the extra power. A range extender is still available if you drive long distances or suffer from chronic range anxiety.
To tell it apart from the base fare i3, the i3s receives a more aggressive body kit with flared fenders, air inlets, wheel arch molding, and wider wheels. Black finishes and unique contrasting further distinguish the i3s apart from the standard model, all done to make the car appear lower and wider. Ride height has also been dropped by 10 mm, the track widened by 40 mm, along with a horizontal rear spoiler and accentuated silver bar, adding to that optical illusion of a lower stance. Of note, there are no exclusive paint colours for the i3s but new shades like this Melbourne Red Metallic do catch our eye.
Initially, I found it ironic: a sporty electric car that wants to increase its strength by lowering its endurance, all in a market where range and price are arguably the biggest deciding factors for purchasing an EV. While it didn’t make sense to me at first, it all became clear once I got behind the wheel. I’ve never had this much fun with an EV.
The i3s turned out to be the perfect size for navigating the tight, narrow, and rather frightening cobblestoned streets of Lisbon, where pedestrians seem to show up out of nowhere and the blind turns are endless. This high-sitting and spritely BMW fit right in with excellent sightlines and instantaneous and accessible torque to let us keep up with traffic and devour uphill slopes. The i3s also had the turning radius of a contortionist, allowing us to carve our way through the sharp hairpins and horribly labeled streets without ever the need for a three-point turn.
The regenerative braking, the effect whereby letting off the gas pedal will automatically slow down the car to recuperate energy, is much smoother since the last time I drove the i3. It is much easier to modulate the deceleration this time around, and as both a driver and passenger, it is less jerky and nauseating to experience. It’s a shame you can’t program how strong the regenerative effect is like you can in other EVs, but it’s an easy compromise with a low learning curve.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how amazingly quick the i3s really is. Sub-200-horses is nothing to scoff at when you have a carbon fibre structure and a light chassis. Full acceleration from idle is enough to give you a dirty grin and as BMW engineers had told us at the event, not only is power up, but the spread of that power is much wider, meaning there’s much more torque throughout the range. Even with three passengers on deck with some luggage, the i3s booted forward without a sweat. At highway speeds where most EVs have trouble keeping up and summoning a good amount of torque for overtaking, the i3s fills that void.
Uniquely designed from the ground up, the i3s is no lightweight but was never compromised by its structure. That rigid chassis paid its dues and subsequently created a solid and stiff foundation that let’s the i3s handle with poise and vigour when changing directions. We even had the opportunity take the i3s through a quick handling course at the Estoril racetrack, and were blown away by how easy it was to kick the rear out and get it playing around the cones like a willing dance partner. The non-adaptive sport suspension is noticeably firmer than the standard i3 and those incredibly thin tires don’t help much with ride quality either, but even over the bumpy streets deep in the heart of Lisbon, the ride was never jarring or taxing enough for us to complain.
All of this is of course at the expense of range, but BMW says it won’t be by much. If that’s true, then the i3s makes an appealing case as one of the more enjoyable and emotionally stimulating EVs out there. We recently tested the front-drive Volkswagen e-Golf too, and while that was a spritely little hatch with honest steering and a delightful platform, it’s hard to beat the uncorrupted handling and tail-happy characteristics of the rear-drive i3s. And you have to remember, this is an electric car we’re talking about with the ability to carve out figure eights in the snow. You don’t see an Nissan Leaf or a Chevrolet Bolt doing this, ever, and it’s not like a NISMO or SS variant is coming anytime soon down the pipelines, if at all.
Gripes with the i3s? There aren’t many. We love the fact that a lot of the interior trims and panels are made from sustainable materials like kenaf, a type of sea grass, and designers have somehow found a way to amalgamate these with leather upholstery to create a luxurious cabin atmosphere. Some may find the sheetmetal rather abstract but it has charm and cleanly falls in line with the corporate design. However it’s the rear-hinged suicide rear doors that remain one of my biggest concerns. Though the overall interior is cleverly packaged and space in the rear is impressive, actually getting out of there requires the front door to be opened first to gain access to the rear door latch – have fun dropping off the kids.
The more powerful and sportier looking i3s makes a compelling argument over its cheaper and longer-ranged electric competitors, and even over its combustion brethren in a similar price bracket, like the heavily praised M240i. Fact of the matter is, if you value range and practicality over all else, the i3s probably isn’t for you. But if you do value driving experience as a top priority, the charm and wit of the i3s won’t disappoint. The ability to carve through mountain roads with poise, dance around a handling course like a hero, and surf along the coastlines of Portugal with nothing but rainbow dust and unicorns coming out the pipes, infuses the i3s with an attitude, though quirky as it may be, that guides it away from the boring electric car stereotype and keeps the essence of a fun-to-drive BMW afloat.
型号 Model: 2018 BMW i3s
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $52,350; $56,950 (for Range Extender)
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,570
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,016 / 1,791 / 1,590
車重 Curb weight (kg): 3,278
引擎 Engine: two-cylinder 38-hp combustion engine
Battery Capacity: 94 Ah (33.2 kWh)
最大馬力 Total horsepower: 180 hp
最高扭力 Total torque: 199 lb-ft
波箱 Transmission: single-speed automatic
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
油耗 Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 6.6 / 7.1 / 6.8
輪胎尺碼 Tires: Front 175/55R20; Rear 195/50R20