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BMW i3s 2018 review

BMW makes its eye-catching i3 electric car even more exciting with a range of sporty enhancements.
EXPERT RATING
7.4
The 2018 BMW i3s is focused on enhancing the drive experience - making it sportier and more involving, grippier and more powerful. The cost of the upgrades is pretty minimal, but definitely worthwhile

I'm confused.

I'm not entirely sure the world needed this car. It's the new 2018 BMW i3s, a new sportier version of the regular BMW i3.

Why am I not sure if the world needed it?

Well, I would have thought i3 buyers were eco-greenies? People who are more into lower emissions than lower 0-100km/h times?

But, what do you know - the new i3s has both of those bases covered. It's more efficient, offers more range - but also happens to be quicker and more fun to drive.

BMW i3 2018: S 94Ah REX (HYBRID)
Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeHybrid with Premium Unleaded
Fuel Efficiency0.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$58,520

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

It's amazing to look at. I'm probably not the only person in the country, or the world, who doesn't think 'wow that's what cars of the future look like' when they see a BMW i3.

That's despite the fact the first-generation BMW i3 is now more than three years into its life, and the rest of the automotive world hasn't shifted quite as far as the i3 pushed things.

Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in. Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in.

From the pillar-less body, carbon-fibre tub, fishbowl rear windows and rearward-opening back doors, this is still a design icon.

And the newly added i3s model has a bit more going on for it than the regular i3, with distinctive blackened wheelarches to help hide the wider tyres (now 20mm wider) on the 20-inch wheels. The entire i3 range finally has full LED headlights - so it should, as a tech-lead car (previously the LEDs were low-beam, and the high-beams were halogen).

  • If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights. If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights.
  • It's all very European and chic. It's all very European and chic.

If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights, plus you can get it in a range of new colours. And sure, the new rims mightn't have fatty tyres like you get on the back of an X5, but the rims fill the wheelarches nicely.

The i3s model has a black-top finish, and it looks the part -  as much as a semi-sporty electric hatchback can. Forget the sporty bit, though, and it still looks more high-tech than anything else on the market aside from maybe its (actually sporty) sibling, the i8.

The inside? Well, it's next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better.

The inside is next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better. The inside is next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

It isn't a family car, and nor should it be considered one. This is more likely to be a second, third or even fourth car - the one that is used to get around town rather than hit the open road for a long-distance trip.

As a car for couples, or an occasional family shopping cart, the i3 has some really positive attributes. And, undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop.

It's all very European and chic, and it seems even fancier when you learn that the so-called 'Lodge' interior trim that is fitted as standard uses "natural leather tanned using an olive leaf extract" and that the cabin also has "wool-based textiles" and recycled plastic on the doors and dashboard.

Undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop. Undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop.

Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in.

The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6', which is a big improvement on the old system. It's easy to use, the screen is clear, and you can get Apple CarPlay - but, cheekily, BMW asks you to pay an optional fee for it. On the plus side, this version is wireless, so no messy cables - a bit like a furniture showroom, really, you never see any exposed wires there!

Storage is really well sorted as well, with a big cubby on the dashboard, a bunch of storage holds and cupholders between the front seats, and big door pockets as well. In the back there is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, and there are door pockets on the rear doors, too.

Let's talk about those doors - suicide, rear-hinged, whatever you want to call them: they're not conventional, and while they might seem fiddly (you have to open the front door to open the rear one, and that can be annoying) the space is surprising in there.

The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you. The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you.

An adult of about my size (183cm tall) can easily climb in the back with less awkwardness than in say, a three-door hatchback. If you have younger kids, loading them in and out could be a bit more difficult than in a small conventional five-door hatch - but there are ISOFIX anchors and top-tether points for kids. Also, it's worth remembering this is a four-seater, not a five-seater.

Coming back to what I said earlier - this isn't the car you buy if you want to move a family and all their stuff. The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you. But for a couple heading (not too far) away for a weekend, it could be perfectly suitable.

