Tuesday, 2 September 2014

ROAD TEST - BMW i3

Electric Cars. We all new that one day mankind would have to look elsewhere for a source of propulsion for Adam and his beloved automobile. A few years ago we all thought hydrogen fuel cells were the future. But behind closed doors, manufacturers have been developing state-of the art electric vehicles, with better range and more driveability. Slowly these have started to emerge, but there was one car in particular the world was waiting for; the BMW i3. Well now it’s here, and I was fortunate enough to get hold of one. So just what exactly is all the fuss about?

Well take the styling as a starting point. We’ve all seen the film The Fifth Element, in which Bruce Willis is hovering around the year 2263 in what- in 1997 at least- appeared to be a futuristic taxi. Well the i3 makes Bruce’s taxi look about as modern as an ox cart in comparison. It’s striking to say the least, with 19-inch alloys as standard and blue accenting around the grille and BMW badge. There’s two-tone colour schemes which work really well with the shape of the car, highlighting the bold lines from the bonnet to the angular window line. The rear suicide doors open up to reveal a pillar-less side profile, whilst the all-glass tailgate looks fantastic at the rear.

There are several interiors to choose from as well. My car had the optional “Loft” interior (£1,000) which is a lighter colour than the standard black and blue. You can see the fibres of the KENAF plant mouldings which form a significant part of the interior, and the visible carbon fibre life module shows a commitment to making the car both light and strong. I rather like the gear selector as well, it’s simple yet brilliantly functional, as are all the controls of the i3.

The main reason you’d buy an i3 though, lies hidden from view beneath the boot floor. The electric motor in this car completely revolutionises the modern car as we know it. You have 170PS and 250Nm available. Forget everything you ever experienced in a car before, because I will tell you from experience that 170PS in an electric car which weighs a mere 1,270kg is unbelievably quick. The 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds hints at just what this car can do. But the power delivery is instant, and that takes some getting used to. And there are different driving modes too, from Comfort to Eco Pro, and Eco Pro +, the latter of which disables the climate control to extend the range to a maximum 102miles.

However it doesn’t take as much getting used to as the regenerative braking. BMW describes the i3’s drive as a ‘one pedal’ system. That’s because once you lift off the accelerator, the car slows, to the extent of not needing to use the brakes at all to come to a stop. Although strange at first, I soon became used to it, and this system encourages anticipative driving, something which too many idiots on the motorway- hanging on to the bumper of the car in front- have never mastered. I’m going to make a bold claim that if everyone drove i3’s there would be far fewer traffic jams.

The handling causes me slight concern. The ride is comfortable enough, the steering is direct and there’s very little in the way of body roll. You see the issue lies in the wheels. Although 19-inch in diameter, they are only 155mm wide. That’s extremely skinny indeed, which means that they will lose grip faster than a wider alternative. Also the rigid carbon fibre life module means that the i3 doesn’t deal well with mid corner bumps either; it feels uneasy. That being said, most of the time the i3 will be on the ring road, not the Nürburgring, so pushing it hard should be less of an issue..

To live with everyday I’d happily have an i3. The cabin is a generous size. There may only be four seats, but four adults can sit in them comfortably. The boot is still a generous size despite all the running gear below, and those skinny tyres help the i3 with a rather tight turning circle. Visibility is great too, thanks to the higher up driving position, and the BMW iDrive system makes for easy operation of the cars computer.

Charging the i3 is a breeze too, thanks to a 3-pin adapter that can plug in anywhere. This will perform a 0-80% charge in 8 hours, which is rather reasonable. However there is also the option of having a wall-mounted home-charging station installed. This will perform the same charge in just 3 hours, which makes for a very usable car indeed. Granted, you can’t go and visit your family at the other end of the country, and those who are in between have to supply you with electricity in order to visit, but that’s not the point of the i3.


Take me for example. I drive around 10,000 miles a year, but I can count on my fingers the amount of times I do more than 100 miles in a day. So the i3 makes sense. It can be your sensible, practical family car, for everyday use. And if you want to go further, have a nice M135i in the garage with a petrol engine and a range closer to 400 miles. And you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about it either. The i3 is 95% recyclable, and is the result of an innovative production process that saves energy before the car even rolls off the production line.

And now we come to price. The i3 range starts at a reasonable £30,680 for what is quite frankly, the future. Better yet, the kind chaps at the UK Treasury will give you £5,000 back for thinking about the environment. There are plenty of options available on the i3 to customise it to your exact requirements. The Professional media package (£960) adds a larger screen for the satellite navigation system. The standard navigation unit is nice, but the wide-screen creates a focal point in the cabin, and adds real-time traffic information to help avoid congestion. £790 gets you the park assist package, with reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear. The Reversing camera has park assist lines which show where the car is heading, and create a great reverence point for reverse parking. A must have for me would be the winter package (£260) which adds heated seats and pre-heating of the HV battery. Adaptive LED headlights create more presence at the front and improve visibility, and will set you back £710. Keyless entry is £330, and sun protection glass a further £280. The wheels you see in the pictures are an optional extra too, but are well worth the £680 as the standard ones don’t look anywhere near as good. Enhanced Bluetooth is useful to, and is £430, but reduces to £350 when selected in conjunction with the Professional media package. The mathematically aware amongst you will have correctly priced my test car at £36,040, so that’s £31,040 after the grant.

So there you have it. I loved the BMW i3, and I completely get it as a car. What it does, is bring a level of usability to an electric car which has never been seen before. If oil ran out tomorrow, and we all ended up in these types of car we wouldn’t feel like we’d taken a step backwards. In fact, I think the technology here, and the promise of what’s on offer in the i8 sports car which follows it, is a significant leap forward. And somehow you just knew it would be BMW; the ultimate driving machine indeed.

Should you want any more information on the BMW i cars, then do not hesitate to visit the BMW website or contact your local BMW i dealer. For all you readers round here, that would be Williams Manchester BMW; where the staff will be more than happy to tell you just what the i3 can do for you, and arrange a test drive so you can experience the future for yourself. I’d like to thank Nathan and Chris over at Williams for helping me out with the i3, and BMW for changing my perception on electric cars. Now where’s that i8…

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