Elec­tric dream lim­ited in its ca­pa­bil­i­ties

Irish Examiner - - Motoring - DE­CLAN COL­LEY

IHAVE to be hon­est here. I live in the coun­try and for that sole rea­son I’m not re­ally in the way of own­ing an elec­tric car.

Call me a tra­di­tion­al­ist or a Lud­dite, if you will, but the stark re­al­ity is that petrol and diesel still rule the roost ru­rally. And for ob­vi­ous rea­sons there not many re­al­is­tic op­tions, or at least not many which ru­ral folk can rea­son­ably con­sider.

Sure, if I was so com­mit­ted to the elec­tric be­cause I could get a proper home charg­ing point and make liv­ing ru­rally com­pat­i­ble with my green genes. But I’m not.

Al­ter­na­tively I could get a plug-in hy­brid or even a full-on hy­brid to demon­strate my eco-cre­den­tials to the world at large. But I don’t re­ally like them ei­ther and not for any other rea­son other than they do not stim­u­late much by way of driv­ing plea­sure.

That and the fact they sim­ply are not go­ing to save the planet.

I do not pooh-pooh change in any shape or form — in­deed I em­brace it the way it should be em­braced as a pos­i­tive force in all our lives — but the evo­lu­tion of the mo­tor car to­wards an elec­tric ve­hi­cle is not yet at a point where it is a sus­tain­able and clever so­lu­tion. It is not even a given in ru­ral Ire­land yet.

Clever and in­tel­li­gent solutions to our many man-made problems are all around us and it is quite pos­si­ble there are un­der­pants out there right now with more built-in tech­nol­ogy than that which put Neil Arm­strong on the moon.

What­ever about lu­nar ex­plo­ration (or in­tel­li­gent un­der­gar­ments, for that mat­ter), the idea of test­ing the new higher pow­ered ver­sion of the in­no­va­tive and sexy all-elec­tric BMW i3 – the i3s — posed all sorts of wor­ry­ing ques­tions.

Would I be able to get it from the city to my home? How long would it take to charge via a nor­mal three-pin plug socket? Those sorts of things.

Well, the i3 — is it so old al­ready that it is get­ting its mid-life face-lift? — now has an ‘s’ ap­pended to its name and this in­di­cates that not only is it the facelifted model, but it is also equipped with more mus­cle on the bat­tery front and greater range.

The orig­i­nal car did of­fer have a range-ex­tend­ing fa­cil­ity (REX) which was an in­ge­nious idea for those that want to drive elec­tri­cally but can­not other­wise make it work for them.

The REX sys­tem, fea­tur­ing a two cylin­der petrol en­gine to charge the bat­tery, added some 145 km to the car’s range, but also a sub­stan­tial amount of kerb weight and a size­able quan­tity of dosh to the bot­tom line.

This newer car also of­fers the REX fa­cil­ity, but it does rather take the gloss off the ‘green-ness’ of the thing. All it re­ally did was make hav­ing what was es­sen­tially an elec­tric city car work for peo­ple who want to travel out­side the city oc­ca­sion­ally.

Work­ing with­out the REX fa­cil­ity I was in­ter­ested to see if the rapidly pro­gress­ing bat­tery tech­nol­ogy could make the i3s a work­able thing for non-ur­ban­ites who sim­ply want an elec­tric car with­out com­pro­mise. And to a cer­tain ex­tent, it did.

Max­i­mum range is now said to be just shy of 200 km, but you have to fac­tor in the nor­mal lev­els of hy­per­bole that car man­u­fac­tur­ers at­tach to ev­ery­thing they do.

I am sure that nearly 200 km is achiev­able in this car if you drive around at 10kph all of the time and on vary­ing roads — lo­cal lanes, city streets, city by-passes, mo­tor­ways and so forth. We know this to be im­prac­ti­ca­ble — and prob­a­bly very dan­ger­ous — so re­al­is­ti­cally the claimed range is a pipe-dream.

But, 120 km or there­abouts — just on the thresh­old of what I would need if I were to pur­chase such a thing — was prob­a­bly very work­able. I set out to see if it was.

Who­ever in­vented the term ‘range anx­i­ety’ came up with a whole new psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der — and I can as­sure you it is a very real thing in­deed. And, es­pe­cially so when you’re fac­ing a jour- ney that of­fers lit­tle or no in­fras­truc­tural sup­port in terms of charg­ing points. Other than call­ing to a friendly farmer as you glide silently and pow­er­lessly to a stop, per­haps.

This meant that if I was too heavy footed or if I did not cor­rectly jug­gle bat­tery usage as against what mea­gre charg­ing I could muster from the avail­able tech­nolo­gies, I was go­ing to be Mallory and Irvine rather than Hil­lary and Ten­z­ing. Fully charged I set forth.

The brak­ing-based en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion sys­tem is ac­tu­ally quite cool but, trou­ble is it’s an elec­tric car and once you take your foot off the gas — there is no gas and you slow dra­mat­i­cally, ob­vi­at­ing the need for brakes. So the en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion thing is a bit moot.

And, from a safety point of view, when you do take your foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor, there are also no brake lights ei­ther and this can be very dodgy if the per­son be­hind you isn’t fully pay­ing at­ten­tion.

De­spite my fears about not be­ing able to make the trip suc­cess­fully, I was con­soled by the fact that BMW pro­vide you with a cou­ple of help­ful tools to help you stretch the mileage.

For ex­am­ple, the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion has four modes — Sport (which won’t get you very far at all); Com­fort (which will do a tiny bit bet­ter); EcoPro (which will limit speed to 130 kph and get you quite far) and EcoPro+ (which shuts down most of the home com­forts — ra­dio, air con, etc, and which lim­its speed to 90 kph and will get you rather fur­ther than you might ex­pect).

As it hap­pened, I needed the EcoPro+ early enough, but in the great ex­ploratory na­ture of the ex­per­i­ment I got home with 10 km still in the kitty. It was close, but I got the cigar.

Then, af­ter 12 hours (with the three pin plug op­tion) re­gen­er­at­ing, I had an in­di­cated 195 km for the re­turn trip.

My shock upon re­turn­ing to Cork with 68 km left in the tank left an in­deli­ble mark on this par­tic­u­lar petrol­head. Was I a sud­den elec­tric­head? Had I mas­tered this de­vi­ous new stuff? I could barely be­lieve it.

But no, it still took an­other mul­ti­ple of hours to get the thing back up to full ca­pac­ity. I’m re­luc­tant to say how many in case the land­lord ups the rent.

The i3s passed my test, but my nerves were shred­ded. Sure there are nice things about it, such as the fact it ac­cel­er­ates quicker than Aunty Gla­dys to the bar at a wed­ding. But it is not the best ride (not you Gla­dys) and isn’t ter­ri­bly com­fort­able away from its ur­ban mi­lieu.

It is a re­ally lovely car which is made of all sorts of ex­otic and re­cy­cled things and it is a piece of mod­ern de­sign which, if you buy one now, will earn you con­sid­er­able profit in a decade or two, if you look af­ter it. It is a clas­sic of the genre, with­out doubt.

And it is a clas­sic of de­sign too, but it is still lim­ited in terms of its real ca­pa­bil­i­ties — and ex­pen­sive.

“Who­ever in­vented the term ‘range anx­i­ety’ came up with a whole new psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der — and I can as­sure you it is a very real thing in­deed

The BMW i3 has got its mid-life facelift and has an ‘s’ ap­pended to its name; be­low, the range in­di­ca­tor.

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