We drove the BMW i3s REx: E-joy, style and cleverness on wheels…

E-driving is not only cool, it can also give you lots of driving pleasure. BMW has proved this point now already over 100.000 times last year with its E-fleet, more specifically i, BMW iPerformance and MINI vehicles with fully electric or plug-in hybrid drive systems. Of course, the i3 being its most popular icon. Indeed, this cleverly designed and styled car has grown into just that: a symbol of clever and durable mobility.

We drove for you the nimble and lively “s” version, and we loved every meter we drove it.

Hans Knol ten Bensel

One just has to read again our interview with “E” engineer Robert Irlinger, and more recent reports about BMW’s E-mobility activity. In its manufacturing strategy, BMW has well prepared its strategy. It will be able to adopt all thinkable gasoline/diesel/e-power drivetrain solutions on all its new platforms and factory production lines, achieving maximum flexibility to tune in and adapt to the changes in consumer’s demand in the coming decades.

The point in achieving substantial production volumes with the present generation of E-cars is to master fully the volume production know how and techniques of E-powered cars as well as its battery and drivetrain peculiarities.

They wanted to build up fully fledged in house expertise on these matters, and this is in our opinion indeed the only proper way to do it.

Charming, both inside and out

Coming to the i3s, we still like very much its design, not only the exterior but also its airy and joyous cabin. It exudes this futuristic aura which suits this I3 very well. The silent E-power does the rest. Together with the excellent sideways visibility it is relaxing and downright enjoyable to drive in town. Let us remind you here that the i3 has rear wheel drive, which has the immediate advantage that the steering is light and precise, that the car never feels front heavy nor wants to plough with understeer in tight corners and on top of it all, has an admirably short turning cycle.

The “s” version we tested here adds to the nimbleness with even more power, and if there is a supermini with a lot of punch, then this i3 is certainly it.

Efficient and offering all the range you want with the extender…

E Power peak is not less than 135 Kw or 184 hp, with torque of 270 Nm, with the range extender twin cylinder 0.65 liter scooter engine delivering 38 hp. Not that you run into a performance wall when the range extender sets in – which it does in the default condition when battery power is low at some 6 pct – as the engine is not connected to the rear wheels, but simply acts as a generator, keeping battery power up.

Here you see the range situation after 50 kilometers driving in eco pro+ mode, with 197 km of battery range left. The little arrow on top of this battery range bar shows the “cut in” point of the range extender at around 6 % remaining battery charge. Under the “eco pro+” driving style, the system calculates for the Range Extender a range of 177 km. 

Indeed the electric motor continues to propel the car also in this range extender mode, which means that battery power permitting, you can still benefit from the massive power and torque of the electric motor for short bursts of acceleration should traffic situations require this.

When you chnage the Range Extender “cut in” point by sellecting in the Car menu the “save battery charge” or “battery hold” mode, the Arrow clearly shows this… Here the battery is kept charged to give a further range – under identical driving conditions a used hitherto , with the default mode selected – of 105 km. 

Cruising speeds in range extender mode are still easily around 110-120 km, so it is easy to keep up with traffic also in this REx mode.

The i3s draws its energy from the lithium-ion high-voltage battery developed by the BMW Group with a capacity of 94 ampere hours (Ah) or 33 kilowatt hours (kWh).

With this range extender installed, there is no reason for any range anxiety in this i3s. In our European version, you can choose anytime for the “hold battery charge” mode provided the battery charge is lower than 75 pct. This possibility does not exist in the US version, where the range extender kicks in only when the battery is 6 pct. charged.

Starting and selecting drive or reverse is done with this idiosyncratic selector, also used for shut-off and “P”.

Remember that whenever you shut off the car, you have to select again the higher “battery hold” mode, as it jumps automatically to the default 6 pct charge condition. We could recharge our test car fully at the home garage plug overnight, after an extended 200 km drive along the Dutch and Belgian sea coast. On the charging subject, it should be noted that the functionality of the standard charging cable supplied with the new BMW i3s has been optimized and includes a temperature sensor.

