What You Learn After Autocrossing a BMW i3

The new BMW i3S is a formidable autocrosser disguised as an economical EV.

BMW

During my visit to Palm Springs to test the new M5 at the Thermal Club race track, BMW gave me, along with a bunch of other journalists, the chance to compete against each other on an autocross course using the company’s new i3s. We were given three timed runs, and whoever set the fastest time would win an M-branded piece of luggage. I didn’t expect the i3 to impress me much on the tight, twisty, cone-filled track, but I walked away with a newfound appreciation for BMW’s battery-powered hatch. It also didn't hurt that I was the quickest person there.

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Instant Torque
BMW

When the i3 first debuted in 2013, the instant electric torque made it one of the quickest cars in BMW's lineup. The i3s's 184-horsepower motor (versus the standard car’s 170 horsepower) makes it even quicker. This off-the-line swiftness is key for any autocross car, allowing the i3 to get up to speed quickly, without having to wait for turbos to spool up or RPMs to climb.

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Battery Location
Brian Silvestro

Like some other electric cars, all of the i3s's heavy batteries sit on the floor of the car between the wheels. This means all the weight is as close to the bottom and center of gravity as possible, making it incredibly balanced. The wider track and a lowered suspension help too.

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Rear-Wheel Drive Is Always Best
BMW

Unlike every other car in the i3’s segment, power is sent to the rear axle rather than the front, meaning the front wheels only have to focus on one thing: Turning. Rear-wheel drive is a trait present in every great driver’s car, and makes the i3 feel well-balanced and easy to place—perfect for getting within an inch of a cone.

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There's Only One Gear to Worry About
BMW

In most situations, not having a gearbox is no fun in a performance car—not the case for autocross. The initial launch, followed by a shift from first to second is something drivers always have to worry about. But since the i3 is electric, there's only one gear, and no clutch pedal to worry about slipping for the perfect launch.

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Regenerative Brakes Are Not Your Friend
BMW

Of course, the i3s isn’t the perfect autocrossing machine. Regenerative braking means any lift of the throttle causes abrupt deceleration, which isn’t optimal if you want to balance out a car mid-corner by lifting. Depending on the corner, lifting in the i3 can severely hurt your overall time.

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The Tires Are Meant for MPGs, and Not Much Else
BMW

Tires are even more of an issue—the ultra-thin design means you don’t have much aftermarket performance rubber to choose from. The economy-minded compound that comes standard is nowhere near acceptable for performance-minded driving.

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You Won't Be Taking Trophies, But You'll Have Fun
BMW

It was a joy to toss the i3 around, tires squealing and all. I even managed to set the fastest time of the event by a few tenths. If you have an i3, consider taking it autocrossing. You probably won't be taking any class wins, but you'll certainly have a smile on your face.

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