Electric dream limited in its capabilities
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.