The coming year could be a big one for the battery-car market. Manufacturers are starting to roll out what promises to be a flood of new choices by the end of the decade. And while the spotlight seems to be centered on the new Tesla Model 3, buyers will have a number of options to choose from for 2018, including an all-new version of the BMW i3 city car.
Make that versions – plural – as the Bavarian maker is not only rolling out the second-generation i3 but adding a sportier version that it has dubbed the i3s. While primarily designed for urban living, both variants will offer the option of adding a range-extending two-cylinder gasoline engine for the occasional, longer trip out into the suburbs.
First introduced in the 2014 model-year, the BMW i3 has won a range of awards, most notably being named World Urban Car of the Year at the New York International Auto Show last spring. But it’s going to be facing a lot more competition in the near future, notably from products like the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV, both of which offer more than twice the range of the i3 in pure electric mode.
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Visually, the 2018 i3 updates are relatively modest and meant to give both versions what BMW calls “a wider and sportier look.” The original versions “Black Belt,” which ran across the back of the city car, is now complemented by a black finish roofline and A-pillars. The nose has been tweaked to broaden the car’s stance, and accents new, standard-issue LED low and high-beam headlamps.
In the rear, a chrome trim strip also is meant to give the i3 a more “athletic characteristic,” the maker explains.
Inside, passengers continue to be protected by a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, or CFRP crash cell. (BMW is now the world’s largest producer or carbon fiber, with plants in both Germany and the U.S.)
Despite the compact footprint of the i3, the four-seater features a surprisingly roomy cabin, thanks to the placement of key components, including the battery pack, under the load floor.
The updated interior emphasizes the green theme, using natural woods, fibers and recycled plastics. Over 80% of the interior, in fact, is made from either recyclable or renewable raw materials.
As one might expect, BMW is adding an assortment of new technologies and driver assistance systems for 2018. That includes Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Frontal Collision Warning with City Collision Mitigation and Active Driving Assistant on the safety front, as well as the latest iDrive 6 infotainment system. That includes a number of new navigation features, including one that can help find available on-street parking. The video display screen grows to 10.25 inches and resolution grows to near HD levels.
As before, a buyer will have the option of ordering a 100% all-electric version of the i3 or one equipped with a two-cylinder range extender gas engine. Both versions have their wheels driven entirely by the city car’s electric motor which is paired with a single-speed transmission.
The i3 version turns out a maximum 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The four-seater can launch from 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds, with its top speed electronically limited to 93 mph. The i3s bumps that up to 184 hp and 199 lb-ft, and the motor adds several performance-enhancing features such as taper roller bearings and a modified electronic controller. It cuts launch times down to 6.8 seconds and the top speed has been bumped to 100 mph.
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BMW claims a range of 97 miles for the all-electric i3 with the 94 amp-hour battery, the range-extender boosting that to 180 miles before a motorist needs to tank and charge up.
Along with the higher-performance motor, the i3s features a sports suspension with unique springs and dampers and anti-roll bars. Drivers can engage a more spirited Sport mode, much like traditional, gas-powered BMW models.
BMW intends to make it easier to both find a charging station and to then get the 2018 i3 charged up. One of the BMW Connected+ services coming in mid-2018 will help motorists track down a nearby charging station. Meanwhile, the 360-degree Electric feature offers an updated charging capable and a faster home charger, at 7.2 kW. The i3 will now get a maximum 90 miles of range in just three hours when connected to a 240-volt system, five times faster than with a standard 120-volt outlet.
The automaker hasn’t yet released pricing information for the 2018 i3 and i3s. Look for that closer to the on-sale date later this year. The current BMW i3 starts at $42,400 with a short-range 60 Ah battery, $44,450 with the 94 Ah pack, and $48,300 for the 94 Ah battery with range-extender engine.
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