BMW brings a sportier look to the SUV with their i3 EV

The SUV onslaught is a long way from slowing, according to the head of BMW Australia, Marc Werner.

The forthright CEO is forecasting that in the "short term" SUVs will outsell passenger cars by two-to-one, and the boom will be driven by luxury brands, which are bolstering their ranges to cater for global demand for high riding wagons.

In 2018 sales of SUVs overtook passenger cars (hatches, sedans, wagons and sports cars) for the first time, marking a significant turning point for the new-car market.

Shock tactics

In line with the brand's global push, BMW Australia is also continuing its electric vehicle push.

Werner has again slammed the federal government for inaction on electric vehicles, calling for policies and strategies to make them more appealing to buyers.

He continues to call for tax breaks – including cuts to stamp duty and GST relief – and the installation of charging infrastructure, as well as policies to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

Werner says "consumers want something different" and that BMW is noticing a "clear trend" from regular petrol-powered models to vehicles with some form of electrification.

But the sales numbers are tiny – less than 0.1 percent of nearly 1.2 million vehicles sold annually.

Apartment with benefits

Not that everyone is ignoring electric cars.


Werner says property developers have been buying the i3 EV as a tempter for off-the-plan apartments.

However, at least one property developer, Michael Yates, reportedly found that adding an i3 to the sales pitch wasn't enough for one of his recent developments, struggling to sell the required number.

"We're also working very closely with property developers," says Werner. "We've recently cooperated with property developers that have sold apartments with the (recharging) infrastructure required … including the sale of an i3, for example."

BMW says there is more awareness from people living near the CBD, some of whom are prepared to car share and like the idea of an electric vehicle.

Sporty does it

Sporty driving has long been a BMW hallmark, so it's no surprise BMW is starting to leverage that with its electric vehicles.

An update to the diminutive i3 injects some of that DNA.

Draped over the lightweight carbon fibre frame of the i3s – it's $69,900, or $1200 more than the regular i3 that continues for now - is a new body that houses broader wheel arches, new bumpers and new headlights.

The result muscles up what was – and, to some extent, still is – a gangly-looking machine.

The tyres are still skinny compared with most other cars, but they're a fraction wider than before and now measure 20 inches in diameter, an inch up on before.

The electric motor has also been beefed up to now produce 130kW and 270Nm, enough to launch it to 100km/h in less than seven seconds.

Up the fun factor

All that adds up to a car that's more enjoyable to drive.

The i3s feels more surefooted on quick direction changes than the regular i3, something helped by the accurate steering and ludicrously tight turning circle.

The drawcard, though, is the seamless surge of the electric motor.

There's only 135kW on offer, but it's backed up by a solid 270Nm of torque. Factor in the relatively low weight – it's just 1265kg – and the i3s hums along nicely.

Breaking it down

Performance is great, accelerating to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds. That's quicker than the slowest Porsche on the market, the V6-powered Cayenne SUV.

So, it's a great car for zipping along with traffic. It'll also put on a reasonable show for the traffic light grand prix, responding almost instantly to any tap on the throttle.

Conversely, take your foot off the accelerator and it feels like you've squeezed the brake, such is the rate of deceleration courtesy of the reversal of the flow of the electric motor, one of the tricks used to recapture energy that would otherwise be lost in the brake system.

Numbers game

Despite the hype, the i3 is tiny for BMW – not only in stature but also in sales. In 2017 just 118 were sold. To put that in perspective, Ferrari sold 210 cars in the same period.

But BMW is expecting big things elsewhere.

Despite losing market share in 2017 – a result of "restructuring" and preparing the dealer network for growth - Werner still aims to beat Mercedes-Benz, something that could prove a challenge given the strength of the three-pointed star in Australia; Mercedes-Benz accounts for almost 30 percent of the luxury market.

A change in the wind

Werner also blames the life cycle of some of its big sellers; sales typically slow towards the end of a car's model life and the popular X3, the example, was replaced late in the year.

He says BMW's turn is coming.

"We're going to strike back," he says, adding that BMW is "preparing for future growth" off the back of new models, including the recently arrived X3 and the upcoming new 3-Series.

"We always want to be number one," he says. "The product offensive will be the major driver for future growth."