BMW South Africa announced its updated electric i3 and i3s earlier this year and I drove it for the first time this week at a media event at BMW HQ in Midrand.
The new models have a bumped up battery capacity of 120Ah (42kWh) with a range of 260km, an increase from the previous 94Ah (33kWh) battery with a 200km range. The 2019 model is now double the capacity of 2014’s first-gen model of 60Ah (22kWh) and a range of 130km, which was introduced locally in 2015.
The i3 has an output of 125kW and goes from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds, and the i3s (sport) has an output of 135kW and does 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds. BMW says the range is actually between 260km to 380km.
Along with the improved battery and range, the updated i3 models have a new body finish, new colours for the optional interiors and adaptive LED headlights.
BMW says it has sold over 600 i vehicles in South Africa since launch. Important to note here they are all not necessarily BEVs, but a mix of the hybrid i8 and REX models on the i3. The company now has a total of 58 charging stations across the country, and five are DC chargers.
Quick drive and recharge
I’ve previously driven the REX model last June, along with the i8 Roadster when it launched, so driving the new i3s (sport version) was definitely a step up. If you’ve read my previous articles about EVs, I’ve gotten used to it starting up silently. The drive was smooth and calm, with maximum power achieved when you put your foot flat down. This is why I love driving EVs, in case I’ve never mentioned it before! 😉 Oh, it has a limited top speed of 160km/h.
Our drive was a short one but avoiding the highway, from Midrand to Sandton because I opted not to go on the longer route of 95km one way. The car’s regenerative braking is powerful, and you probably don’t even need to use the brakes because once your foot is off the accelerator, it’s already braking and recharging for you. This also bodes well for the brake pads.
Once I got to Sandton, I made use of the ChargeNow card for the first time to recharge the vehicle. It was very simple, I didn’t need assistance. It was a matter of tapping the card to begin and choosing an available charger. The session ends when you tap the card again and place the charger back in its slot.
A MILESTONE 200 000km IN A FIRST-GEN i3
At the media event, we heard from Shaun Maidment, a first-gen i3 owner who purchased his vehicle in August 2016. Since then, he has reached a milestone 200 000+ km in his car, which places his vehicle as the highest mileage EV in Africa and 15th in the world amongst i3 models.
This car has changed my life. I did cheat in the beginning. I bought the REX version because I was scared like everybody else. But it’s not complicated at all; it’s ridiculously simple. There are many days when I drive 200 to 300 kilometres in a day and you just plan your day slightly differently.— Shaun Maidment, first-gen i3 owner to exceed 200 000km
What I found interesting was that Maidment says he could easily get up to 300km range in his first-gen vehicle, which has a range of 120km, but as he says, it’s all about your driving style (like regenerative braking, vs hitting the brakes). He also completed a return trip from Pretoria to Cape Town, which took four days, purely for the experience. Brave! And was only turned down once to use a power socket, incidentally at a petrol station. He had no issues anywhere else.
Maidment says it’s “incredibly hard to empty the battery” and you don’t really need the REX model. “If there’s power, you can use it anywhere.” He does not own a wall box charger, but makes use of a regular wall socket to charge his vehicle using the cable that is supplied with the i3. The increase to his electricity bill has been between R700-R1000 a month.
Another little nugget I found interesting from Maidment was that he said a fast charger didn’t really work for him. He prefers to stop for two hours instead, and get work done on his laptop or have a meal. Instead of a 30-40 minute stop from a fast charge because it’s not enough time to get work done or have a meal. I guess it all depends how you structure your day, and how efficient you are with time.
His reply to everyone who asks: “What about Eskom?” in relation to load-shedding was “we’ve got electricity most of the time”. He charges his car overnight so none of the power cuts affected him.
He sees electric cars as another gadget that makes life easier. He explains that even his nine-year-old son can recharge the car, whereas a kid cannot go to the petrol station to get fuel.
In the three years and nine months Maidment has been driving his car, it only lost between 6-9% of its original battery capacity, in terms of wear and tear. Lithium-ion batteries don’t need to be depleted fully to be recharged, so Maidment recharged his car every night, regardless of what range was left.
🚗⚡️🔌 Had loads of fun driving the new @BMW_SA i3s this morning – I love instant torque 😆. It has a 120Ah battery with a 260km range.@PrioriLess drove over 200 000km in his first-gen i3 (BEV) & tells us you can easily get 300km from a 120km-range vehicle! #BornElectric pic.twitter.com/SYPLtGK7tD
— Nafisa Akabor (@nafisa1) May 14, 2019
He took his i3 for its first service at 100 000kms! Other than getting the brake pads replaced, he only needed an occasional headlamp change. He believes the vehicle “more than pays for itself”.
After explaining all of this, I understood why Maidment said “people’s perception of electric mobility is flawed”. Before I heard him speak, my thinking was that if you’re charging an electric car overnight, the load-shedding situation should not be an issue, but I see a lot of misinformed comments online pinpointing this as why it won’t work in SA. I am basing it on the “regular” load shedding schedule that does not cut power between 10pm and 6am, at the very least.
Hearing Maidment speak first-hand about his real-world experience was an eye-opener to me. All my EV write-ups have been in relation to what I know technically, but not necessarily practically in the long-term. I see the benefit of a regular charger now and how a 2-hour stop could be more productive, vs a short quick one, unless it’s urgent.