Every once in a while, a car comes along that breaks the mould. The BMW i3 is one of these vehicles. It does what you don’t expect, inside and out.
The most important innovation in the BMW i3 has to be the inside – the inside of the bonnet. This might be surprising at first, as the exterior styling of this bonnet is very different from the sleek beasts that BMW has produced up until now. The BMW i3 is chunkier and shorter, and it has a very striking “black band” (reminiscent of a two-tone paint job). As you lift the bonnet, you’ll notice that it smells different, too. And if the engine is running, it sounds different. This is because the BMW i3 is a purely electric car. Yes, 100% electric, rather than a hybrid. You might not be able to believe this and your jaw might be dropping at the idea of a car that needs no petrol at all. Mine did.
Because the BMW i3 is so totally different, describing its engine performance is a bit different. There’s no need to talk about engine capacity or fuel economy. Turbo thingummies and double overhead cams mean nothing. Even torque curves are pointless: you get the full torque (250 Nm) straight away, even from a standstill. And if you have been thinking that “electric car” means “wimpy little dishrag that could be overtaken by granny on a bicycle”, think again: the 125 kW of power in the BMW i3 is certainly not to be sneezed at. The BMW i3 does the 0–100 km/h sprint in 7.2 seconds or else 7.9 seconds if you have the more economical Range Extender mode on. The range you’ll get out of a fully charged battery will vary, of course, depending on how you drive your BMW i3. They don’t put out the equivalent of “litres per 100 km” figures for electric cars much; I suppose the equivalent would be “Watts per 100 km”.
Many of the features in the BMW i3 are designed to reduce the amount of energy used so a battery at full charge lasts for longer. The interior has LED lights instead of the old bulbs and the heating system uses 30% less than other electric heating systems. One particularly intriguing feature is the E-drive function, where if you take your foot off the accelerator, the motor instantly starts using the kinetic energy of the car to generate more power for the battery, which brakes your car gently without any need to apply the brakes. You can, of course, use the brakes for emergency stops. But it makes you think: given the smarter sensors on cars these days (the BMW i3’s got the works in the Driver Assistance package: traffic jam assistance and collision warning being some of these) in combination with this E-Drive function, are we going to eventually see cars with only one pedal instead of the three of older manual petrol cars?
The question many of you are asking is how on earth you… no, not fill up, re-charge the lithium-ion high-voltage battery. The answer is easy: any wall socket can recharge a BMW i3. It’s like all those other electronic gadgets that start with a small i. Just plug it in and leave it. This is easiest to do at home – and you can get a special BMW-designed WallBox accessory for installing in your garage that charges the BMW i3 30% faster than your usual wall socket. When you’re out and about, you can use the navigation system to find your nearest mobile “Charge Now” station, where you plug in, top up and get a monthly bill. As electric and hybrid vehicles become more common, we are likely to see more and more public charging stations around the place over the years.
The BMW i3 looks pretty different on the outside. This is not just because of the more compact body shape (it’s more of a three-door hatchback than a sedan) but also because it’s made of carbon fibre. Carbon fibre is light (meaning that you don’t need as much grunt to get it going) but is also super-strong for safety. It’s also got rather chunky styling that is sporty and also helps the aerodynamics when it creates the “Air Curtain”. The interior is surprisingly roomy. The central tunnel is done away with, and the steering wheel has a minimalistic “free standing” design. All of the important buttons (the Start/Stop button and the gear selection lever, for example) are located on the column of the steering wheel, and the only thing you’ll have between the driver and the front passenger are the cupholders and the iDrive buttons, all of which are out of the way so you can hop out of the passenger door if needed. In keeping with the eco-friendly ideals of the BMW i3, the uses as much recycled and natural fibres/materials as it can around the interior. Not that this makes the interior look shabby: all four interior styling packages look pretty snappy. My favourite’s the Loft trim (light grey with little touches of BMW’s “i Blue”) or the classy Suite, with black leather and eucalyptus trim. You’ll also see the “i Blue” on the outside: it can be one of the colours for the classic kidney grille (which is a bit smaller in the BMW i3 than on other Beemers out there).
The BMW i3 is never going to be a rural vehicle or a bush-basher. The fact that public charging stations aren’t all that abundant yet is just one reason for this. But around town, the BMW i3 will do the job and do it in style, and won’t pump out nasties into the atmosphere while it does it.
Current model series include:
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