Even with a tiny petrol engine, the i3 is green through and through ... but too expensive
ALL the car talk at the moment is about autonomous driving.
If the eggheads and early adopters are right, we’ll all be handing the controls to our cars within a year. But that’s never going to happen. A realistic date for the full-scale adoption of autonomous technology is more like 20 years from now.
But electrification of cars is well under way with a growing number of battery-powered vehicles and a huge number of hybrids, especially plug-ins with more than just a token electric range.
The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the newest and best sparky cars and has just been named Car of the Year in the US, although it’s never going to get right-hand drive for Australia and Holden lost a packet on its miserable sales of the Volt that came (and went) before it.
But the BMW i3 is here and now and has just had a tweak to improve its range and dependability. It’s still way, way too expensive and too much like a science experiment than a mainstream baby car.
It’s time for another look and a test for The Tick. I have to report that one half of The Tick team is in love with the i3. She wants one for her daily commute, thinks it’s great for weekend errands and is prepared to overlook the $72,000 base price, problematic access to the back seats, long charging times from a home socket and the four-star ANCAP score thanks to a lack of pedestrian protection.
But back to the car, which is what it always was — and more.
There are the skateboardstyle battery pack, oddball-but-loveable four-door carbon-fibre reinforced plastic body, electric motor with single-speed automatic gearbox and rearwheel drive and the usual BMW suite of technology and safety equipment. The big change, however, is a boost to the battery, which is now rated at 94 Amp-hours, giving up to 245km of electric motoring. The range-extender model tested has a tiny two-cylinder petrol engine that charges the battery but never drives the wheels. It has a basic electric range of 220km with another 150km on internal gasoline charging for a total of 370km.
BMW believes the BEV — Battery Electric Vehicle — range is more than anyone needs for a city-and-suburbs runabout, while the range extender car now has a genuine long-distance cruising ability.
But there’s also the matter of recharging.
It can take seven-and-a-half hours to recharge from a normal wall socket, compared with 10 minutes at the pumps for a petrol car, although finding a rapid charger reduces that to 3.8 hours and the best plug-in juicers can do it in less than an hour.
The car also has a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 150km/h, with rated fuel economy of 0.6L/100km for the range extender.
Its greenness is reflected in real wood and recycled material for the trim panels in the cabin, as well as efficient electric steering and aircon to reduce battery drain.
BMW among other brands talks about zero local emissions. What that means is nothing