I picked up the BMW i3s in BMW Belux HQ, near the city of Antwerp in Belgium ready to hit the road straight away to the UK. I had the Ace Cafe EV meet to get to for one thing!
Of course, the BMW i3 is a very familiar vehicle to me after I drove two of them 60,000km around Europe during 2017. You can read more about that here.
I was quite excited to experience the i3s and see if and how the driving experience had been improved. Driving from Belgium to the UK would certainly give me lots of road-time to experience the car, as well as give a bit of insight into a journey I make very regularly in an electric car. This post focuses on the journey itself, with a full review coming soon.
Distance: The distance itself is pretty much exactly 500km (310 miles) if I include a small *incredibly important* detour to get some vegan waffles.
Charging Stops: 3 stops planned in 3 different countries (Belgium, France, UK). All are CCS.
Crossing: Channel crossing will be via Le Shuttle. Le Shuttle is ideal for EV owners because they have free charging points available (including Tesla Superchargers) at both the Calais and Folkestone terminals. You need to charge before your crossing as you won’t have access to the terminal on the other side upon exit.
Step 1: BMW Belux HQ to Jabbeke Service Station (via waffles)
Charging Access: RFID Card
The i3s exterior gives a bolder, badder statement than the standard i3, with the width of the car strongly emphasised. The glossy blackness of the body and accents on this (fluid black) version as well as the glossy black 20″ alloys delivers the sporty vibe well. The car is physically lower too, by 10mm, which doesn’t sound like much, but all adds to the overall expression of this car. While the i3 looked like a friendly space-age vehicle, the i3s looks much more aggressive, in a good way.
On the inside, it feels very familiar. I’m grateful to see the infotainment system has been upgraded- an element that the i3 is often criticised on.
Once I’ve loaded up the i3s with my suitcase, selection of black boots and a good playlist to test out the upgraded Harman Kardon soundsystem, I set off in the direction of the city of Gent, where I intend to take a detour for a vegan coffee and waffles fix at V-BOX, a vegan streetfood house of tastiness that is conveniently pretty much en route.
It’s a great opportunity for me to evaluate my driving experience so far. The previous driver of this particular i3s was clearly having a lot of fun, because the starter range with a full battery is just 130km.
In fact, by the time my noble BMW steed reaches the first charging stop at Jabbeke Service Station Fast-E charger I have driven 145km with plenty of battery to spare.
Step 2: Jabbeke Service Station to Calais Le Shuttle Terminal
Charging Access: Plug in and go!
The second step was pretty much entirely motorway driving, but was a short distance at only 95km, so there was no need to worry about motorway speed too much. I will often average at around 110kmph (the speed limits are typically 120 or 130) in Europe to balance efficiency with a speed that doesn’t feel too snail-like.
In sports mode, BMW have certainly made some fantastic improvements to the handling of the car. The suspension is noticeably firmer and the car corners like a dream. The turning circle on the i3 was always very good, but always felt a bit nerve wracking cornering at speed. This has improved with the i3s and now feels like a car I’d be more willing to throw into corners.
The best thing about the i3 was always the first portion of the acceleration curve, and this has even fractionally improved with the i3s. There’s not many cars that can keep up at the lights from 0-50kmph.
I’ve also been enjoying the upgraded Harman Kardon soundsystem a lot, especially as it comes with a speed-controlled volume setting. There is no better car for an audiophile than an EV and this soundsystem really delivers. I initially arrived in Belgium from the UK in the Tesla Model S (also with the upgraded soundsystem option), so my ears are feeling pretty happy at this stage.
Upon my arrival at the Le Shuttle terminal- and once through the ticket gates- I park up in the charging bays in front of the terminal building and connect to the CCS. Charging here is free and the staff are always really helpful with ensuring you can get a full charge before boarding the train. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can be pushed back onto a later train if that gives you more charging time.
I also begin to wonder if this is the first i3s to cross the channel to the UK (in a non-shipping sense)…
Fully charged up, i3s and I board the train, which takes around 35 minutes to make the crossing.
Step 3: Folkstone Le Shuttle Terminal to South Mimms M25 Service Station
Charging Access: Ecotricity App
It’s dark when I arrive in the UK and I have 150km of motorway to go until I reach the next charging stop on the M25. Of course I’ve also managed to hit rush hour traffic, so the M25 is a carpark of doom.
South Mimms Service Station is a regular stop for EV drivers, with Ecotricity providing points close to the building and also a Tesla Supercharger collection up towards the back of the carpark. The charge with Ecotricity costs 30p per kWh.
This is the final stop to charge now, as I just have 110km to go until I reach the office. I’ve noticed on this journey (a regular trip for me) the i3s loses about 25km of range compared to the standard i3- the sacrifice you make for the extra power.
All charged up, I turn up the soundsystem and search for my Nine Inch Nails playlist before heading back onto the road.
Some Extra Charging Notes:
I aim to arrive at every charger with 20-30% battery spare
I charge to 80-90% in order to optimise time and to not keep other EV drivers waiting (although I will always aim to get a full charge at Le Shuttle if I can and if no one is waiting)
I only look for CCS charging for these kind of journeys, unless I want to destination-charge somewhere interesting
I frequently drive across multiple countries, therefore normally know which apps/RFID cards are needed. In some countries it’s not always an option to just pay and go with phone apps, so it is important to research a little bit in advance for a stress-free trip.
This was just the start of my BMW i3s experience. More content coming soon, including full review with i3/i3s comparison, how the i3s handles in the snow, and the Geneva Motor Show 2018.
With thanks to BMWi Belux