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First Drive

First Drive: BMW i3S

The story: BMW ups the EV driving ante with the i3S that's intended to offer some hot hatch style fun deserving of its bonnet badge.
Category:C-segment EV
Key rival:Nissan Leaf
Efficiency:125-mile range
On sale:Now

One of the big attractions of electric vehicles is their instant power delivery that makes them feel very brisk off the line, but until now no manufacturer has yet come up with a credible hot hatch variant. Enter BMW with its i3S.

The German firm may not compete directly with the mainstream hot hatch crowd, but the i3S is a clear statement of intent. For starters, it comes with more power than the standard i3, upping maximum output to 184hp to give 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds.

First Drive BMW i3S - image 6Top speed is 100mph, but who needs more on our congested road network? Much more relevant is the way the i3S accelerates. Off the line, it feels every bit as zesty as a petrol-fuelled Volkswagen Golf GTI and this impression is underlined as the power delivery doesn’t let up.

This is another trait of EVs, where the seamless flow of speed makes them feel quicker than they sometimes are. In the case of the i3S, this is no illusion and it makes short work of passing slower traffic.

Just as pertinently, it also makes a good job of zipping down twisty lanes; body lean is kept well in check thanks to the revised suspension settings. There’s noticeably less roll than in a standard i3, but the steering doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback.

However, there’s masses of grip in corners thanks to the car sitting 10mm lower. It’s also 40mm wider and has 20-inch wheels with grippy tyres. So, the hot hatch side of the i3S works very well.

If you sense a ‘but’ looming, you’d be right. For starters, the ride is just too firm on anything but smooth surfaces. Around town, it leaves you jiggled and wishing for a more supple compromise.

Refinement is good, as you’d hope for in an EV, but the battery range is no better than the standard car’s. Make use of the extra performance and that will quickly dip, though there’s regenerative braking that’s easy to adapt into your driving style and top up the range. If you’re the worrying kind, there’s also a range extender version with petrol motor to back up the battery.

First Drive BMW i3S - image 8Inside, the i3S gains a new 10.3-inch infotainment screen with updated iDrive and all new i3 models come with Professional Navigation. There’s also a choice of Loft, Lodge and Suite interiors as alternatives to the standard Atelier finish. What hasn’t changed is the feeling this is a very stylish place to sit and the cabin offers more than enough room for four adults. It can also hold 260-litres in the boot with the seats up, so it’s also just about practical enough for most normal needs.


Al Suttie

The verdict

The i3S's zippy performance and fine handling impress, but it's a shame the range doesn't let you enjoy it for longer.