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.

Central Otago Mirror - - CLASSIFIEDS -

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.

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