2018 BMW i3s first drive review: sportier and nearly as efficient

BMW’s Test Fest in Palm Springs, California, at The Thermal Club attracts a broad range of cars. The star of the show is the 600-horsepower 2018 BMW M5. But before I can test that wild sport sedan on the track, I’ll do my best to balance my carbon footprint in the new 2018 BMW i3s.

BMW has added the i3s as a sportier model to the i3 lineup for 2018. It gets sportier suspension settings, wider tires, more aggressive bodywork, and a more powerful motor that puts out 137 kilowatts (184 horsepower) and 199 pound-feet of torque versus 127 kw (170 hp) and 184 lb-ft in the standard i3.

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I’m starting off the day with an 18-mile drive to the track in the i3s. The 33-kwh battery has almost a full charge and it shows 88 miles of range when I put the drive-mode selector in Eco Pro Plus mode. I want to get a feel for the various modes on my route, so I try them all, but I have an eye toward efficiency, so I’m running in Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus most of the way.

Those two modes come close to one-pedal driving, as the brake-energy regeneration kicks in pretty hard when I let off the accelerator pedal. Acceleration is dulled a bit, too, but this car is still quick off the line.

In Eco Pro Plus, the accelerator pedal has a detent that “limits” the speed to 56 mph. Tip it in farther, though, or floor it off the line, and the car gets the hint: it will go faster than 56 mph, all the way up to 100 mph, 7 mph faster than the standard i3.

Eco Pro is programmable. You can set that detent between 50 and 80 mph, and choose a more efficient mode for the climate control system. A display on the center screen will show you how efficient you have driven based on the settings you choose, and the range is between 70 and 100 percent.

When I come to a couple of stop signs on the edge of town, it’s time to try some full acceleration sprints. I come to a stop, let the brake regen do most of the work, toggle the steering column-mounted selector to Sport, then jump on it. The car gets up and goes with impressive but silent verve, hitting 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, 0.4 second faster than the base i3.

It should be noted, however, that I’m in an i3s with the range-extending 2-cylinder engine, which adds 273 pounds and brings the total to 3,278 pounds. Without that little 0.6-liter, the i3s hits 60 mph in 6.8 seconds compared to 7.2 seconds for the all-electric base i3.

The steering also takes on a heavy feel in Sport mode. In fact, despite its light weight due to its carbon fiber-intensive construction, the whole car feels heavy. Must be due to that battery sitting low in the body.

After a couple acceleration runs, I try out Comfort mode, which is a good compromise between the weight and response of Sport and the dull feel of the Eco modes.

Then its back to Eco Pro Plus for the run to the track. I arrive with 86 miles of range remaining. Somehow, I only used two miles of range over 18 miles, despite some hard launches.

That’s impressive, and the i3s offers excellent efficiency ratings overall. With the range extender, it is EPA rated at 109 MPGe and 35 mpg combined. Those numbers match the standard i3, but without the range extender the numbers are down slightly to 126 MPGe city, 99 highway, 112 combined versus 129/99/118 mpg for the i3.

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