BMW’s quiet revolution
Don’t judge this automotive book by its cover. BMW’s i3 is fast, roomy, fun to drive and turns more heads than an Open tennis rally, as DAVE MOORE found in Munich recently.
Being handed the keys to any strange car in any strange city with traffic running on the wrong side of the road is a little gulp-inducing, even after many decades of experiencing it.
This time though, on a hot Munich afternoon in Friday traffic, swollen by the start of the school holidays, it was especially unnerving.
Firstly, I so wanted the dear wee BMW i3 to live up to the gushing reports from European journalists – something that looks this good and this modern has a lot to live up to anyway, but had the notoriously parochial German press inadvertently given the new electric car a little too much to live up to? I asked myself.
Then, I didn’t want to become stranded on the other side of the Bavarian capital, with no charge and no way of getting one.
As I was to find, the city, unlike ours, is geared for an electric future and I’d have had no problem.
As it turned out, the sheer fun to be had driving this car blanked out any of my anxieties.
I took time to take in my interior surroundings before setting off. The i3, which has been said to have ‘‘the exterior dimensions of a 1-series, the space and performance of a 3-series, the ambience of a 5-series and the fun-factor of the Mini’’ looks and feels inside to have been crafted by the demonstration crew for an exhibition of modern Swedish furniture – with, to me, a decidedly maritime bent.
Bent is the right word, as the wood and recyclable materials appear to be laminated into shape, delivering aesthetically pleasing flats and curves.
Engineers utilised new lightweight construction techniques, such as extensive use of carbonfibre, as well as creating an extremely functional and safe passenger cell. Thus, even with the auxiliary twin-cylinder engine – in New Zealand spec – it weighs 1390kg, with the electric-only car being just 1195kg or about 50kg more than the average Fiesta, Yaris or Jazz. Impressive.
Under the i3’s glassy canopy it all feels light, airy and spacious, and lives up to its purported 3-series interior volume, albeit with considerably more headroom and the best view outside the car of any current (electrical pun unintended) BMW.
Driving the car is disarmingly simple: carry the keys on board the i3, belt up and prod the go button and you’re away. The twist and slide transmission lever is now on the steering column – having been on the centre console – and allows the driver to select the drive, reverse, neutral and park positions, and that’s it.
All you really need to worry about are pedestrians and cyclists, who, with just that barely perceptible ‘‘whine’’ to warn them, will be prone to walk or wobble in front of you.
I say ‘‘will be’’ because in traffic-filled Munich, such hazards never occurred, but one knows darn well that in New Zealand they’ll be complaining about the hushed i3, and demand that a man with a red flag should walk in front.
Ducking and diving through fast-moving and occasionally stationary traffic, with just a gentle, barely perceptible whirr to accompany us, the i3 is the measure of just about anyone, and squeezing the normallooking throttle from a full stop, it elicits responses you can only dream about in a – dare I say it, cough ‘‘petrol’’ car.
The glassy, classy wee BMW, which can be had with the range assistance of a twin- cylinder generator motor (As it will have in New Zealand before the end of the year) gets off the line with such uncanny alacrity that sprint challengers are immediately discouraged. You point it and press the right pedal and it will go there. Quickly.
Under throttle-off slowing down, the regeneration of energy from the process slows the car down more quickly and you can feel the process. Use the brakes and the slight vibe through the pedals is all you’ll notice.
As for anxiety about range. I drove the car hard and fast and could have done so for a lot longer than my available time.
False assumptions: Driving proof that most of what we think we don’t like about electric cars is simply not valid.