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First drive: BMW i3 94Ah

Friday 05 August 2016

First drive: BMW i3 94Ah

From the outside, you’ll struggle to find anything new about this i3, and you’ll struggle just as much to find anything especially new on the inside, barring a few new interior options. It’s just the same under the skin, too. Or is it?

As before, there’s still a big box of batteries lurking under the i3’s floor, but these batteries hold a big, powerful secret. Before this 94Ah model, the standard i3 only held 60Ah of electrical power, but thanks to electronic wizardry, this updated car holds half as much again. What that means for you, the consumer, is a 50 per cent increase in range. Now, the all-electric i3 will do 195 miles on a single charge, while the range extender version will manage a whopping 276 miles.

But for all this extra power, the new battery is exactly the same size as previously, which means you can actually retro-fit it to an old i3. That’ll cost you, though. It’s a €9,000 (about £7,600) job, and it’ll take an hour to complete.

Looks & Image

You can’t deny that the i3 is striking to look at. It draws attention in spite of the fact it doesn’t make a noise. It’s divisive, sure, but for every person who hates it, another will love it.

The left-field look continues inside, as does the emphasis on looking after the environment. Recycled raw materials have been used extensively in building the cabin, and the plastics on the dashboard and door cards are made from plant fibres. Again, it’ll be divisive, but everyone will have an opinion.

Space & Practicality

It may be technologically advanced, but the i3 isn’t that practical a beast. It’s about the size of a tall Fiesta, if you can imagine such a thing, so the boot measures a mere 260 litres. Compared to normal superminis, like the VW Polo, that’s a little bit stingy.

Because it’s tall, though, there’s plenty of headroom in the back, and even if the legroom is a little limited, it’s easy to get in and out of thanks to the so-called ‘suicide’ rear doors. They open the other way to the front doors, and once they’re open there’s no B-pillar, so you’ve got unobstructed access.

Behind the Wheel

On the road, there’s little difference between the old and new i3s, with the new battery offering no extra performance. There is an extended range, though, and although the 195-mile official range is a little bit optimistic, you should get 140 or 150 miles from it without too much trouble.

That’ll be more difficult if you exploit the instant acceleration of the electric motor and the startling 7.3-second 0-62mph time, of course, you’ll see the range counter fall fairly dramatically, but a 100-mile range should still be achievable.

If you try to push on through the corners, though, you might find that the i3 isn’t quite the ultimate driving machine you were expecting. It rolls through corners and there’s quite a lot of disappointing understeer thanks to the front-wheel-drive layout, but the ride is excellent. It isn’t classically comfortable in the manner of a Citroen C4 Cactus, but it’s smooth enough without making you feel too detached from the road.

Value for Money

With all the government grants included, prices start from £27,830, but the list price is actually around £32,000. That’s quite a lot, but you could spend even more on the range extender model.

All that said, though, the i3’s closest rival is the range-topping Nissan Leaf, which is a couple of thousand pounds cheaper, but the i3 is much classier and has a drastically superior range. In that company, the i3 actually looks well worth the money.

Who would buy one ?

Despite the improved range, the i3 is still more likely to find favour as a second car than as a main set of family wheels. It won’t be up to touring thanks to its diminutive interior and limited luggage space, but for those making regular trips into the town centre, it’s great.

Facts at a Glance

Model: BMW i3 94Ah

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

Engine: Electric motor

Power: 168bhp

Torque: 250Nm

0-62mph: 7.3 seconds

Top Speed: 93mph

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