The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km.
The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km. WILFRIED WULFF

The 'old' electric car that showcases timeless fashion

THIS old thing. We've actually had it for years.

Despite the futuristic appearance, the electric-powered BMW i3 has been in showrooms for five years yet it looks barely a day old.

Where the i3 once blazed a trail it's now faced with increased competition - even from mainstream brands.

About 60 have been sold so far in 2019, which is nearly 30 per cent down on the same time last year. New rivals have undercut the i3, as well as the fact Australians are yet to wholeheartedly embrace the electric change.

Yet with more options comes acceptance, and the arrival of Jaguar's circa $125,000 I-Pace, the Nissan Leaf that starts from $49,990 and Hyundai's $44,990 Ioniq.

The Jag has a range of more than 400km, whereas the Leaf and Ioniq offerings are closer to the BMW's i3 capacity of about 260km. Which makes the $68,700 plus on-roads cost of the i3 a tougher financial proposition - but that depends on how much you value the front 20cm of your car.

While the i3's future remains unclear, BMW has been unwavering in its commitment to an electric future. By 2023 the propeller badge will have 13 plug-in hybrids and 12 pure battery-powered models.

Plug it into the standard household power point and it'll take nearly 20 hours to charge. A one-phase iWallBox (about $2000) will cut that time in half, or a three-phase system will drop it to just over three hours.

The electric-powered BMW i3.
The electric-powered BMW i3.

VALUE

Upgraded late last year, the i3 now comes with a 60Ah lithium-ion battery pack and a 120Ah system. Since it was launched the storage capacity of the battery has doubled but the size has remained unchanged.

Our experience was in the sport version, called an i3s, which costs an extra $1200. Drive-away expect to part with just less than $75k.

Rear-hinged 'suicide' back doors are among a swag of adventurous design features which has maintained the i3's futuristic appeal. Other basic features include wireless charging for capable smartphones, 10.25-inch colour display, trim materials made from recycled plastic fibres and wool, satnav, digital radio, 5.7-inch as well as Apple CarPlay.

Exclusive to the i3s is 20-inch alloys, sport mode, more athletic steering feel, specific traction control system and it's lowered by a further 10mm.

BMW also recently finalised a three-year subscription to Chargefox, which includes a 250kWh/year allowance. That means about six free charging sessions where the vehicle is charged from zero to full.

Service inclusive packages are available and cost $950 and covers maintenance for five years or 80,000km. Warranty coverage is the same as any other Beemer at three years and unlimited kilometres, while the battery coverage is eight years.

Colour choices include metallic red, two shades of blue, grey and beige (which all add an extra about $1420), along with non-metallic white or black.

The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km.
The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km. WILFRIED WULFF

SAFETY

The five star rating was achieved in 2014, with the likes of autonomous emergency braking that can apply the anchors if the driver fails to act, rear view camera, fully automated parallel parking assistant and radar cruise control to maintain pre-set distances from vehicles in front.

Technology has moved quickly in this space, and the i3 needs reverse AEB, blind spot warning and lane keeping assistance as standard.

The electric-powered BMW i3.
The electric-powered BMW i3.

COMFORT

Despite the modern minimalism internal design, its operation is straightforward. The colour dash screen is controlled via the traditional BMW central dial controlling functions such as satnav, radio and charging information.

The driver has their own flat-screen set-up.

Accessing the back seats via the rear-hinged doors can be challenging as the front doors must also be open. The i3 is a compact offering, but the cabin space is reasonably generous.

Ample head, leg and knee room is available in both rows.

Boot space is compromised being a small hatch, and there is space for only one large suitcase or a couple of small carry-on bags.

The electric-powered BMW i3.
The electric-powered BMW i3. Digital Fuel Productions

DRIVING

Engaging and remarkably quick, the i3 is a brilliant experience behind the wheel.

Electric power means instant torque and its ability to rip from standstill to 60km/h in 3.7 seconds is paramount. Scooting around town or in the city is rapid and outstanding fun.

The i3 has an aluminium ladder chassis boxing its underfloor battery pack and plastic-panelled carbon-fibre body structure, with the lower centre of gravity making it a joy to steer through the bends.

It's akin to steering a golf cart on steroids. Drivers need to become accustomed to the operating style, and lift your foot off the accelerator the i3 slows rapidly with regenerative energy going back into the battery.

Like other electric offerings, the driver can almost avoid using the brakes in most cases.

Just getting it into gear is quirky, with a large toggle on the driver's binaccle. Simple push into drive, and you depart with a Jetsons-like soundtrack.

The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km.
The BMW i3 now has a range of more than 250km. WILFRIED WULFF

HEAD SAYS

Servo visits are overrated. The proliferation of electric vehicles has begun and the battery upgrades now mean the i3 is more than capable for my needs.

HEART SAYS

This is a timeless classic, and ahead of it's time. Environmental credentials are first rate, so is the propeller badge which is extra carpark kudos.

ALTERNATIVES

JAGUAR I-PACE FROM $124,100

Bigger than the i3 and also featuring progressive styling, it features a range of about 420km with two motors generating 294kW/696Nm powered by a 90kWh battery. Also brilliant drive and ample prestige cache.

HYUNDAI IONIQ ELECTRIC FROM $44,990

Boasts a 230km range, courtesy of a 28kWh battery and 88kW/295Nm motor. Has a comfortable cabin and good driving dynamics as well as five-year warranty.

The electric-powered BMW i3.
The electric-powered BMW i3. WILFRIED WULFF

VERDICT

Armed with cool under-skin technology, BMW won't produce vehicles with the likes of carbon fibre in the future due to costs. It's awesome to drive, and this will be the last of its kind as BMW looks to more mainstream production.

AT A GLANCE

MODEL BMW i3s 120Ah

PRICE $69,900 plus on-roads (high end)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 3yr unlim' w'ty (short), services $950 5yrs (good)

MOTOR 60Ah lithium-ion battery 360V DC 135kW/270Nm motor (quick)

SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, radar cruise, auto park, forward collision warning, auto emergency brake (OK)

RANGE 260km, 3.6kWh/100km consumption (great)

SPARE None, run flat tyres (not ideal)

BOOT 260L, rear seats fold (small)



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