Amped Up: Driving the 2017 BMW i3 Range Extender

The last time we drove the BMW i3, it was a little over 3 years ago. Back then, BMW’s electric city runabout revolution looked and drove like a Shuttlecraft straight out of Star Trek (albeit, one with wheels).

In the few short years that have gone by, we’ve also seen electrical vehicles (EVs) explode (sorry) in interest thanks to Tony Stark Elon Musk and his band of merry men.

EVs are now no longer an automotive novelty and it looks like BMWs early focus on EV development is starting to pay off being the only manufacturer with a full stable of electrified cars.

So what has changed over the last few years for the i3? Well, you won’t be able to tell any difference just from looking at it as very little has changed on the aesthetics.

For a design that’s been around for 4 years, the i3 still manages to look rather funky and futuristic. Not quite as striking as before, but nowhere near dated, especially with so many recent releases now sporting a similar “floating roof” rear quarter glass treatment.

Bland it is not, especially in our test car’s bright protonic blue hue.

Under the skin is where most changes have occurred, addressing one of the major bugbears of earlier i3s, range. On the first generation i3, i managed approximately 240 kilometres of driving after emptying a full charge’s worth of electric juice and an entire tank’s worth of petrol for the range extending backup motor. Now fitted with a larger and more powerful battery, i’m told 290 kilometres can be expected. That’s a pretty useful extra 50 kilometres of travelling.

I was also told earlier cars can schedule an appointment with their local BMW dealership if they wish to retrofit this larger battery.

Inside, our test car came with the less visually appealing “Suite” trim, what that basically means are seats and certain panels trimmed in natural leather with an oak wood accent on the dashboard. We still strongly believe “Lodge” trim is the one to go for, so try to haggle for it if you can.

Regardless of whichever trim you go for, everything else is pretty much the same as the car we’ve previously driven, not a bad thing as it still looks like a set from a science fiction movie (a good one). Controls still fall into place easily and the cupholders area  perfect fit for mobile phones.

On the more utilitarian aspect of the i3, boot space is decent and easily takes on most of what an urban warrior will require. Should the need arise, the rear seats and be flipped down to open up 1,100 litres of load space.

If you are really in need of extra storage space, there’s still a little cubby hole in the “frunk”. Probably good for a few packs of beer.

We do wish the main instruments ahead of the steering wheel could be made slightly larger as the cramped UI design can be hard to see at a glance when driving.

The added new bit to this interior? A snazzy set of Harman Kardon woofers all around. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but still a really nice addition to have especially in the i3’s cocoon of silence on the move.

And because this is a BMW, on the move we shall go! Thumb the starter button and listen to the roar of 250Nm of electric power waking up. “Bwwwooooob boop boop”

Silence… because the i3 runs on stealth mode. No really, i’ve lost count how many people walked straight out in front of me not realising 1,440 kilos of car was about to cross their path. Small niggles like that aside, the i3 is still quite probably one of the best city cars ever made. We loved driving it back in 2014 and we still love it today.

Instant throttle response, full torque on a silent tap, a lovely chassis and a fantastic turning circle all combined make zipping around town much more enjoyable than it should ever be. Unfortunately, all that quiet fun also meant your dear writer got slapped with his first ever speeding ticket in over 10 years of motoring. Speed can be rather deceptive when there’s not soundtrack involved.

There is one issue with the drivability of the i3 though, and no, it’s not the skinny tyres, it really has to be the lack of feel from the very light steering. But that’s just a personal opinion as i’m sure buyers of this car will not be gunning it through corners or backroads anytime soon.

So, the (slightly) newer and improved i3, selling at a price that’s interestingly lower than what it was launched with (S$218,000 now, S$236,000 previosuly). Should you buy one? Well. that really depends how much you need one now.

We like the car. But we’ve heard an even longer range version with slight visual tweaks is on the horizon for 2018. So perhaps that should be the one to go for.

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