The BMW i3s is the unconventional electric car that you will love driving.
- Compact design is great for city driving
- Excellent build quality
- Spacious interior makes it feel much larger
- Superb handling and performance
- Annoying door design
- Can only rapid charge at up to 50kW
- Only has seating for four people
- Small boot limits luggage room
BMW i3s Introduction
The BMW i3s came along mid-way through the German marque’s first dedicated electric car’s model life. Taking what was already a well-engineered car, the’ s’ designation topped the range and introduced some styling tweaks and technical updates to improve handling. Coming as part of the car’s update also means benefiting from having an improved battery spec. The initial i3s was introduced with a 94 Ah battery that provided a range of up to 200 kilometres. In 2019 BMW upgraded this battery to a 120 Ah (37.9kWh usable) unit that increased driving range to 260 kilometres.
Design and Specs
It’s safe to say that the BMW i3s looks like nothing else in the brand’s range. That look is the result of BMW starting with a clean sheet design to create an electric city car of the future. First introduced in 2013, it hasn’t aged a bit and still looks as appealing and modern as ever.
Behind the design is a highly engineered car that utilises lightweight composite materials such as CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced polymer) and aluminium. BMW also designed it to be highly recyclable and builds it using recycled materials and renewable energy to reduce the car’s carbon footprint.
Earlier versions of the BMW i3 were available with a range extender engine (REx), a 647cc two-cylinder engine that could effectively double the car’s range. It was designed to reduce the risk of range anxiety and was phased out in later years.
Where the i3s differs from the conventional i3 is down to its suspension setup and traction control software. It has a wider front track width and runs on larger 20-inch wheels with tyres that are 20mm wider on the front and 40mm wider on the rear and sport suspension that brings the ride height down by 10mm.
Another aspect where the i3s differed from other BMW models is that the interior designs are called ‘interior worlds’. These provide more distinct materials and finishes to the cabin. These include upholstery such as wooden cloth and natural leather for the seats and Eucalyptus Wood for the dashboard trim.
One of the most surprising aspects of the BMW i3s is the amount of interior space, despite the car’s compact dimensions. Being electric and mounting its motor in the rear, space is abundant in the front with nothing to divide the front footwells.
Notable by its minimalistic design, the cabin isn’t like most other BMWs, but it does feature the company’s intuitive iDrive infotainment system that runs through a 10.25-inch display. This screen appears to float in the centre of the dashboard and has a separate bank of buttons below. The rotary controller for navigating through the iDrive system is on the console between the front seats. A smaller instrument display screen sits ahead of the steering wheel and shows a simple readout of driving information.
Due to its compact overall size, the i3s is only a four-seater. Access to the back seats is via novel rear-hinged doors. A minor annoyance is that the rear door won’t open without first opening the front door. This setup is because there is no central B-pillar between the doors, so when both are open, the whole cabin is accessible without obstruction, making ingress to the rear seats easier. Rear passenger space is best described as cosy, as this is still a city car after all.
The BMW will have you travelling reasonably light on the storage side of things, with a boot that measures 260 litres. That’s a lot less than you’ll get in something like a Ford Focus, but a little more than Volkswagen Up. If you fold the rear seats down the storage space grows to 1,100 litres.
Without question, the BMW i3s is one of the most fun EVs you can drive. It’s perfectly at home in a city, whizzing around the streets with handling that far exceeds what many will expect from its small and boxy design. The standard car was already a lot of fun to drive, but the enhancements to the i3s turn it up a notch.
The electric motor’s power output of 184hp is respectable, but it’s the 270Nm of torque, available instantly’ that makes the difference here. That power is sent to the road via the rear wheels, resulting in entertaining amounts of shove away from the line, and that’s before you activate the Sport setting. Do that, and the steering sharpens up, as does the throttle response, and you’ve suddenly got an EV that’s way more fun to drive than any hot hatch.
Despite the suspension upgrades, ride quality and comfort haven’t been negatively affected chase for chassis performance. While it does ride on larger wheels with surprisingly skinny tyres, the BMW does a fantastic job of dealing with poor road surfaces and rides over bumps and lumps in a very polished way.
You get to experience that one-pedal driving, too, thanks to the BMW’s powerful energy recuperation. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the car immediately slows as if you’ve started braking. During this recovery process, the car can recover up to 50kW of energy, adding a little bit back to the battery each time. It’s easy to gauge how this works, and soon, drivers will rarely need to use the actual brakes, instead just lift off and slow to a stop without wasting battery energy.
Away from the city, the BMW i3s is well able to take on motorway journeys and will comfortably cruise at 120km/h. The top speed is rated at 160km/h, but of more relevance is the 0-100km/h, which takes only 6.9 seconds. Motorway driving will put more of a dent in the car’s overall range, but short hops on and off won’t cause much of an issue.
Battery and Range
The 120 Ah battery in the most recent BMW i3s is the best and offers range yet. This 42.2kWh battery (37.9kWh usable) is rated for a driving range of up to 283 kilometres WLTP with BMW quoting an ‘everyday use’ range figure of 260 kilometres based on mixed-use with city and urban driving. Expecting an average range of around 200 kilometres is pretty reasonable, and it’s worth remembering that this is more of a city car.
It has a maximum charging rate of 50kW DC and can recharge from 0 to 80 per cent capacity in around 45 minutes. A similar charge using an 11kW wallboard will take approximately 3 hours 10 minutes, while a 3.7kW domestic wall box will take about 9 hours 40 minutes to complete a charge.
BMW i3s Summary
If you want a compact electric car for zipping around the city, the i3s is superb. It’ll work best as a second car for many people, especially if you’ve got a family as this BMW’s practical side isn’t as strong as some larger cars. However, it’s so much fun to drive and feels so well engineered that you’ll quickly look past any shortcomings and appreciate what a great car the BMW i3s is.