As federal emission regulations tighten in the U.S. and around the world for that matter, electrification isn’t so much an option for global automakers as it is an unofficial mandate that they’re being arm-twisted into accepting.
Despite the ravenous excitement around Tesla’s Models S, X and 3, mainstream manufacturers still have an enthusiasm gap to deal with. The biggest obstacle is range anxiety, with most drivers looking for a cushion of at least 300 miles, but like the first wave of hybrid cars, these vehicles are also stigmatized as being listless and unattractive.
BMW has not solved the range issue for the latest iteration of its all-electric i3, but it has taken steps to make it more fun and better looking by giving the 2018 update a stylish refresh as well as a sporty “s” variant.
Powered by a high-output electric motor, the i3s makes 14 more horsepower than the base i3, for a total output of 184 horses. Torque is also improved by 15 lb.-ft., for a total rating of 199 lb.-ft., all of which is available instantly and with no emissions. It can hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, four-tenths faster than the i3, and has a top speed of 100 mph, compared to the base version’s cap of 93 mph.
Under normal conditions, the i3s is expected to achieve 97 miles of all-electric driving on a single charge but an available gas-powered, 2-cylinder range-extending engine increases that max to about 180 miles.
It sits on a new sports suspension that drops the overall height by 10 millimeters and features purpose-built springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. An available Sport mode improves responsiveness in steering and acceleration, which comes in addition to the advancements made with Dynamic Stability and Traction control systems that promise more agility.
Both versions of the 2018 i3 maintain the same basic body style it debuted with in 2014 along with new front and rear fenders, modified bumpers, high-gloss black A-pillars and roofline accents to match the rest of the vehicle’s contrasting top and an array of LED headlights and taillights.
Other exterior updates include a U-shaped matte black line along the front bumper, a horizontal chrome strip across the back, slightly sharper outside edges on the double-kidney grille and a pair of new metallic paint options: Melbourne Red and Imperial Blue.
Inside, the i3 remains surprisingly spacious despite its compact footprint. Coach-style doors along with the absence of both a fixed B-pillar and a transmission tunnel contribute to the airy feel. Another signature touch for the i3 is BMW’s i Blue-colored seat belts.
With an optional “Navigation system Professional” technology package, buyers are treated to a higher resolution display on the 10.25-inch screen, which includes movable tile displays, voice-recognition and cloud-based processing.
The system can search for points of interest, including basics like coffee shops and the driver’s programmed home address as well as necessities such as electric charging stands and gas stations (for the range extender). It can even locate street parking spaces in many major cities using historical and real-time databases.
Once a parking spot has been identified, the driver can press the Parking Assistant button and have the car take care of everything else, from acceleration and braking to steering and even gear selection. Other advanced assistance features include frontal crash warning and mitigation, daytime pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capabilities.
In addition to the updated looks and improved driving dynamics of the 2018 i3, BMW looks to appeal to even more eco-conscious consumers by ramping up its use of recycled materials. The Bavarian automaker claims that more than 80 percent of the visible surfaces inside its compact EV are made either from recycled materials or renewable resources, such as eucalyptus wood.
Ironically, however, BMW has also rolled out a new seat upholstery that consists of Giga Brown leather and Carum Spice Gray wool, so despite its best efforts, it doesn’t seem like BMW is going to win over the vegan market. Although, it does claim to use a “natural” tanning process that consists of an olive leaf extract, never mind the fact that material itself is cowhide.
The 2018 i3 and i3s will make their full debuts at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany next month. Pricing and other details will be announced closer to its launch in early 2018.