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First Drive

First Drive: BMW i3S REX

The story: BMW has refreshed its i3 plug-in model, also adding this performance version, branded i3S.
Category:Lower Medium
Key rival:VW e-Golf
Efficiency:206 mile range
On sale:Now

Electric vehicles are lauded for their instant power delivery, rather than the slight lag you get with an internal combustion engine, but manufacturers haven’t yet produced a sporty plug-in, with the exception of top-end high-performance cars such as the BMW i8.

A mid-life revision for the i3 hatchback has given the German premium brand a chance to change that. As well as minor changes to the i3 itself, a car that has now passed 8000 UK sales and is, according to the manufacturer, the best-selling electric car in the premium compact segment, BMW has launched the i3s.

Fleet of Fancy - BMW i3S REX - Image 2The new version is slightly more powerful than the regular i3 it sits alongside, with the equivalent of 184hp rather than 170hp, which makes it just under half a second quicker on the 0-62mph acceleration run.

There are other changes under the skin. Suspension tweaks include the car being lowered by 10mm, the track being widened by 40mm and sports suspension fitted, including new springs and dampers. All of the changes are designed to make the handling sharper and more like that of a hot hatch.

The i3 also gets 20-inch black alloy wheels, and gloss black finish to the roof, A-pillar, front bumper and wheelarch extensions, for those looking to pick out the new car.

The i3s costs £2905 more than the regular i3, and both models are available in either pure electric or range-extender format; the latter adds a 38hp two-cylinder engine and 9.0-litre fuel tank for an additional 93 miles of range, and costs an additional £3150. The good news is that all models are eligible for the Government’s £4500 ultra-low emission vehicle grant.

The i3s range-extender has an official emissions figure of 14g/km, 1g/km more than the standard i3.

Range-wise, the i3s will do 113 miles on battery power, with the petrol engine adding a further 93 miles, according to BMW’s “real world” figures.

The performance and handling of the i3s are undeniably impressive, with that surge of electric power very much present, and it grips and handles with a poise other electric vehicles won’t match. The pay-off of the sports suspension is a firmness that passengers won’t necessarily enjoy; the i3s bounces and hops unpleasantly across things like regularly spaced road expansion joints, and its cause isn’t helped by the short wheelbase. It’s certainly firmer than the existing i3, but that enables the sharper handling and greater poise and body control in bends, so it depends on buyer preference.

Fleet of Fancy - BMW i3S REX - Image 3That’s enhanced when the Sport mode, exclusive to the i3s, is engaged. There are also Eco Pro and Eco Pro+ modes for optimising the range, but if you’re sensible it tends to come down in line with mileage. Higher-speed usage will drain it quicker, as is the case with all EVs, but if you’re doing frequent motorway runs then a plug-in is possibly not the right choice anyway.

The i3s is an intriguing step for electric vehicles in general, proving they can have emotional appeal to go with the rational, financial and environmental strengths.

Paul Barker

The verdict

The new i3s is the sportiest of mainstream plug-in vehicles and goes and handles very nicely, though it’s far from cheap. The looks are still divisive and the ride quality suffers due to that sportiness.