A problem, the postponement of the retirement age? Not at BMW. However, launched in 2013, that is to say a century ago, as new automotive products are coming out at an infernal rate, the watted city car from Munich has at least four years to go since it will not be stopped until 2024. While this bet may at first seem risky, in reality it is not. Indeed, since its inception, the i3 has evolved a lot to improve its services, particularly in terms of autonomy.
Autonomy improved over the years
Thus, its battery has nothing to do with the original one. From 19 kWh, capacity has increased to 33 kWh (in 2016) to currently climb to 42 kWh, more than double the original. In practice, this has borne fruit since, according to our measurements, the range of action of this atypical city car has further increased. Compared to the 33 kWh version, it is possible to travel 80 km more in the city, 82 km on the road and, admittedly less impressive, 32 more on the motorway. If, on this terrain, which is very unfavorable for electric cars, the i3 is not at ease because the charge must be restored after only 160 km – which then requires more than 7:30 p.m. on a 16A domestic socket according to our measurements -, the fact of being able to swallow more than 200 km on the road and nearly 300 km in the city without going through a catch is enough to motivate. Not to mention a fast charging station 50 kW (max) is possible.
The disappearance of “REX”
This allows more than ever to consider this i3 as an everyday tool provided, of course, you can plug it in at home and / or at work. So much so that BMW has decided, since the introduction of the new 42 kWh battery in September 2018, to send “REX” to the doghouse. This acronym stood for the original Range Extender option which, like a generator set, ran a generator to recharge the batteries while driving, but without propelling the car. So goodbye to the 34 hp twin-cylinder scooter powered by a small 9-liter tank. At the time, this feedback should reassure those who feared the blow of the dry out between two charging stations. But he didn’t convince enough customers, the option representing at the launch of the i3 no less than 13% of the price of the car, since invoiced € 4,710! It is also clear that this trick has not been adopted by other manufacturers and that since then, although it is far from perfect, it is easier than before to find a charging station.
Pleasant to drive
However, autonomy is not the only quality to make an electric car a good car. On this point, we must recognize that the i3 offers services still in tune with the times. In addition to the operating silence, which we quickly get a taste for, the steering wheel, sympathetic sensations. The first comes, of course, from the liveliness of the mechanics housed in the rear. Tonic, nervous thanks to the 250 Nm of torque available at the slightest touch on the accelerator, this enthusiasm propulsion. And that's not the only reason why the i3 turns into an extra toy.
Brake pedal at rest
Thanks to very powerful regenerative braking, it is possible, by anticipating, to drive only with one foot on the accelerator pedal without touching that of the brakes. You get caught up in the game quickly even if the exercise takes a little getting used to in order to come to a halt where you want to. Above all, you will have to practice being skilful and gentle with your toes, so as not to shake your passengers too much or even make them sick. A phenomenon already noticed on the Nissan Leaf which offers a similar but disconnectable system, which is not the case here. Still, the whole participates in unique driving sensations and the i3 has other strengths. With its high driving position, like an SUV, its beautiful glass surface and its turning circle that would make a forklift truck jealous, this German is a treat in town and does honorably on the road.
Pay attention to the grip
We just have to remember that its very narrow tires do not provide exceptional grip, especially on wet roads, and its damping – this is its main flaw – does not make a quarter for fragile lumbars. But many will forgive this i3 because despite its already advanced age, the machine has not aged a bit. And for good reason. With its hull in CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) placed on an aluminum frame, it looks like a concept car. And a beautiful lightness, this electric revealing, according to our measurements, 1,330 kg, or 225 kg less than a Renault Zoe R135 ! This feeling of having to do with a laboratory vehicle is reinforced by the rear doors which open against each other or by the materials of the interior, some of which do not hide their origin in the recycling chain.
Almost obsolete interior
We can only regret that this BMW betrays its age on board by its multimedia interface. The central screen, too far from the driver anyway, is not tactile and is controlled via the iDrive wheel. An old acquaintance who, linked to confusing tree structures, does not help ergonomics. But who knows, over the next four years, BMW could renew this digital panel. And we bet that the German manufacturer benefits from one again to increase battery capacity. It remains to be seen whether the clientele, hitherto shy, will be there. It is true that this expensive i3 charges for its originality and its blazon with a base price bordering on the 40 000 €. It's starting to get really expensive for an electric city car, Especially when going upmarket and if we exceed the fateful threshold of € 45,000, the ecological bonus reserved for individuals drops to € 3,000 (price and bonus on August 1, 2020)!
Atypical in form, pleasant in substance and offering serious autonomy, the i3 is still in the game. But it makes a high price for its coat of arms.