Charging at home can be made extremely user-friendly thanks to the BMW i Wallbox which, in its most recent incarnation, can supply 11 kW of power to charge the high-voltage battery. This allows enough energy for an electric range of around 180 kilometres (112 miles) to be transferred in under three hours – five times quicker than with the standard charging cable.

The useful battery only range in the “eco pro+” mode is a good 250 km. In this mode, cruising speed is limited to 90 km/h, unless you operate the cruise control, and things get a bit spartan with the airco being shut off. Available acceleration power is still quite impressive though, and as we used the open roof in our test car, we could very well live with this function permanently engaged. We just remark here that the Range Extender increases the car’s overall range in everyday use by 150 kilometers (93 miles), before you either have to fuel up or recharge the batteries.

Practical and offering reasonable comfort

Seats are comfortable, understandably no electric adjustment is provided, given that this costs E power, but the steering wheel is adjustable through a wide range, which lets you find an ideal seating position soon. Also in the back, passengers get very easy access through the suicide opening rear doors, a layout which has been possible thanks to the very stiff carbon fiber cabin and chassis construction. Never forget that thanks to the abundant use of carbon fiber, this futuristic i3 is very light indeed, which makes the i3 (much) more energy efficient than a Tesla for instance. On the combined NEDC cycle, the new BMW i3s with range extender consumes 12.5 kWh of electric power per 100 kilometers and 0.7 litres of fuel (CO2 emissions: 14 g/km).

The suspension is rather firm, but not altogether uncomfortable, and the big wheels with a wider thread in the “s” version do help here. The new BMW i3s comes equipped as standard with sports suspension that includes a 10-millimetre drop in ride height. The additional 40 millimetres of track width compared to the BMW i3 is given added impact by the black wheel arch borders. Our test car came with 20-inch light-alloy wheels in double-spoke design that are 20 millimetres wider than the previously available versions. They can be ordered in the Bicolour and Jet Black colour variants.

Practicality also abounds in this i3. Large door bins are much appreciated, the rear seats can fold down in split fashion of course, and the rear backrests can be put more upright to enlarge luggage room. Luggage space is quite reasonable even with the Range Extender 2 cylinder tucked underneath. Both rear backrests can also be folded flat.

Just (very) fast off the mark…

Of course, the “S” version offers abundant performance, with a 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time in merely 6,9 seconds. Top speed is 160 km/h. Thanks to the wider tyres, handling is further improved, and this “S” version has excellent high speed cornering abilities. In this respect,  BMW stays faithful to its “Freude am Fahren” or freely translated “Driving pleasure” tradition, and also this electric BMW is a true BMW in every respect. We also liked the feel of the accelerator pedal, which also acts as a brake pedal when you lift the throttle, as the electric motor then functions as a generator and decelerates the car similar to moderate braking. With some training, you are perfectly able to move around town accelerating and braking,  by only using your right foot.

Intelligent services…

A package of new services were introduced in July 2017 under the BMW Connected+ banner which enable a highly personalized and more straightforward display of information inside the car. All of the digital services related to BMW Connected and BMW Connected+ will be available in the BMW i3 and BMW i3s. These span intelligent route planning, including stop-offs at charging stations or petrol stations (Send my Routes to Car), sharing of the car’s current location via SMS and live link (Share Live Trip Status), personalized display of relevant in-car information (BMW Onboard), seamless transfer of route instructions to the customer’s smartphone or smartwatch once the car is parked (Navigate Door-to-Door) and direct syncing of contacts and addresses to the navigation system (My Destinations).


The BMW i3 is a very clever car, and its stylishness together with its excellent engineering gives it tons of pure panache. It offers masterful performance and driving pleasure and is as an E-vehicle very efficient.

The range extender makes it also totally versatile and transforms it in a very useful proposition even in the country we live in, with its still totally insufficient E-charging infrastructure, which imposes practically still the use of either (plug in) hybrid or range extender solutions. The fact that the range extender small engine acts as a generator is very clever, as it allows even then the use of the abundant power of the electric engine, which is one of the many strong points of this BMW.

The carbon fiber construction as well as the clean futuristic styling make this car future proof for decades to come, so if you want a premium supermini to accompany you for years to come into our environmentally conscious world, this is the one…

Hans Knol ten Bensel