October 23th, 2015 by Stephen Brown
The BMW i3 packages the brand’s Ultimate Driving Machine ethos into a sporty premium EV with breath-taking performance leaving most cars behind at the traffic lights.
With thanks to Stratstone BMW Doncaster.
What is the i3?
The i3 is a 4 seat, compact, 5 door hatchback with head-turning, concept car looks with its prominent kidney grill, framed with blue accents, proudly displayed upfront. Just like a proper BMW, the i3 is rear-wheel drive with the motor mounted between the rear wheels. Physically the car is only just larger than a current Ford Fiesta, albeit proudly taller. However, with standard fitment of 19inch wheels the car appears larger than it actually is.
The i3 is propelled by an electric motor producing 170hp (125kw) with maximum torque of 250nm (184lb-ft). As with any EV all that torque is available immediately through a single ratio gearbox providing uninterrupted progress. The lightweight materials used including aluminium, carbon fibre reinforced plastics and thermo-plastic body panels have enabled the i3 to be somewhat of a featherweight, weighting in at just 1195kg, compared to the 1512kg Nissan Leaf.
The innovative construction combined with the punchy motor means the BMW is more than just brisk. Acceleration is best described as surreal with 60mph appearing in just 7.2 seconds and achieved almost silently. BMW are more than happy to tell you that the i3 is quicker to 30mph than their own M4 with progress achieved with little noise or fuss.
Traction and grip are excellent and are only comprised by the suspension setup which leads to body lean, combine this with snappy acceleration and the tall skinny wheels means the traction and stability control systems are kept busy if you enthusiastically throw the car into a corner or a roundabout. In town the suspension is sportily firm, with light precise steering combined with grin inducing acceleration all adding up to unparalleled agility in traffic.
The EV can be driven in a choice of three modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus, the latter altering the car’s settings to maximise possible range by limiting the top speed (to 56mph) and reducing the effectiveness of the air-conditioning and heating systems. It is worth noting, when in Eco Pro Plus mode it is still possible (if necessary) to accelerate the car out of trouble with a shove of the right foot. The lofty driving position, multiple air bags and a super rigid body structure means the i3 is a safe place to be.
Inside there’s an overwhelming sense of space, airiness and calm with plenty of storage in the deep top opening glove-box, centre arm rest and door pockets. You step up into the i3 over the door sills with their exposed carbon fibre elements and are greeted with an uncluttered dash with two large screens, the centre of which appears to float.
Our test car came with the standard Grey interior made up of a mixture of materials, all of which exude quality with quirks like a stripe of blue around the steering wheel, which also appears to float on a reach/rake adjustable steering column. The manually adjustable front seats lack side support, but are very comfortable with blue accents to match those on the exterior.
Due to the strength of the body structure designers were able to omit the B-pillar allowing for dramatic rear opening ‘coach’ doors enabling easy access for rear passengers. Once in the back the spacious feeling continues with plenty of leg and head room and acres of glass. The rear seat is limited to two passengers with deep cup holders dividing and is equipped with two ISOFIX child seat mounting points.
The rear seats split 50:50 opening the load space to something akin to a small, if luxurious, van with a flat floor. With the seats in place, the squared-off boot is similar to that of a compact hatchback with plenty of space for a couple of cases which is only spoilt by the high floor due to the electric motoring hiding underneath. In the nose is extra storage for the charging cables which is accessed via a button on the key.
The electric motor takes power from a 22kw/h lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor. BMW say the car is capable of a distance of 80 to 100 miles in normal conditions. The official NEDC figures (which other manufactures quote) suggest a range of 118miles. It is commonly accepted that these figures do not represent a ‘real world’ driving range, just like quoted MPG figures don’t. An alternative measure is the American EPA rating of 81 miles, the EPA rating appears to be far more realistic for electric vehicles. During my time with the BMW my displayed potential range was 84miles, a number I was confident it would return with my driving and employment of regenerative braking.
Getting any vehicle up to speed uses a lot of energy. When slowing back down all that energy is lost. An electric car can recover some energy and put it back into its batteries to add to your range, this is known as regenerative braking, or regen. The BMW i3 has been setup with quite dramatic regen from the moment you release the accelerator pedal, this does take a little getting used to. The setup of the regen is such it is certainly possible to drive this car with just one pedal.
Recharging via a domestic plug socket will take 7 hours. Alternatively, home charging can be performed using an special wall mounted charge point outputting 7kw and will charge your i3 in 3 hours. Charging on the move can be performed at motorway service stations, with the optional DC Rapid Charger, 80% charge can be achieved in just 30 minutes.
Should pure electric not quite suit you, the i3 is also available with a ‘range extender’, a small petrol generator, adding an additional 80miles of potential enjoyment…..
If you are looking for a stand-out-from-the-crowd premium car and your lifestyle will suit pure electric then the BMW i3 should be first on your list to test drive. Few cars I have driven turn heads as much as this does, with pure BMW high-end comforts leaving you relaxed after your journey.
Boot: 260litres (seats up), 1100litres (seats down)
0 to 37mph in 3.7seconds
0 to 60mph to 7.2seconds
Top Speed 93mph (limited)
UK Base list price: £30,980 (before £5000 Government grant)
UK Test car price: £34,850 (before £5000 Government grant)
Test car included the following options: Andesit Silver Paint, Turbine 428 alloy wheels, BMW Professional Navigation System, Enhanced Bluetooth with voice control, DC Rapid charge preparation, Park Assist Package with reversing camera.
The i3 comes with an eight-year and 100,000-mile warranty for the lithium-ion battery pack, while the rest of the car is covered by a standard three-year guarantee.
All details as at September 2015.