Better charging, more range, and more signature, velvety features are the name of the game with the Germans’ updated BMW i3. This year is certainly the year of the electric car thanks to Tesla’ continued success and their recent roll-out of the more affordable Model 3. But where does that leave the competition in this barren, one-player market?
It leaves the Germans with a juicy opportunity, apparently. The updated BMW i3 (synonymous with I, Robot by its looks) boasts an improved lithium-ion battery under the shell of the cutesy little electric compact, bumping its range from an anemic 81 miles – barely enough to get many urban commuters, the vehicle’s target market, to and from work – to a respectable and more feasible 180 miles. Although it’s still short of the Model 3’s robust 220-mile range (310 miles for the long range model), it’s enough to get the job done for daily drivers.
Hugely Upgraded Battery and Performance
With a 33-kWh capacity (up from 22 kWh), the BMW i3 offers an electric efficiency of 27 kWh per 100 miles. The Model 3 beats the i3 again, offering 23.7 kWh per 100 miles, but BMW is closing that gap. But remember one key point, here: The i3 still has a two-cylinder motor tucked under its bonnet, and it too gets a capacity increase from 1.9 gallons to 2.4 gallons.
To be fair, the tank in the i3 was always 2.4 gallons – BMW had to “lock out” that last half gallon so the car’s gas range wouldn’t exceed its electric range. That was bad news for its core market in California, because it would have caused the i3 to lose its coveted title as a Zero-Emissions Vehicle. But that’s not a worry any more, thanks to the i3’s new battery. Performance remains unchanged, with the AC motor pumping out 170 horses with a 0-60 time of around seven seconds.
More Convenient Recharge Time
Here’s where the BMW i3 shines: Its new battery takes just 4.5 hours to charge, with 80% replenished in just 40 minutes. The Model 3 takes 5.5 hours to charge from a wall outlet. Plug it into one of those public NEMA 14-50 connectors, and it takes a whopping 10 hours to fully charge – longer than your average work day or week night’s sleep.
Consider the i3’s gas motor provides enough recharge power to get you home on a dead battery, and you begin to see why the i3 is a great contender against the Model 3: It’s EV capabilities alone are quickly closing in on the Model 3. Battery capacity, charge time, and performance are nearly good enough that BMW could ditch the gas motor. Yet, the i3 keeps that gas motor to ensure it’s always road-worthy. Until public charging stations become as commonplace as gas stations, the Model 3 could suffer convenience issues when it comes to long trips. The i3 doesn’t.
Built With Actual Luxury in Mind
So range, batteries, and recharge time are most of the story. But of course, we are comparing two luxury brands. For those who’d like to control an otherwise minimalist cockpit with a strangely huge LCD TV, the Model 3 will suffice. For those who want an actual luxury cabin with real features – like a dash with stuff on it, traditional cup holders, a cool spaceship dial, and more at-home LCD screens that won’t blind you – the BMW i3 is the better choice.
But for $35,000, some might say the Model 3 feels like it’s unfinished inside. This is a savvy, postmodern design choice made by Elon Musk the genius, but for drivers and those who prefer a car with all that cool EV technology and a luxury feel… Well, BMW needs no introduction. At $48,000, we think the BMW i3’s tech and features are priced to sell.