So when BMW decided to showcase the all-new i3s at the 2018 Delhi Auto Expo, alongside the sexy BMW i8 Roadster (that now carries a significantly updated new hybrid drivetrain - well the electric bits for the most part) - it led to quite some surprise. Is BMW launching the i3s in India, was the inevitable question. Gauging market response, readiness and customer reaction was the primary motive said BMW. And it is with a view to extend that same experiment that the company has imported a fleet of i3s models into India. They're going to be showcased around the country, garnering more reaction and feedback. Most of that will involve static cars, like at the Expo! But luckily I got to be amongst the very first to play guinea pig to this experiment - on the road.
To understand the BMW i3s, we have to take a little history lesson. It was in 2013 that BMW embarked on a mission to go green by introducing not just a new model or two, but a whole new sub brand. And BMWi was 'born electric'. The precursor had been the wildly futuristic Concept Vision Efficient Dynamics - which went on to become the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sportscar. And it debuted alongside the i3 all-electric city hatchback. Both cars shared their carbon fibre passenger module glued on to the aluminium chassis. But of course they were very different animals. While the i8 exhilarated, the i3 was meant to inspire. That said, while the i8 went on to garner much acclaim and gain a flagship role for the BMW Group, the i3 suffered for lack of understanding, conservative, almost boring looks, and yes - not quite the most convincing green mobility solution. Despite that the car was recognised for what it brought to the sustainable mobility discussion, and even win the World Green Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year Awards in 2014.
A lot of that changed when the i3 was given a new battery and motor, and it managed to go up in terms of all round performance - including driving range. That happened in 2017 when we got the 94 Ah model with one and a half times the battery capacity and driving range increased to nearly 200 kms. This suddenly made the i3 a lot more credible, convincing and therefore attractive. That car also went on to bag the World Urban Car of the Year title for 2017.
And buoyed by this renewed interest and resultant success, BMW decided to excite further, by then bringing us the i3s - yes as the name suggests that is a performance variant. So finally an all electric car from BMW that doesn't compromise on the driving range side and also on being a true BMW - with sheer driving pleasure on offer. Well, within reason that is. I first drove the i3s in Portugal in November last year when the car was first given to the international press to test.
It was a surprisingly enjoyable drive and yes I have to admit - an eye opener. Not just on what BMW had dome to give the i3 such a different character in the form of the S version, but also on how far electric cars have been able to come in a short span of time. It is in the past 12-18 months really that we have seen several all-electrics finally set out to be more than just green counterparts of their fossil fuelled siblings. They are now built as cars - with the driver, driving pleasure and performance very much at the heart of that development. The BMW i3s personifies this change.
So today my intention is to see if that holds true on our roads too. This isn't therefore a review since it goes a little beyond that in its scope. The car with me is finished in the BMWi signature paint scheme - Capparis White with Frozen Blue accents.
You can get 5 other options including the fabulous Melbourne Red with Frozen Grey. The car also has the new green license plate - specially earmarked for EVs, as announced by the government. The i3s is way sportier looking, while staying quirky still! With it BMW launched the facelift on the entire i3 range. The car looks edgier, sexier, and more muscular now. The flared wheel arches, and bigger wheels on the S also add to the look.
The changes that BMW has made to go from i3 to the i3s include wider tyres (relatively speaking), and stiffer springs, dampers, anti-roll bars. These aren't active dampers, which means that, when you do flick the i3s into Sport mode, there is no dramatic change in the ride quality. Instead you get a stiffer feeling in the steering, and the car surges forward. Yes there is instant change in acceleration and throttle response, and the display for remaining driving range suddenly drops!
Luckily you can still accelerate relatively quickly but top speed then gets limited to 90 kmph. Handling and cornering are not BMW - S model worthy perhaps! But then this is a BMWi, and from that perspective you won't be disappointed. In any case it's really the acceleration that stands out as the big takeaway and fun factor on this car. Especially in Sport mode, you just need to tap the throttle and it goes!
The car is nimble, agile and surprisingly fun even in city traffic. And that's the part it's meant to play. In a city like Delhi or Mumbai - even with the mind numbing traffic congestion and jams, an over 150 kmph range on a full charge could work out. So, if BMW was to bring such a car to India, and you decide you want to buy one, wrap your head around the fact that it will cost you! The current i3s in the US market starts at $47,650 - or roughly Rs 35 lakh. Throw in our duty structure, and we are talking about a minimum price tag of around Rs 50 lakh - a fair amount of money for such a small car. And I would imagine BMW would consider throwing in the( two-cylinder petrol) range extender for that little peace of mind.