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BMW i3 Range Extender (2017) long-term test review

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Has the electric car come of age? You’ll surely have noticed range creep, as the claimed journey distances achievable on a single charge become ever longer. Renault’s Zoe and the pioneering Nissan Leaf have both been given substantial battery boosts in recent months – and now it’s the turn of the trendsetting BMW i3 supermini.

Which is why we’re running the new i3 94Ah model in 2017, to see if the plug-in car has suddenly become a whole lot more viable. We’ve a sneaking suspicion that it has, as battery technology improves, charging networks expand and range anxiety dwindles. That’s the theory, at least…

To be on the safe side, we’ve plumped for the i3 Range Extender – the one with a tiny 647cc two-cylinder petrol engine snuck under the boot floor to act as a mobile generator and keep you going if you can’t hook up to the mains. Isn’t that the best of both worlds? The ability to drive a pure EV day-to-day, but keep the safety net of extra range just when you need it? Living in the rural Midlands as I do, I find BMW’s quoted 276-mile range tremendously reassuring, giving an extra 90 miles over earlier i3s.

We have electric points at the work CAR park, but I don’t (yet) have a plug in the driveway at home. I’ll investigate residential charging in the coming weeks. This degree of logistical fine-tuning reflects the ground-up rethink that driving an electric car requires from all of us.

It’s clear the old order is being disrupted from all sides. You only have to look at the i3 to realise this is a radically modern car. Its short, squat dimensions and tallboy silhouette still look like a futuristic transport pod, despite being a four-year-old design – it’s quite unlike any other small car. Ours wears the £1080 optional, super-skinny 20-inch alloys (below), lending it a cool, desirable chic, even though I do wish we had chosen a brighter paint colour than the optional gunmetal Mineral Grey (another optional extra at £530).

The interior is equally progressive. Ours has the £1000 Loft cabin trim applied, bringing Sensatec artificial leather in Carum Grey and metallic-looking dashboard trims. It’s crisp, distinctive and very modern – especially the exaggerated hippy style of the recycled dash-top materials, flecked by chunks of old newspaper and 8-series of yesteryear. Probably.

Despite its compact dimensions (it’s just 3999mm long), the i3 is roomy in the front for two and visibility is excellent all-round, making it easy to thread along tight city streets. We’ve yet to swing open the suicide rear doors and test the back seats, but it’s useful to know we can transport a family of four without needing a big diesel X5 in convoy to carry the kids.

Will anyone actually use an i3 for family duties? Or will it remain consigned as a city hopabout for well-heeled urbanites? Be sure to drop us a line if you’re running an electric BMW, as we’d love to hear how you’re getting along.

If you own an i3, tweet me here

Chances are, owners will be early adopters unafraid of splashing some cash on a premium product. For the i3 is not cheap. Prices today start at £32,380 after the £4500 government subsidy, which is a heck of a lot for a small car, if not too shocking for a carbonfibre-based electric shock-and-awe machine from BMW.

Of course, many customers will in fact lease their i3, and a main dealer should be able to get you in to a £37k Range Extender like ours for around £306 a month on a Select PCP. This requires a £3999 deposit and a two-year term, with interest charged at 2.9% APR. Suddenly, that nearly £40k list price looks a whole lot more tempting.

Whether you should be tempted or not remains to be seen. I can’t wait to find out if the range is as good as it’s claimed to be. If the ChargeNow network is as readily available and operational when we need to plug in. If the carry-along, range-extending engine can keep us going when we can’t. And how running costs compare with the BMW i8 sports car we’re testing in parallel.

Stay tuned for our regular updates as we find out if the road to iSalvation is a saintly stroll with lashings of feelgood factor or an uphill slog fraught with range anxiety. Let’s hope Electric Avenue’s not a dead end…

Logbook: BMW i3 Range-Extender

Engine 125kW electric motor (equivalent to 168bhp, 184lb ft), with 647cc 2cyl petrol range-extender to top up battery

bmw_i3_rex_97 bmw_i3_rex_98 bmw_i3_rex_99Gearbox Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Stats 8.1sec 0-62mph, 93mph, 12g/km CO2

Price £31,560

As tested £37,009 (prices quoted after Government Plug-in Car Grant)

Miles this month 31

Total 2413


Official MPG 471

Fuel this month £0

Extra costs £0