Like most automakers, BMW is pushing the electric agenda hard as it looks forward to a future where we get around courtesy of volts instead of fossil fuels.
For drivers with mainstream electric aspirations, the German manufacturer’s offering is the i3, a quirky compact hatchback available as a full electric car or in a range-extended variant that carries a gas-powered generator to provide extra driving distance beyond what the car’s battery is capable of.
For 2019, that battery is capable of a bit more: A new 42.2 kWh battery pack replaces last year’s 33-kWh unit and increases the car’s all-electric capability to a promised 246 km, a big bump over last year’s 180-km distance. If that increase applies equally to the range-extended version (BMW says it does), then that car should now be good for more than 400 km, which would finally make it feasible as a long-distance car -- that is, as long as you know where to find a charging station: the car carries just nine litres of gasoline, so that generator is really there just as a backup.
As before, the i3 comes in two distinct forms: the standard model with a 170-hp electric motor, and the i3s and its 180-hp powertrain.
We’re getting used to cars with weird profiles like the i3 -- there’s a strong resemblance here to the Chevrolet Bolt -- but while Chevrolet has packaged the Bolt pretty conventionally with the drivetrain up front, BMW hangs the i3’s dirty bits out between the rear wheels. And you can tell as soon as you start driving: the i3 feels rear-heavy and the resulting ride takes some getting used to.
Other design quirks are the car’s rear-hinged rear doors, which provide awkward access to an otherwise useful rear seat, and mountain-bike-skinny front tires that make the i3 look pretty weird.
Maybe BMW knows something we don’t and true mainstream is not what its buyers are after in an EV, but for the i3’s roughly $50,000 starting price we expected a car that drives more like the BMWs we’re already well accustomed to.
The i3 is certainly designed to appeal to drivers with a desire to protect the environment: BMW says that more than 80 percent of the surfaces you can see in the cabin are made of recycled materials or fashioned from renewable resources, like plastics, natural fibres and unbleached eucalyptus wood.
Despite this car’s high-tech look and feel, active safety features are optional: adaptive cruise control, daytime pedestrian protection and frontal collision warning and mitigation are all bundled in a Tech and Driving Assistance package.
At the time we wrote this, BMW hadn’t published energy consumption figures for the 2019 i3; estimates for the 2018 model were 2.1 Le/100 km when running on electricity and 6.5/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway) with the gas generator running.
This vehicle has not yet been reviewed