Road­test: BMW i3

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY GLENDA WIL­LIAMS

Not that far down the road, the elec­tric car will be the new nor­mal and cars pow­ered by fuel will no longer be the only con­ven­tional mode of trans­port on the road.

The uniquely de­signed BMW i3 puts us on that fu­ture road. It’s a crack­ing elec­tric car that goes like the clap­pers, is roomy, com­fort­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. And while range anx­i­ety will still be an is­sue for some, BMW hopes to al­le­vi­ate this some­what with its i3 range ex­ten­der op­tion.

Con­structed from light­weight car­bon­fi­bre-re­in­forced plas­tic and alu­minium, the BMW de­sign­ers have made ex­ten­sive use of glass and black in the i3 de­sign makeup. The re­sult of their de­sign is a two-tone, un­con­ven­tional look­ing car with gen­er­ous and sweep­ing glass sur­faces and tail lights that ap­pear to be float­ing in glass.

Though still fairly com­pact, the i3 is tall and roomy. A dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of this purely elec­tric car is the coach doors that al­low for easy ac­cess into the rear seats, and the long wheel­base pro­vides gen­er­ous in­te­rior space com­fort­ably seat­ing four adults. That in­te­rior space fea­tures a sig­nif­i­cant amount of nat­u­ral ma­te­rial form­ing a cabin that is mod­ern yet un­der­stated. The rather bulky con­trol lever hous­ing the start/stop but­ton and gear se­lec­tion on the steer­ing col­umn is the one un­fa­mil­iar fea­ture in a mostly familiar BMW cock­pit. Yet what­ever reser­va­tions you

might have about the i3 pales into in­signif­i­cance once you drive it. And that comes as soon as you plonk your foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor. The power de­liv­ery – thanks to the hy­brid syn­chro­nous elec­tric mo­tor with its 250 New­ton me­tres on tap – is in­stan­ta­neous. Not even a nanosec­ond of lag and the elec­tric mo­tor pro­vides that same con­stant and un­bro­ken power through ac­cel­er­a­tion to seam­lessly reach cruis­ing speed.

The driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is one that takes a bit of get­ting used to. Hav­ing been caught un­awares by the surge of power and speed of its de­liv­ery, the next sur­prise hap­pens when you re­move your foot from the ac­cel­er­a­tor. Ex­pect­ing the con­tin­u­ous mo­men­tum that one would nor­mally ex­pe­ri­ence, slow­ing down or de-ac­cel­er­at­ing takes on a whole new mean­ing in the i3. This is the i3’s ‘ brak­ing’ ef­fect of de-ac­cel­er­a­tion. The strong re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing from the mo­tor means that there is lit­tle need to use the brake pedal un­less a quick stop is re­quired, and re­mov­ing one’s foot from the ac­cel­er­a­tor ac­ti­vates the brake lights and helps charge the bat­tery. Quite a lot to get your head around, but once you do, you find that driv­ing the zippy i3 is a thor­oughly en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

The rear wheel drive i3 is a com­fort­able, smooth ride with ac­cu­rate steer­ing and good trac­tion even on the i3’s nar­row tyres. Be­ing an elec­tric car, other than the scarcely au­di­ble mur­mur of the elec­tric mo­tor, the ride is mostly si­lent. The nar­row tyres, while con­tribut­ing to bet­ter ef­fi­ciency due to less rolling re­sis­tance, also re­sult in less road noise. Plus the low cen­tre of grav­ity and well-bal­anced weight dis­tri­bu­tion helps keep the i3 planted, even in windy con­di­tions.

This dis­tinc­tive elec­tric car has three driv­ing modes: Com­fort, Eco Pro or Eco Pro+, the lat­ter two in each case able to ex­tend the range of the i3 by an ad­di­tional 20km. But those with chronic range anx­i­ety can opt for the i3 range ex­ten­der (REX) that al­lows the i3 to travel more than 100km fur­ther be­fore re­fu­elling. This is ac­com­plished by the fit­ting of a 650cc two-cylin­der 28kW petrol en­gine cou­pled to a gen­er­a­tor that gen­er­ates elec­tric power and in­creases the i3’s driv­ing range. Bliss­ful si­lence be­comes in­va­sive noise when the range ex­ten­der kicks in, the noise not un­like that of be­ing pur­sued by a lawn­mower, but rather that than the al­ter­na­tive – wait­ing by the side of the road for a tow truck.

The i3 driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is a re­fined and serene one. It’s an ef­fort­lessly smooth and nim­ble ur­ban com­muter. But it’s not cheap and the lack of charg­ing sta­tions are po­ten­tial cause for anx­i­ety. Cur­rently, there are only four charg­ing sta­tions around the coun­try, with plans to in­crease this as the car park rises. Un­til this hap­pens, charg­ing for the fore­see­able fu­ture would have to take place mostly from the owner’s home. While us­ing a con­ven­tional do­mes­tic 15V socket can sup­pos­edly be used to charge the i3, this could take 8 hours or more. The other op­tion is to in­stall a BMW i Wall­box, which uses the max­i­mum cur­rent strength avail­able at the prop­erty to charge the bat­tery in less than three hours.

With more range, less price and a charg­ing net­work coun­try­wide, this is a car that could find its way into the garages of many ur­ban homes in the fu­ture.

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