When we reviewed the BMW i3 back in 2014, the little rear-wheel drive city car left us quite impressed. However, the i3 has always had a couple of flaws in comparison with other electric vehicles out there; it costs too much and the range isn’t very good, even if you go for the optional two-cylinder range-extending engine. It appears BMW has decided to address the latter issue, because from this summer the i3 will now come with a 33kWh battery in place of the current 22kWh unit.
Battery technology—and the amount of kilowatt-hours a dollar buys—keeps getting better each year. Certainly it improves measurably over the lifespan of a car, and the fact that BMW has seen this and bumped the battery spec for the i3 is a promising sign for the industry. That probably sounds like we’re damning with faint praise, but technology now moves too rapidly for OEMs to stick their old cycles of refreshing cars every four years. If BMW wants to sell any i3s once the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 start shipping, a range boost is the bare minimum it needs to do.
The new battery is 50 percent bigger, so more than 100 miles (160km) should be possible on a full charge. The gas tank for the range extender engine will also grow by 25 percent; expect to stop for gas every 75 miles if you try road-tripping. These range tweaks should help boost the i3’s appeal, but before long the Bolt and Model 3 are going to make people expect 200+ miles from their EV as a bare minimum.
Happily for existing (and even potential) i3 owners, BMW says that current i3s can have the new battery retrofitted as part of a special program, although no one is saying anything about how much that might cost yet. Again, this kind of thinking is a promising sign for an industry that’s never really considered upgrades as important. Tesla has excelled at pushing out new functionality to owners across the world on a regular basis, with both software upgrades and hardware retrofits, offering a better battery pack for Roadster owners in the past and underbody “armor” for the Model S fleet.
Now, the burning question we’re left with is whether there’s also an i8 bump in the works. So, BMW, is there?