BMW crams more batteries into compact 2017 i3, boosts range to 112 miles

bmwi32017-076.jpg
BMW

The 2017 BMW i3 hasn't changed much compared with the two preceding model years, but one new option makes a huge difference to the compact EV's real-world viability: a new 94 Ah battery pack that significantly boosts the zero-emissions cruising range. The bigger battery is joined by a few supporting tech options in the dashboard. And don't worry, if you bought an i3 last year; BMW isn't leaving its current owners out of the fun.

Here's everything that you need to know about the updated for 2017 BMW i3.

More battery capacity

This time, the i3 is available with a more capacious battery pack option. BMW was able to reengineer its lithium ion cells to be more compact and energy-dense, which allows the automaker to squeeze more cells and more power into the same space within the i3's body. The new, virtually larger battery pack now boasts 96 cells in total -- each about the size of a medium paperback book -- and a total capacity of 94 amp hours (Ah).

There's now about 50 percent more capacity than the older 60-Ah pack and about 50 percent more range. BMW claims that the i3 is rated at 186 miles (300 km) of optimal range, but officially admits that will work out to about 114 to 124 miles (200 km) of real-world operation for most drivers dealing with traffic and hills.

bmwi32017-104.jpg
BMW

Interestingly, the 94-Ah battery pack will join the 60-Ah model in the lineup, not replace it. Models with the smaller battery pack will continue to be sold alongside the new model, for those owners who want to pay less or don't need the extra range. Even more interesting is the idea that owners who bought an i3 with the smaller battery last year or those who have a change of heart after buying the 60-Ah model can pay BMW to have the more dense 94-Ah unit swapped in to increase the range. BMW will keep the removed battery packs after the swap for use in demo projects, stationary uses and other unspecified purposes; the automaker won't just trash them.

Slightly longer charging time, but not really

More battery capacity means that it will also take longer to charge the 94-Ah i3. On a 220V charging station, expect about 4.5 hours from flat to full. With its 11 kW onboard charging system, however, it can reach an 80 percent charge (about 100 miles) in just under 3 hours, which is fairly impressive and about the same amount of time it takes the 60-Ah i3 to reach a similar range.

If you can find a DC fast-charging station, the i3 can be hustled to an 80 percent charge in just about 40 minutes.

To help you to find those charging stations, the 2017 i3 features the latest version of the BMW Connected Drive technology in the dashboard -- which downloads the location of nearby charging stations with availability onto the map and allows the i3's navigation software to account for traffic when choosing the most energy-efficient routes -- and in the driver's pocket with a smartphone app that allows you to remotely monitor the charging state and more. The i3 also hooks the owner up with the no-cost access to the BMW ChargeNow service for two years, which permits easy access and billing via the ChargePoint network of public charging stations.

Charging at home is very important part of EV and PHEV ownership and the i3's BMW i-Charging Station wall box also gets a redesign for this generation. Most folks likely don't think about the design of the wall box, but BMW has made the unit smaller and designed it so the charging cable can be looped neatly around the box and off of the ground. The new box offers up to 22 kW of output to charge the i3 quickly.

Later, BMW will also offer i-Charging Station Plus and i-Charging Station Connect models. The former boasts an even faster level of charging for European markets with compatible power grids. The latter adds a Wi-Fi web connection to the charging station for smarter charging control and an RFID reader for controlled access for chargers installed in shared areas, like office parking lots or driveways.

The fastest compact EV in its class

Motivational duties for the i3 are handled solely by a 125-kW, 170-horsepower hybrid synchronous electric motor. Floor the accelerator and the weird-looking little compact will do zero-62 mph (100 kmph) in 7.3 seconds -- not a mind-blowing level of acceleration, but the way the power comes on instantaneously is at least giggle-inducing -- which is the fastest sprint in its compact EV class, according to Bimmer. Only the Chevrolet Spark EV comes close at about 7.9 seconds.

bmwi32017-018.jpg
BMW

I was able to test the 2017 i3 at an event organized by BMW in Munich, Germany, and found that it behaved pretty much identical to the i3 that I was able to test here in the US last year. The acceleration and performance haven't changed. The handling is still actually quite good, despite the EV rolling what appears to be a full set of space saver spare tires. And highway cruising is about as nice as could be expected from a relatively tall city car with a short wheelbase -- high-speed Autobahn blasts made me a bit nervous, but thankfully the i3 never felt squirrelly thanks to its low center of mass.

The range extender is still an option

The i3 is an electric car, but a two-cylinder gasoline range extender is available with both battery capacities. The extender has absolutely no physical connection to the wheels -- it's only a generator of electricity for the e-motor -- and adds an extra 93 miles (150 km) of cruising range per tank of gas, effectively transforming the i3 into a PHEV with unlimited range. It also sounded pretty terrible when I was able to test it last year, making the larger battery pack even more of a godsend for those prospective owners who just need a bit more range.

I wasn't able to test a range extender model during my short leg behind the wheel of the new i3, but you can check out our previous review for everything you need to know.

New colors, new price

We're scraping the bottom of the barrel here for changes, but the 2017 i3 will be offered with a new exterior color option, the same i Frozen Blue that you'll find on the BMW i8. There's also a new interior theme option -- a Dark Oak wood scheme that looks fantastic on the i3's excellent cabin with reclaimed and recycled materials.

bmwi32017-022.jpg
BMW

The 2017 BMW i3 94 Ah starts at $44,595 -- about a $1,200 premium over the 60-Ah model. Adding the gasoline extender on top of the big battery (goodbye, range anxiety) bumps the price up to $48,445 before options and destination charges.

CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

Discuss 2017 BMW i3 (94 Ah)