But placards at the ready, because the Project C's not coming to the UK...
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A sporty BMW i3? Well, BMW already makes one of those. The i3S launched last year and ups the dinky electric car’s power to 182bhp - and 0-62mph below seven seconds - while also lowering the suspension and widening the tracks, for neater handling. For some, though, that’s not enough, and in the absence of a proper M Division i3, Aachen-based tuner AC Schnitzer has pumped a couple of protein shakes into the car’s diet. It’s emerged looking more assertive than ever. More power? Alas not, but in truth the BMW i3S doesn’t feel underpowered. With its relatively light weight and skinny wheels, Fiesta ST-esque power is more than enough. At least until around 60mph, when the single-speed electric powertrain starts to wane a little. Still, that’s knocking on for the national speed limit, so it’s not like you need much more acceleration anyway, right?
AC Schnitzer hasn’t even widened or toughened up the tyres, the i3S’s comically large 20in wheels still wrapped in eco-minded Bridgestones. What they have done is improve the car’s stance, dropping it another 10mm (or 20mm if you’ve taken in a regular i3) and spacing the wheels out a further 12mm with slightly more negative camber. Total cost, around £600. Add the optional splitter and spoiler kit – which cost another £1,700 and apparently boost downforce levels – and the result is a car that looks less slab-sided than normal, and a bit more game for being driven quickly. Um, downforce? Really? Well, take that with a pinch of salt. This isn’t suddenly a car you’ll be throwing into corners 20mph quicker to get the aero working. But it is markedly sharper when you do turn in, so you’ll naturally be travelling faster (and more confidently) on a decent bit of road. Thank the subtle bunch of tweaks to the ride height and wheel spacing, which better utilise the modest tyre contact patch up front. While the i3 has always been a bit of a giggle to drive, those slimline wheels have typically served up lots of understeer to drive around. Being rear-drive only, the i3 has always felt game for that, but here it feels much less compromised. How so? A new alertness to its steering and tenacity to its grip make this feel much more like a traditional hot hatch in corners. Knowing the front end is gripping keenly gives you much better scope to focus on the rear, so while the regular i3S gives a hint of lift-off oversteer, AC Schnitzer’s will provide a much bigger handful should you want it. It’ll just grip nicely and predictably if you don’t. You end up hustling it along like an old-school Mini, it’s squat, square stance and modest performance together drawing out a commitment level completely at odds with the otherwise sensible nature of a small plug-in city car. The range is shot, then. Well, with a standard i3S powertrain, its claim won’t differ much – 173 miles fully charged – but it’s fair to say our mischievous side came to the fore and the i3S had to return to base much quicker than planned for a recharge. Oops. So what’s the point? The point is that electric cars are being accepted by the tuning fraternity, and with their instant, punchy torque, are only a few subtle (and affordable) tweaks away from having a bigger sense of humour unlocked. See also the Unplugged Tesla Model 3. An i3 you want to drive harder is objectively a less useful EV, but subjectively a very promising thing. An already fun car has gained enough muscle to edge onto the periphery of proper hot hatches. And you can apply the tweaks to regular, electric-only i3s too. We approve. 8/10 Images: Steve Hall