BMW i3 and BMW i3 REx: Spiritual Successor to the Hot Hatch?

Ask any car-mad Brit of a certain age about hot hatches, and it’s likely that they’ll get a frosty-eyed look while talking about influential cars like the early Volkswagen Golf GTi, Peugeot 205 GTi and Ford Fiesta XR2. Small and lightweight with a modest four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, they were the cars to bring affordable fun to hundreds of twenty-somethings wanting a fun drive they could afford on their first salary. With direct steering, forgiving handling and indestructible engines, they taught many of us to drive.

Since then, the hot hatch has come a long way, with cars like the SEAT Leon SC Cupra, Ford Fiesta ST and Suzuki Swift Sport providing today’s thrill-seekers with throaty rides to terrorise both city streets and race tracks alike.

Is the BMW i3 a hot-hatch in disguise?

Is the BMW i3 a hot-hatch in disguise?

Today, the hot hatch is alive and well, but with ever-tightening emissions regulations and efficiency giving way to raw power, we think the heyday of the hot hatch is well and truly over. But could electric cars give hot hatches a second life in the form of lightweight, well-engineered superminis that can hold their own on the track as easily as they handle the morning commute? Cars like the BMW i3, for example, which matches a high-performance electric drivetrain with a super-lightweight body?

It’s a question we’ve often thought about — and it seems we’re not the only ones.

Enter AutoExpress, who decided to pit its long-term loaner BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car against a Suzuki Swift Sport on the race track, just to see what would happen.

On paper, the rear-wheel drive BMW i3 REx does best, producing a 0-60 mph sprint in 7.9 seconds and besting the Suzuki Swift Sport’s 8.7 second 0-60 time. Similar in size, to the BMW i3, the Suzuki Swift is heavier and less futuristic in its design too: there’s no carbon fibre or electric motors, only its six-speed manual, front-wheel drive setup, traditional steel monocoque, and 1.6-litre engine.

In AutoExpress’ video, the BMW i3 manages a flying lap in 1:28, some eight seconds slower than the Suzuki, but as AutoExpress’ Owen Mildenhall points out, the BMW i3’s traction control — which can’t be switched off — spent the entire lap fighting him on every corner.

What’s more, while the Suzuki Swift Sport was created as the sporty, track-day ready version of Suzuki’s popular global supermini, the BMW i3 isn’t a sporty variant of a more pedestrian base model. Add to this the fact that AutoExpress tested the heavier, slower BMW i3 REx rather than the all-electric BMW i3 — which is more than half a second quicker to 60 mph — and we think a re-run with the all-electric i3 may have been even closer.

Of course, the BMW i3 is a rear-wheel drive car, while most hot hatches are front-wheel drive vehicles. It also costs more than twice the price of the Suzuki Swift Sport.

The BMW i3 is best suited to life in the city -- but what about taking it on a track day?

The BMW i3 is best suited to life in the city — but what about taking it on a track day?

But it’s got us thinking. As the fastest subcompact electric car on the market today, is the BMW i3 the spiritual successor to the hot hatch? Or is it a hot hatch plain and simple? Admittedly, it can’t reach quite the same top speeds as most hot hatches on the market today — and you won’t travel more than 45 miles on a charge if you hammer it all day on a race course — but does the i3’s lightweight carbon fibre construction, powerful electric motor and direct steering make it the greenest hot hatch you can buy today?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below — we’re keen to see what you think.

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  • Michael Thwaite

    It’s quick, Golf VR6 quick in the midrange but, the grip from the tyres, whilst impressive is limited. The power is cut all the time and the regen evaporates if you turn the steering wheel/hit rough ground/cough, etc. Something that leads to unpredictable behavior. Sadly, whilst it’s a hoot in a straight line and in city traffic, it’s no Mk1 GTI as the fun is furiously curtailed when you really press on. All that said, it’s a city car and in that arena, it’s the best thing this side of a Tesla IMO.

  • Nigel Jones

    Whilst the i3 isn’t it – for the reasons you mention, and the comment from Michael below, I can definately see this happening. In daily use it’s still the instant electric torque that is so brilliant for getting going, junctions, overtaking & you can definately get a great buzz.

  • Nigel Jones

    Ugh. “early may” 2015 is too far away (leaf->i3rex)

  • Richard Glover

    my money would be on an AWD Leaf if Nissan would make them