The interior has three different styles - or "Interior Worlds" - it can come in, too: 'Lodge' (the standard); 'Loft' (a greyer look, at no cost); and 'Suite', a more premium version with brown leather and oak trim ($2000).

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   5/10

I don't envy BMW's product team when it comes to laying out the groundwork for the pricing and specs for its 'i' product range. Electric cars are expensive, but buyers are taking a risk... so finding the middle ground can be hard.

I mean, a city-sized, efficient hatchback is an easy thing to come by, and there are some seriously good-value offerings out there. Think the Kia Picanto, which you can get for less than $15,000.

And at the other end of the scale there's the i3s, about five times the price of the Picanto. The battery version (called 94Ah in BMW speak) is listed at $69,900 plus on-roads, while the version with a petrol engine (94Ah with Range Extender) is $75,900.

You can still get a regular version of the i3 if this sportier S model isn't for you – and it's $1200 cheaper in both guises. But if you're asking me, that $1200 is well worth spending to get the S model.

The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6'. The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6'.

It's easy to justify that extra splurge because - there is no question about it - this is an expensive car. But it's a technological powerhouse, and that famed rondel has plenty of badge cred.

It isn't like the i3s is packed with equipment when you delve into the options list. Obviously Apple CarPlay at $623 is a bit rude, but other things like heated seats ($730) a sunroof ($2920) and tyre pressure monitoring ($370) are items that could arguably be fitted to a high-spec car.

The comfort package is something I think should really be included as standard - it bundles keyless access (unlocking for the doors), seat heating and a 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system. It costs $2000. It should be on the i3s, right?

Still, the standard kit list includes some good (but not ground-breaking) safety inclusions, a new 10.25-inch media screen with sat nav, a four-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, auxiliary jack, USB and Bluetooth, plus BMW's 'ConnectedDrive' online services system, single-zone climate control, LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, and auto wipers and lights. All of that is identical to the regular i3.

LED headlights come as standard. LED headlights come as standard.

The i3s - specifically - adds 20-inch light alloys (19s on the regular one), sports suspension (lowered by 10mm), a revised traction control system and a sportier exterior design with flared wheel arches to help tuck those wider wheels in.

As for colour choices, there are two no-cost options, 'Fluid Black' and 'Capparis White', and four metallic versions at a cost of $1090, 'Imperial Blue', 'Melbourne Red' and 'Protonic Blue' (all with 'Frozen Grey' highlights), and 'Mineral Grey' with 'BMW i Blue' highlights.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The i3 and i3s 94Ah models are separated by way of different power outputs from their electric drivetrains.

The regular i3 has 125kW/250Nm available from its electric motor, while the i3s pushes that to 135kW/270Nm.

There's no engine in the regular model - but there is in the range-extender version: a two-cylinder (647cc) unit mounted mid-rear.

All i3 models are automatic - a single-speed transmission, so there are no steps or gears to worry about - and rear-wheel drive.

How much fuel does it consume?   9/10

Running costs could be very low in the BMW i3s, particularly if you have your own solar set-up. Even if you don't, the cost of recharging the battery (33kWh x $0.22c) is very cheap: $7.26 for 200km of driving. By my maths (with fuel being about $1.35/L) a petrol or diesel car would have to be getting 2.7L/100km to be close to that.

And to speak in geeky electro-talk for a second, the i3s's power consumption is rated at 14.3kWh per 100km.

Bit more geek-talk coming up: charging can be done by way of a Type 2 CCS plug. You can recharge using a regular powerpoint (single-phase, 7.4kW), a three-phase charger (which you can get as a wall-box from BMW, 11kW) or a 50kW fast charger (if you can find one).

BMW claims that you will see 'everyday range' of up to 200km for the regular i3 and i3s - not bad, but not Tesla-rivalling... but nor is it Tesla-priced.

The range-extender model has 330km of claimed range thanks to its nine-litre fuel tank and two-cylinder petrol engine. Claimed consumption for that drivetrain is 0.6L/100km for the i3 and 0.7L/100km for the i3s.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

Enjoyable. That's the word that sprung to my mind. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.

