2018 BMW i3s First Drive | Edmunds

2018 BMW i3s First Drive

Wider Is Better — So Is the Extra Performance

When BMW introduced the i3 in 2013, it was the automaker's first real foray into the battery electric vehicle market, and it was unlike anything else on the road. At the time, most competitors building battery electric vehicles were merely modifying existing platforms to house the batteries, motor and power modules necessary for an all-electric conversion. This was in contrast to BMW's strategy of engineering a dedicated chassis constructed of lightweight carbon composite and fitting it with large but skinny wheels and tires to maximize the i3's rolling efficiency. The i3's interior was also an exercise in weight savings, from minimalistic seat frames to composite interior panels made from both recycled and natural materials. Some might say the styling of the i3 is quirky, but there is no doubt BMW succeeded in showing the world what the future could look like.

Today with an electric vehicle market that's matured significantly since 2013, with year-over-year improvements to battery chemistry, power circuitry, motor efficiency, and charging infrastructure, BMW thought it was a good time to take another look at the i3. But rather than just update the existing model to be current with the times, the automaker saw an opportunity to create a model with even more performance — more power, better handling, more BMW-ness. Thus, the i3s was born.

S Stands for Sportier and Speedier
First, to give the i3s some added giddy-up and go, BMW increased the electric motor output by 14 horsepower and 15 pound-feet of torque compared to the regular BMW i3, for a total of 181 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque. This allows the i3s to accelerate to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds with a new top speed of 99 mph; the standard i3 does it in 7.2 seconds and tops out at 93 mph. The i3s receives the same 33-kWh lithium-ion battery introduced last year on the standard i3, but it now provides a reported range of up to 124 miles — a bit more than the 2017 i3's range of 114 miles (or the 2017 i3 with range extender's 97 electric-only miles) — thanks to software updates to the power control module. You can still opt for the range extender that gives the i3s an additional 93 miles of travel. This tiny two-cylinder engine works like an onboard generator that provides electricity when the batteries are depleted and extends the i3s' maximum range to over 200 miles, according to New European Drive Cycle testing.

In addition to the power increase, the i3s sits 10 millimeters lower and receives stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. Track width — that's the width between the tires on the same axle — was increased by 40 millimeters, and the body was widened by 16 millimeters to accommodate 20-mm-wider tires.

To further enhance the sporty character of the i3s, BMW engineers added a Sport mode, which sharpens the accelerator response and increases steering effort. A new method of monitoring wheel speed improves the response time and fidelity of the i3s' stability control system, allowing it to react in as little as 1 millisecond versus 100 milliseconds for the former system. Additionally, there's a new Traction mode, which is a bit of a misnomer because of how it functions. When selecting Sport mode and enabling Traction mode, the stability system actually loosens its reins and allows some wheelspin and yaw, thereby giving the driver a more dynamic sports-carlike experience from this rear-wheel-drive platform.

S Stands for Sustainable, Smart and Spacious
The interior of the i3s remains virtually unchanged with the exception of a larger 10.3-inch central infotainment screen as well as the most recent BMW provisions for emergency connected services and BMW's i ConnectedDrive, Connected, and Connected+ charging and parking systems. These systems use the onboard cellular connection to show charging station availability, vehicle location and current status.

Like the i3, the i3s is available in four trims — Deka, Mega, Giga and Tera — that differ in interior material choices and color palettes. Deka offers dark cloth seating surfaces, while Mega uses a light gray cloth. Giga incorporates a bright and earthy wool-and-leather combination for both seats and interior, while the range-topping Tera option comes with a full leather interior package. All trim levels incorporate some degree of sustainable content in the interior, primarily from recycled seat fabrics and a combination of recycled and naturally sourced trim pieces.

The suicide rear doors and four-passenger accommodations from the original i3 remain. Those rear doors can be awkward at first since they require the front doors to be open to access the handles. As in a coupe, front passengers will always need to exit first before rear passengers can move in or out. However, the doors do ease entry for passengers and the loading and off-loading of cargo, providing a surprising amount of space when the rear seatbacks are folded flat.

Aside from its lower and wider stance, the i3s can be distinguished from the i3 by its 20-inch wheels (the i3 comes with 19s) and blacked-out front pillars, roof, window surround and exterior trim. Other, more subtle changes include i3s-specific front and rear bumper covers with more sculpting and gloss black inlays. Two new exterior colors, Imperial Blue and Melbourne Red, are also available for both the i3 and the i3s.

Where the Slightly Wider Rubber Meets the Road
We had a chance to drive the new 2018 BMW i3s on four-lane highways, twisty and hilly two-lane roads, and a tight, dynamic closed course track. While on the highway, the increased power and stiffer suspension was immediately noticeable. The suspension felt more responsive but not harsh, while the additional power benefited merging and passing.

On the autocross track, the increased grip from the tires, wider track and lower center of gravity allow the i3s to brake harder, corner faster and accelerate out of a corner much sooner than the standard i3. Most significantly, the i3s allows for more dynamic movement before slowing you down, a benefit of the revised stability control system. Enabling Traction mode allows you to get the back end of the car to come out ever so slightly. It's no tire-smoking drift machine, but it's more BMW-like than the i3 has ever been.

Will owners actually care to drive the i3s like this? That remains to be seen. EVs are inherently quick off the line thanks to instantly available torque, have low centers of gravity, and are relatively easy to maintain due to few moving parts, so they make sense from a performance angle. The i3s, therefore, is a more natural evolution than it might initially seem.

Our experience with our 2014 BMW i3 long-term car was positive, and we imagine we'd enjoy living with the i3s even more. The 2018 BMW i3s is available now, with a starting price of $48,645 for the standard BEV model and $52,495 for the range-extender-equipped i3s.

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