Charging further: BMW i3 94Ah electric car road test review

BATTERY BOOST: BMW's funky i3 electric car can now manage up to 300km on battery charge alone thanks to better battery tech. Where's your range anxiety now?
BATTERY BOOST: BMW's funky i3 electric car can now manage up to 300km on battery charge alone thanks to better battery tech. Where's your range anxiety now?

BMW has extended its i3 electric car range, with two new variants joining the i3 60Ah and 60Ah Rex that arrived here in 2014.

The new kids - the 94Ah and 94Ah REx - have 50% more range than the established models, cutting-edge technological improvements and are fun to drive and easy to live with.   

More than 250 is have found homes across Australia in the past two years and have also proved their mettle as first-response vehicles for the London Fire Brigade and LA Police Department. Viva electric!  

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

Electric cars are hardly a new innovation. What's so different about this one? 

Well, the BMW i3 has been available here since 2014 but one of the biggest complaints was a perceived lack of range, or how far it can go on electric power.   

The German manufacturer is hopeful the new 94Ah - which can in ideal conditions travel 300km on pure electricity and 390km with an extender - will help appease range anxiety.   

The real-world figures are closer to 200km and 330km respectively as most buyers are likely to run the air-conditioner and infotainment system and probably use the car on short highway runs where it is harder to regenerate energy through braking.  

Sounds interesting but what is a range extender?

Those people who travel longer than the average 20km commute to work and back each day often worry they won't have enough charge to get home.   

To help with those concerns, most electric vehicles have the option of a small petrol engine, in this case a two-cylinder 125kW/250Nm unit, for peace of mind I suppose and for people who may want to do longer trips at the weekend.  

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

So tell me about the batteries?

The i3 94Ah boasts a high-voltage lithium-ion battery at its heart, which consists of eight modules, each with 12 storage cells.   

The cell packages have been optimised with increased electrolytes, increasing the gross battery energy to 33kW, of which 27kW can be used. In the existing i3 60Ah, the figures are 22kW gross with 19kW of that usable.   

The battery pack is designed so a single module can be exchanged if a fault is detected. It is made to last throughout the life of the i3 module you own but also comes with an eight-year/100,000km warranty for peace of mind.  

How do I charge it? Surely, not alongside the beer fridge?

That's possible you know. The supplied cable can be plugged into a domestic socket and takes 14 hours to charge (11 for 60Ah), but BMW recommends you install a Wallbox Pure (from $1750) in your home as it cuts charging to less than eight hours.   

ON CHARGE: Plugging in your BMW i3.
ON CHARGE: Plugging in your BMW i3. Iain Curry

BMW has partnered with ChargePoint, with many of its 300 fast AC charging stations across the country free to access. The i3 also comes standard with DC rapid-charging capability ensuring it will be compatible with future DC charging infrastructure, cutting charging time to just 40 minutes. It costs about $5 for every 200km.  

It certainly is an interesting looking thing isn't it?

Can't argue with that, you definitely wouldn't miss it on the road. It is quite funky though and it is often the case that people who are doing their bit for the environment want to be noticed.   

There are some super cool things about the makeup of this car too. Every effort has been made to keep it as light as possible and the choice of materials reflect that.   

Some 25% of the interior is made from recycled materials, the wood inlays are from sustainable sources, there is wool for better insulation and the leather is tanned with olive leaves. Cool, right?   

It is even manufactured with the environment in mind. The BMW i3 line at the factory in Liepzig is powered by wind turbines and 80% of the aluminium used is from recycled sources or produced using renewable energy.   

At the end of its life, 95% of the car can be recycled and the batteries used to eventually store household power. 

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

Far from it. The i3 94Ah may look small from the outside but is quite spacious once you are in it.   

The seating position is high, almost SUV-like, practical and comfortable, and this car is also equipped with BMW's technical infotainment marvels.   

Alright, but what is it like to drive?

Interesting, and in a good way. It's no sporty road slayer but it is no shrinking violet either. It is sharp and zippy with 250Nm of torque available as soon as you prod the accelerator.  

It goes well on the highway too and has an excellent turning circle. It does wallow a bit over bumps though.   

The one-touch accelerator - which will slow the car down quickly as soon as you ease off a little - and the strong regenerative braking takes some getting used but is easy enough to figure out.    

Can't find the gear stick? Don't blame you. Check out the rotary dial just to the right of the steering wheel which allows you to find forward and reverse. Park and start come at the touch of a button.  

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

Should I buy one?

This may give the appearance of fence sitting but it really depends on your commuting habits. Almost 80% of i3 buyers are new to BMW, lured by the car's promise of a more efficient environmentally conscious future.   

But saving the world comes at a price and the i3 94Ah (from $65,900) is a bit on the dear side.

That said, it can and will save you money in the long run. Plus, you'll have a lot of fun in this personality-packed i3 while doing so.   

2015 BMW i3. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
2015 BMW i3. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily Iain Curry

Vital Statistics

Model: BMW i3 94Ah and 94Ah REx.  

Details: Five-door rear-wheel drive electric car.  

Engines: Synchronous electric motor with 0.6-litre petrol two-cylinder range extender in the REx generating maximum power of 124kW and 250Nm.   

Transmission: Single reduction gear final drive.  

Consumption: 0.6 litres/100km combined.  

CO2: 12g/km.  

Bottom line plus on roads: From $65,900 for 94Ah and $71,900 for 94Ah Rex.    

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

What matters most 

What we like: Extended range, environmental commitment, still a funky thing inside and out.  

What we'd like to see: Better access to back seat, lower price.  

Warranty and Servicing: 3 year unlimited kilometre car warranty with 8 year/100,000km battery warranty. Servicing is $800 for the first five years.  

2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed
2016 BMW i3 94Ah.Photo: Contributed

Topics:  94ah bmw i3 electric electric car ev motoring ranger extender review rex road test

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