Friday 04 November 2016
BMW has created an all-new battery pack for its i3 electric hatchback which is capable of extending the car’s range. This has now found its way into the REX range-extender variant.
The REX is essentially a fully-electric car, but fitted with a small, two-cylinder petrol engine that can help take away any anxiety associated with running on just battery power. It isn’t technically a hybrid – the combustion engine doesn’t actually power the wheels – but it does add charge to the electric motor.
This results in a 276-mile range that comes with emissions of just 12g/km CO2. If you use the petrol engine sparingly, you’ll very rarely need to visit the fuel pumps, either.
The i3 has always been somewhat of a bold statement, thanks to its ‘floating’ body panels and alternatively-sourced cabin. The REX looks fundamentally the same, and unless a passer-by happens to hear the tiny engine thrumming away, they’d be hard-pressed to distinguish this from any other i3.
Inside, you get the same space-age cabin that you’ll find in the standard car, utilising plastics made from plant fibres. The large, chunky gear selector that comes out from the steering column can take some getting used to, but for the most part it’s an exceptionally well-made and well-built interior.
Thanks to being quite tall, the i3 manages to provide plenty of headroom, while the compact dimensions of the electric motor means there’s lots of legroom, too.
The boot is on-par with other superminis and city cars, offering 230 litres of storage space. When you compare this to the 196 litres found in the Toyota Aygo, it isn’t half bad.
BMW has always claimed to create the ultimate driving machines, but the i3 doesn’t entirely key in to this ethos. Because it’s quite top-heavy, it tends to wallow about through the bends, while the front-wheel-drive layout means that understeer comes in a little earlier than you’d expect.
Despite all this, it is quite fast. The 0-62mph time is similar to that found with warmed-up hatchbacks, while the instant torque afforded by the electric motor makes it feel quicker than it actually is – and this is no bad thing.
The i3 is best suited to around-town driving. The nippy electric engine means that you can easily dart in and out of spaces, though the petrol unit is most noticeable at low speeds.
BMW says that the petrol engine is best used on the motorway, where the electric motor tends to consume more energy. Leave the car in all-electric mode when around town, then engage the engine when travelling at higher speeds, and you’ll hardly notice it’s there.
The i3 is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a cheap car. It starts from £32,380, and that’s before the range-extending engine has been added. Tick this box, and the price rises to £35,530. Carry on with those boxes, and you could be quite easily looking at a car worth in excess of £40,000. This is quite a lot for a small hatchback.
Of course, the BMW is a far more premium product than other hatches, and is a lot more efficient too. Even the best diesel engines will struggle to match the i3’s claimed 470mpg figure, or its 12g/km CO2 emissions. With satellite navigation, climate control and automatic lights and wipers coming as standard, it offers a lot more kit than run-of-the-mill hatches, too.
The i3 REX is aimed at those people who fancy themselves as electric car drivers, but have worries about the possibility of running out of juice and becoming stranded at the side of the road. The updated powerpack will no doubt win favours with those who were considering the purchase of an i3, though the standard car’s hefty 195-mile range may make the choice a little difficult.
Model: BMW i3 REX 94Ah
Engine: Electric motor (168bhp)
Transmission: Single-speed fixed-ratio gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds, 93mph top speed
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