BMW i3s raises questions over electric cars

Electric cars haven’t exactly taken off within the local automotive market with products such as the Nissan Leaf, BMW’s i3 and more recently, deeply impressive, Jaguar i-Pace, not breaking any sales chart records.

That being said, the expectation was never for these silent operators to take massive market share but rather to showcase what all-electric mobility is all about, while also encouraging the development of local charging infrastructure. Recently I had the updated BWM i3 on test, more specifically the i3s; without the range-extending petrol motor.

A question of tax

Before I get to the i3, I feel as though it is important to address the issues surrounding electric vehicles (EVs) locally. The sales of EV vehicles locally have been slow, to say the least, a large factor in this equation is likely the 43% of government tax placed upon these vehicles.

In countries that are genuinely looking to promote the sale of electric vehicles, there are incentives such as tax breaks or rebates when purchasing an EV. At the current price of the i3 that I tested, it would take more than five years to offset the cost of ownership of a petrol-powered Volkswagen Golf. With improved taxation and a lower list price, electric cars would be closer to petrol and diesel-powered cars in price and would provide a far more affordable transport solution considering that it is far cheaper to charge a car than it is to fill it up with fuel.

A question of relevance

It’s no secret that South Africa still burns old dinosaurs to produce electricity. Over 85% of South African power comes from burning coal, a further 5% from nuclear power, nearly 2% from diesel, a shade over 3% from natural gas and the remainder, or roughly 5%, comes from clean, sustainable sources, according to Stats SA from a 2016 report. It then begs the question, how clean is your electric car?

Take into consideration the process of producing the car, which is still made from metal, plastic and more importantly, is powered by a lithium-ion battery, the same alkali metal referred to as ‘white gold’ which has been associated with water, air and soil contamination when mined.

Other entrants to follow

It’s not too often that we get to drive electric vehicles here at Autodealer, so it would be remiss of me to not include some information surrounding future electric vehicle introductions from a local context. In 2020 we can expect a new version of the Nissan Leaf as well as two German SUV entrants in the form of the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Audi e-tron. A little birdie has also suggested that Tesla might be making its way to our local shores with the Model 3 but only if the aforementioned reduction on electric vehicle taxation takes place.

The benefits

Aside from the low cost of charging, I see, the real benefit of electric cars comes from the reduction of inner-city pollution, a problem the internal combustion engine has been contributing to, causing the smog that shades many of our major global cities. Other benefits include instant torque delivery and potent performance, even from a city EV such as the i3s.

The i3s

While this is a driving impression of the i3s, the tangent provided above was something that I feel was relevant to communicate before approaching the i3 range.

The i3 was updated earlier this year but retains its futuristic design and airy, alien interior. The updated model gets a more substantial 120Ah or 42 kWh battery pack for a claimed 260km range, which in reality I found was closer to 225km and enough left in the “tank” to get home and charge the car.

In ‘s’ guise, the i3 produces 135 kW and 270 N.m, some 10 kW and 20 N.m more while also offering sportier handling, braking, steering and traction control set-ups as well as 20-inch alloy wheels. Performance is great, with the 100 km/h dash happening in just over 7.0 seconds, making the i3 a deceptively quick car.

As a daily driving proposition, I found the all-electric Beemer to be an absolute joy, with instant torque delivery, a reasonable amount of space, good visibility, silent operation and of course, a reasonable amount of driving range.


I am not suggesting that electric cars are all bad, in fact, as a form of personal mobility, they present a great solution in many scenarios. This is particularly true of the i3s, which provide fantastic performance, good visibility and general ease of use throughout its five-day stay.

I just feel the need to place everything into context, and when electric cars are analysed on more than face value, they aren’t the tree-hugging global saviour that many consider them to be. That being said, more affordable entrants such as the upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 may present us with a viable alternative to our internal combustion products from a price and performance perspective.

Price BMW i3s eDrive R716 900

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