In this month's Top Gear mag, Chris Harris is your used performance car guru...
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The BMW i3 is now four years old, and in the accelerated and thrusting timeline of car years, that means it’s due a bit of a refresh. Not that it needed it - the i3 still manages to look forward-thinking and fashionable even in mid-life.
And it really is just a tweak: a new silver roof line strip, new bumpers fore and aft, and a few other little tucks. The power source remains the same, a synchronous electric motor with a single gear drawing from a lithium-ion high-voltage battery with a capacity of 94Ah (33kWh). That means 168bhp and peak torque of 184lb ft, 0-62mph in 7.3secs and a top speed of 93mph.
The official NEDC lab-range is 186 miles, less in the real-world and if you punish the performance, but enough to get by with. A range extending petrol engine is also available (for over £3k more) if you suffer from major range anxiety and don’t care that it knackers the performance a bit.
Which, given that most buyers would cite range anxiety - possibly unfairly, but totally understandably - as one of their main issues with EV ownership, it seems a little odd that BMW would also choose to launch a new variant of the i3 that comes with less range.
It would also seem contradictory to produce a faster-accelerating and better-handling version of what most consider to be an urban runabout, especially one that boasts about the “availability of Dynamic Traction Control that enhances agility and enables controlled drifts”. And yes, it actually says that in the press material. About an i3. So, driving it, I assumed that what we had was a marketing ploy to sell £37,000 i3s (a £3k premium over a standard model) to people who only tick boxes at the expensive end of the price list.
And yet… the i3S gets a black roof swatch, different bumpers again, 10mm lower sports suspension, a 40mm wider track, 20mm wider 20-inch wheels and black arches which look pretty good. It also gets a 14bhp and 15lb ft power hike over the standard car’s outputs, so it now makes 182bhp and 199lb ft. It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t.
But the i3S is - and I almost hate saying this - really quite funny. It properly rockets away from the lights, and 0-62mph in 6.9secs doesn’t tell the story of 0-30mph, where this car excels. You can leap ahead and tuck into traffic quickly and safely, and although the accelerative urge tails off fairly smartly after about 50mph, it’s everything good about EV delivery: instant, urgent, silent. And it really does feel much faster than the standard i3.
In fact, nipping around in traffic is slightly startling: never has 14bhp made such a difference. And yes, it handles more neatly, feels more secure and can dispense with an enthusiastic roundabout without feeling like it’s going to tip over. No, it doesn’t ‘drift’, but it does tuck the nose in a little via its driven rear wheels, and that’s enough. Which means that the i3 is still a fantastic-premium EV. The i3S is a slightly anomalous, expensive and possibly pointless piece of excellence on the options list.
Verdict: A hopped-up i3 with visual and handling tweaks. Sounds like it won’t make a difference, but it does: great fun, but expensive.