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2018 BMW i3s review

BMW’s small BEV gets an performance variant

2018 BMW i3s_07

The charging network for electric vehicles is expanding so it’s only natural that consumers more strongly consider buying them. This year has seen new EVs make their way into the sales space including the Tesla Model3 and redesigned Nissan Leaf. As the market expands, today’s offerings will need to step up their game to compete for buyer’s hard-earned dollars.

The BMW i3 has gotten a new grade for 2018, the BMW i3s. As the sportier sister of the i3, the i3s addresses some of the power and chassis concerns buyers had with the original model as a variant rather than a redesign. Is it enough?

For this review, I test drove the 2018 BMW i3s with a range extender. Its base MSRP is $51,500. On top of that, BMW added a Melbourne Red Metallic paint job ($550), Giga World ($1,800), Tech + Driving Assist Package with navigation ($2,500), blue seatbelt straps ($300), park distance control ($750), and Apple CarPlay ($300). Destination charges amounted to $995. The total MSRP of the model ended up at $58,695.

2018 BMW i3s exterior

The BMW i3s is not a pretty car. Quirky, yes. BMW’s signature kidney grille adorns the front, but the car still looks a touch like a gumdrop mid-melt. The i3s has a sportier chassis, wider track, and revised exterior compared to the base model i3 and somewhere along the way, the tires ended up looking too small for the body of the car.

2018 BMW i3s performance

The i3s is designed to be a bit wilder than the original version of the compact electric-sedan. It delivers a maximum 188 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, which helps knock down its zero to 60 mph acceleration time to 6.8 seconds. It has a higher top speed too, topping out at 99 mph.

The sportier look and additional power come at a cost with the i3s only getting 107-miles of all-electric range from the 33-kWh lithium-ion battery versus the i3’s 114. Both vehicles come with the option of a range extender, a couple-gallon fuel tank that extends the i3s’s range to about 180 miles. That equates to 109 MPGe when driving using only electricity and 35 mpg when running on just gasoline.

When the i3s was delivered to me, it came with a full tank of gasoline but with the battery nearly depleted. When plugged in to a 120-volt outlet, the car took nearly a full day to charge. That type of charging, Level 1, is called “trickle” for a reason. If you are investing in an electric vehicle, you’ll probably want to spend the money to install a Level 2 charger for your home, which can charge a vehicle in just a few hours.

Getting out on the road is a way to cut the cord from traditional barriers that keep us constantly in touch with the world. However, as an electric vehicle owner, you’re tied to the charging cord. Around town, I was fine using the 114-miles of all-electric range to run errands but when it came time to head to the airport, a 45-mile drive one way, I was wary of running out of juice. I couldn’t be promised a charging station at the airport, even in an off-site lot, so I was reliant on the gasoline powered range extender to get me back and forth. I didn’t have range anxiety. I was just disappointed.

Whether on rural roads, city streets, or the highway, being behind the wheel of the i3s is much like driving the Kia Soul. The BMW feels boxy and planted on the streets, despite being relatively agile. I prefer the handling of any number of other EVs to the way the i3s drives. The i3s is quick off the line with enough torque to give you confidence that you can get up to speed in a jiffy if need be.

2018 BMW i3s interior

The interior of the i3s is straight from the BMW fit and finish playbook, albeit with some quirky design touches to remind you that you’re in an electric vehicle. It has good wheel feel, straightforward dashboard design, and doesn’t let in much road noise.

A driver controls the base 6.5-inch or available 8.8-inch infotainment screen using a knob centrally located on the console where a traditional shifter would be in American vehicles. In front of the knob is a single cup holder. Between there and the HVAC controls is a gaping hole that can be used for storage and device charging. There is more storage in the center console.

The i3S’s seating position is upright, allowing for good visibility but not so stiff that you’re uncomfortable after a couple of hours behind the wheel.

2018 BMW i3s cargo

Accessing the back seats requires opening the suicide-style doors of the i3s, which is not the easiest way to get children, groceries, or pets in and out.

Though the i3s has abundant cargo room up front for the driver, rear cargo capacity isn’t as big as other hatchbacks, nor is there as much as some luxury small cars.

2018 BMW i3s safety

German automakers love their nanny systems but the i3s doesn’t come so loaded with safety technology that you’ll start reading the owner’s manual trying to find ways to disable them.

The charging network for electric vehicles is expanding so it’s only natural that consumers more strongly consider buying them. This year has seen new EVs make their way into the sales space including the Tesla Model3 and redesigned Nissan Leaf. As the market expands, today’s offerings will need to step up their game to compete for buyer’s hard-earned dollars. The BMW i3 has gotten a new grade for 2018, the BMW i3s. As the sportier sister of the i3, the i3s addresses some of the power and chassis concerns buyers had with the original model as a variant rather than…
With BMW slated to debut a number of new electric vehicles in the coming year, it may be wise to hold off buying the BMW i3s to see if the increased offerings have something more lifestyle-friendly for you.

2018 BMW i3s

Exterior
Interior
Infotainment
Performance
Fuel Economy
Safety

$58,695

With BMW slated to debut a number of new electric vehicles in the coming year, it may be wise to hold off buying the BMW i3s to see if the increased offerings have something more lifestyle-friendly for you.

2018 BMW i3s final thoughts 

The i3s is most held back by its range and unattractive body design. Consumers have a number of competitors to choose from that have at least as much upside as the i3s. For example, the Chevrolet Bolt has more all-electric range and abundant passenger space. The Nissan Leaf is more sedan-like and has more all-electric range though it does offer less horsepower. The Fiat 500e has less range but has funky styling for nearly $20,000 less.

With BMW slated to debut a number of new electric vehicles in the coming year, it may be wise to hold off buying the BMW i3s to see if the increased offerings have something more lifestyle-friendly for you.

2018 BMW i3s photo gallery

The manufacturer provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. Our opinion is always our own. View our disclosure policy for more information.

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Written by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Eileen is the writer of the nationally syndicated column Automotive Minute in The Business Journals, which explores the automotive industry focusing on news, reviews, and interviews. She loves finding out about the business strategy, design, and drivability of vehicles. Eileen is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report Best Cars.

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