BMW i3 94Ah Range Extender – First Drive

What is it?

You should by now be fairly au fait with BMW’s slightly oddly-styled i3 electric vehicle – it’s been on sale in the UK since the tail end of 2013 – and certainly in urban areas it’s becoming a relatively common sight. Designed from the outset as a purely electric vehicle it’s been a big success, but like all purely electric machines there have been range concerns from buyers worried about running out of juice, but with the new improved i3 94Ah version BMW is hoping to banish range anxiety to the history books.

What’s new?

The update to the i3 has come around the time you’d expect for a BMW face-lift, but there haven’t really been and discernible exterior changes other than the inclusion of Protonic blue to the colour chart which was previously the preserve of the i8. No, it’s under the skin that BMW has added to the i3 with a new battery pack that is claimed to offer up to 195 miles of range, although in more normal everyday type driving (ie. with the lights, wipers, air con and heated seats in operation) it will do at least 125 miles. And the Ranger Extender model we have here will do a further 80 or so miles once the motor’s kicked in to keep the batteries topped up.

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Power and torque outputs remain the same at 170hp and 184lb ft of torque from the 125kW electric motor but the 60Ah battery pack has been replaced with a dimensionally identical 94Ah battery unit which accounts for the longer range. Performance is virtually identical with 0-62mph coming up in 7.3 seconds for the pure-electric version while the Rex model we have here is ever so slightly slower at 8.1 seconds.

What’s it like to drive?

In a nutshell it’s an absolute hoot. Forget for a moment the eerily quiet progress you’re making and concentrate on the actual driving experience and you’ll have a ball. It feels genuinely quick from the off and even on the move can surprise you with its eager ability to pile on speed. Not only is it quick, it’s supremely well-balanced and as all the weight (what there is this is still a lightweight machine at 1245kg for the electric version) is hidden away in the ‘Life Module’ chassis it has what must be the lowest centre of gravity of virtually the entire BMW range. The tyres might be skinny, but they hang on tenaciously and you really can get hold of the i3 and chuck it about like a proper rear-wheel drive hot hatch.

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In the older model this sort of entertainment was often curtailed by a glance at the dwindling battery reserves but we drove this example from the wilds of Oxfordshire to London at pretty high speed and still had 30 percent battery life remaining – not bad for a 90-mile journey where we were using all the available performance with scant regard to preserving battery life.

Is it a practical proposition?

With four-ample seats and five doors the i3 should be able to put up with most things you throw at it. Obviously with a 260-litre boot it’s not going to accommodate the family on holiday, but fold those seats flat and you’ve got 1100-litres to play with – more than enough to shift larger items about when required. Charging will take 10 hours with a conventional three-pin plug, four with a AC fast-charger (such as a BMW iWallbox) or just 40-minutes with the newest style DC rapid charger. This latter meaning you could very easily stop at a service station for a comfort stop and a cup of coffee and return to a virtually fully-charged i3. Range anxiety? Nah, that’s a thing of the past.

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Verdict

So, should you buy one? Ultimately this will be dictated by your motoring needs and you’d probably be a brave soul to buy one if it was the only car you had access to. On the other hand if all you journeys are sub-150 miles we reckon an i3 would be a safe bet. It’s cheap to run, attracts low benefit in kind and is an absolute ball to drive – if the electric future is like this sign us up.

 

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