It's the end of range anxiety, according to BMW. The company is talking about the increased battery capacity crammed into the pint-sized BMW i3, which now has an increased driving range in both the full electric and range extender variants.
Introduced locally in 2014, the BMW i3 has been a successful venture into electric motoring for the company with over 250 sold in Australia over the past two years (a mix of full electric and range extender models).
But, the biggest complaint has always been range — or lack thereof. BMW has fixed this with the introduction of two new models, the i3 94Ah and i3 94Ah REx, both commanding a $2000 price premium over the existing two-vehicle line up.
The range now starts from $63,900 (plus on-road costs) for the BMW i3 and increases by $6000 to $69,900 (plus on-road costs) for the i3 REx. The i3 94Ah is priced from $65,900 (plus on-road costs), while the i3 94Ah REx costs $71,900 (plus on-road costs).
Driving range has increased to 310km (NEDC) for the 94Ah and 390km (NEDC) for the 94Ah REx. BMW has also gone to the effort of publishing real-world figures, which represent the likely range if you run the air conditioner and throw in a greater deal of highway driving, which kills electric vehicle range. Those figures sit at a more representative 200km and 330km respectively.
Available energy from the battery pack has been increased to 33kWh, of which 27kWh can be effectively used. The existing i3’s 60Ah capacity produces 22kWh gross and with 19kWh of useable energy. The usable energy refers to 80 per cent of the available maximum, which is the operating range of the Lithium-ion battery pack.
BMW aimed to redefine the electric vehicle segment with this car and it's done a sensational job of it, with a huge amount of renewable parts, carbon-fibre and functionality. For example, up to 95 per cent of the car can be recycled at the end of its life. On top of that, the vehicle's batteries can be removed at the end of their usable life to be plugged into home power storage schemes.
While cars like this offer emissions-free motoring in full electric form, they often consume a lot of energy and resources during the production process. But BMW's i3 line at the Leipzig, Germany plant is actually powered entirely by four giant wind turbines. 80 per cent of the vehicle's aluminium is either recycled or produced using renewable energy. It's pretty impressive stuff.
The battery system is made up of 96 cells, which remains unchanged for 94Ah models. BMW has been able to add extra electrolytes and increase cell density to offer greater battery capacity. Similar to Tesla's offering, the entire battery system comes with an eight-year/100,000km warranty.
Charging times have increased as a result of greater battery capacity. Using the occasional-use cable supplied with the car, charging occurs at 8A at a rate of 1.8kW, taking 14 hours to charge from empty to 80 per cent (the usable maximum). That charge time decreases to eight hours when using the BMW i Wallbox, which runs on a 16A circuit at a rate of 3.7kW. Owners can also use ChargePoint locations free of charge that reduce charging times to four hours at a rate of 7.4kW at 32A.
The final option is a DC fast charger, which reduces charge time to a quick 40 minutes using a 125A circuit at 50kW. While this is the most sensible option, there are only a handful of DC charging stations in Australia.
The futuristic exterior design is matched by an equally cool interior design that matches recycled materials with new-age seats and wood treatment. Despite how small it appears from the outside, the interior is incredible spacious with enough room to seat four adults fairly comfortably.
Suicide doors offer access to the second row, while a 260-litre boot caters for most of your storage needs. That space increases to 1100 litres when the 50:50 split-folding second row is folded. There's also a handy 35 litres worth of storage space under the bonnet.
There are a raft of different materials used within the cabin, including woven wool seats, light and dark sustainably farmed wood across the dashboard and recycled plastic fibres along door trims. It is a seriously cool interior to be seated in.
Infotainment comes courtesy of BMW's excellent iDrive system, which is driven by a control knob in the centre of the cabin and displayed via a huge 10.2-inch colour LCD screen. There's also a secondary screen in front of the driver that displays key vehicle statistics and speed.
Instead of a conventional gear lever, the i3 uses a rocker that sits on the right hand side of the steering wheel. The rocker contains the gear selector, along with a button to activate the parking position. There's also an electrically driven park brake, which is used to save room within the compact cabin.
While the standard four-speaker sound system is great with an output of 100W, the optional harman/kardon sound system increases the speaker count to 12 and power output to an impressive 360W, which sounds excellent within the small cabin. But, be prepared to fork out an additional $1084 (plus on-road costs).
Speaking of options, there's a number of them on the i3. Some of the options include things like an alarm, keyless entry, heated seats, metallic paint, a heat pump for efficient heating in cold climates, 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and driver assistance items.
Of the options, the one worth ticking is the Innovations Package, which is priced from $2455 (plus on-road costs). This adds LED headlights, comfort access (keyless entry) and forward collision alert with radar cruise control.
What's the i3 like to drive? Well, it's surprisingly zippy and a heap of fun to whip around the city in. Our drive route included a mix of city and highway driving across the full electric and REx models, along with a mix of 19- and 20-inch wheel options.
Even in the REx model, the i3 drivetrain is purely driven by a 125kW electric motor that produces 250Nm of torque and drives the rear wheels through a single-speed automatic transmission. REx models use a 650cc two-cylinder petrol motorbike engine that produces 28kW of power. Its sole purpose is to act as a generator to serve the electric motor. To help reduce weight, it's served by a nine litre fuel tank.
Speaking of weight, the extensive use of carbon-fibre has helped reduce the vehicle's overall weight by 350kg to 1245kg and 1365kg respectively for the 94Ah and 94Ah REx. The extra range afforded by the 94Ah drivetrain has increased overall weight by 50kg, which isn't a great deal of sacrifice for the extra range. The 0-100km/h performance has also decreased slightly (by .1 seconds), now sitting at 7.3 and 8.1 seconds respectively for 94Ah and 94Ah REx models.
The driving position is SUV-esque in the sense you sit higher than you would think, with excellent visibility out the front, sides and rear. It's also helped by a tight 9.86m turning circle, which helps it maneuver through tight gaps in the city. At just under 4m long, it's also incredibly easy to park and place in traffic.
Regenerative braking helps reduce the load on the brakes by some 80 per cent. The system works by using the momentum of the car to generate electricity, which charges the batteries and extends the vehicle's range. As a result, you don't need to use the brakes anywhere near as much to slow the vehicle.
Throttle response is almost instant and helps propel the i3 from 0-60km/h in just 3.8 seconds and 4.1 seconds respectively for 94Ah and 94Ah REx models. They both then move onward to 100km/h from standstill in 7.3 and 8.1 seconds respectively. The rate of acceleration is more than enough to keep up with traffic — and even enough to have fun with unsuspecting drivers.
The handling is nothing to write home about. While the rear tyres offer enough grip for full throttle launches, the tiny 175mm wide front tyres cause the vehicle to understeer when pushed hard. But, at the end of the day, owners are unlikely to ever drive in that fashion regardless.
The ride is surprisingly good for full electric models, even on the relatively large 19-inch alloy wheels. It degrades slightly when wheel size is increased to 20 inches. We found that the REx model rode firmer than the full-electric model, despite only a negligible weight increase.
We are a big fan of this car and the added range now makes it a much smarter proposition in pure electric form. While it's still far from curing range anxiety with primitive infrastructure and long charging times, it's an excellent way to drive an electric vehicle within urban confines in style.
It's a smart, environmentally friendly vehicle with a lot going for it. So much so that we've snagged one as a long-term loan vehicle. Keep your eyes on the site for more details in the coming weeks.