We didn't spend time in the range-extender version - instead, our short drive was limited to the plain EV model.

Either way, though, you get that whooshy feeling of instant torque from a standstill because it's an electric car (the range extender model will just kick its two-cylinder engine into life to help charge the batteries up and keep you moving on electric power alone).

Apart from a slight whirring from the electric motor when you push the throttle, there's not a lot of noise to speak of - a bit of wind noise from the side mirrors (it was a gale-force windy day in Melbourne at the launch), and a little bit of tyre roar from those new shoes.

Speaking of the tyres, they're now 20mm wider to enhance the stability and handling of the i3. Not only does that add extra width to the car's footprint, the i3s has lowered sports suspension with new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.

The existing model looked like it was rolling on bicycle wheels, but the new rubber definitely has an impact on the levels of grip available and stability in corners. The previous version (and the regular regular i3 below this one) were/are fitted with slimmer tyres that can make it feel a little skittish at times, but these new broader contact patches help out a lot.

Being rear-wheel drive, and because it doesn't have gears to get in the way of driving like in a conventional car, the i3s is a pretty sporty experience. There's even a Sport mode to help justify some lead-footedness, which is pretty exciting if you like to drive... and I do.

You put your foot down, and it throws you back in your seat - not quite to the degree a Tesla does, but it's definitely rapid enough. BMW claims the i3s can now sprint to highway pace in just 6.9 seconds - which is four tenths faster than the regular i3.

And with its aggressive regenerative braking system you pull up pretty swiftly too. It can take some getting used to, because it slows you up faster than you might think.

Just like any sporty car, though, you can only have fun in it for so long before you start to think to yourself 'wow, I'd better go easy or I'll run out of juice'... it's just that in the case of the i3s, you run out quicker because its 'tank' isn't that big, and you're refill isn't as easy as heading to the servo and topping up in a matter of minutes.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

The BMW i3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 when it was tested. It remains a five-star car with this update.

The i3 includes six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain), an integrated roll-over sensor with a battery shut-off function, a reversing camera, parking sensors all around, forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.

The i3 base model gets semi-automated parking assist, but the i3s misses out on that. And, oddly, no i3 model comes with lane-keeping assist or lane departure warning, and nor can you have one with blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assist.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

BMW uses a so-called 'condition based servicing' program, whereby the car alerts the driver as to when maintenance may be required. And with fewer moving parts than a conventional car, costs should theoretically be lower.

The car itself is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the battery has a 'certificate' for eight years/100,000km.

Verdict

If you want an electric hatchback that looks like it's from the future, then you should totally look at the BMW i3. There are no real competitors at the moment, and if the Tesla Model 3 production puzzle doesn't sort itself out soon, the i3 could have this part of the market to itself for a while.

This isn't a car for everyone, and it might not be a car for everyday, either. But as a second or third car, it is very convincing. It is unashamedly aimed at city buyers, people who need a car to get around without using fossil fuels... well, if you buy the pure electric model, that is.

The world may not have 'needed' the i3s – but buyers are definitely better off for having the option of the new sportier version of the compact electrified hatchback. This car means they can be eco-friendly and still enjoy the drive.

Does the BMW i3s appeal to you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$59,180
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$51,150
Highest Price
$67,210

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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
120Ah —, EV, 1 SP AUTO $52,910 – 60,830 2018 BMW i3 2018 120Ah Pricing and Specs
94Ah —, EV, 1 SP AUTO $52,910 – 60,830 2018 BMW i3 2018 94Ah Pricing and Specs
94Ah REX (HYBRID) —, Hyb/PULP, 1 SP AUTO $57,530 – 66,110 2018 BMW i3 2018 94Ah REX (HYBRID) Pricing and Specs
S 120Ah —, EV, 1 SP AUTO $53,900 – 61,930 2018 BMW i3 2018 S 120Ah Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Design9
Practicality7
Price and features5
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption9
Driving8
Safety6
Ownership8
Matt Campbell
Senior Editor

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Pricing Guide

$58,520

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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