BMW i3 Review
“1.21 Gigawatts? 1.21 Gigawatts!” Those words that echoed in my mind, and refused to leave, the entire time I was in the company of this new electric powered BMW i3. For the uninformed (and where have you been?), those words were immortalised by the legendary Dr. Emmet Brown, whilst trying to work out how to send Michael J Fox “Back to the Future” in 1985. The movie car in question (a Delorean, no less) required a bolt of lightning in order to power the car through time. Mega electric indeed.
This nifty BMW i3 on the other hand, doesn’t require quite the same amount of juice, but then time travel isn’t on BMWs options list either. What the i3 does do though, is allow true home-powered motoring in an incredibly efficient and environmentally conscious package.
The i3’s appearance will divide opinion greatly, but personally I think this is a real funky looking thing. A little futuristic, small on the outside, big on the inside, tall and thin. The diminutive BMW has a very roomy cabin and feels that of a larger car. The narrow front seats and the lack of a centre console really give an impression of more space than you would expect given is external size. It is comfortable, if a little harsh on the suspension and the lumbar support is quite unforgiving. There is lots of glass all around the cabin though and if spec’d with a light coloured interior gives the i3 a really calm and airy feel. Plus, being fully automatic makes the whole driving experience a pleasant one. It comes with plenty of toys including two large LCD information screens and the optional Business Sat Nav is the best navigation system I have ever used.
The construction of the car is carbon fibre with the materials and general ethos of the build being around sustainability. You can spec an all-electric, or opt for a range-extender version (tested here), equipped with a 647cc bike engine. This is used to charge the batteries should you find yourself running low on electric juice. Charging those batteries at home can be an overnight affair from a standard plug, but there are various options available to speed this up, including a rapid charger at public stations which will bring the car to 80% capacity in just 30 minutes.
Being new to this electric business, I decided that the first stop would be the petrol station to make sure I’d got my backup fuel. There is the first surprise – the tank is tiny. Less than £10 of fuel brimmed it. Handing over a tenner – and getting change – is a very good feeling on the forecourt. The i3’s petrol motor will only come to life if you either specifically tell it to, or if you are running very low on electric power – at which point it will cut in and start charging the batteries to keep you moving. Otherwise, you are on electric only.
When in use, the petrol motor isn’t intrusive emitting a low noise hum. You have two fuel gauges – one for petrol, one for electric and there are three different modes to suit your driving style, each extending the range further by turning off non-essential items like climate control.
Being an electric car, you do have to adapt your driving style, but this is something that takes minutes, rather than days to master. When you are not accelerating, the car is braking; there is no coasting function. This means it is quite possible to come to a complete stop – and quite quickly – without touching the brakes at all. Acceleration is a giggle, the power is all there immediately and the i3 takes off very rapidly. Handling is all fine for a car of this size, but despite its low centre of gravity (the batteries are central underneath the car), it did feel rather blowy at motorway speeds.
As a package I think this car is absolutely fantastic. It is different to look at, but not massively so to fall into the ‘weird’ category and it looks a little space-age’y. And charging a car at home has massive appeal. MPG, even when using the petrol extender came in at around 75mpg and running on electric, was the equivalent of 350mpg. Big numbers indeed. With a BIK value of zero, this car really comes into its own as a company car too (the Range Extender model will give you around 200 miles total petrol and electric between fill-ups).
The i3 could be the car that kick starts the electric car revolution into the mainstream. It has that BMW badge on the bonnet and is reasonably priced (starting at £30,680 but then minus a £5,000 government grant). It looks quite funky yet still familiar and it is very easy to drive. It also points to what we can look forward to in the upcoming i8 supercar.
Whilst it seems that you might still require 1.21 Gigawatts to head back to the past, all you actually need to head towards your own future is a 13 amp plug. The future is here, and it’s pretty cool indeed.