It’s not every day that a manufacturer with a history as illustrious as BMW’s decides to launch a new range of cars. I recently had the opportunity to sample the i3 - the Bavarian brand’s alternative energy vehicle - and what a dramatic change this car will be to conventional car owners.
As many of you would have seen, the brand has used the hashtag “BornElectric,” which expresses the design principles of the i3. It was designed from the get-go to be an electric vehicle. That is most probably why from an exterior and interior design perspective, the i3 is truly unique and certainly something one has to adjust to.
The exterior design is something totally new and will certainly be alien to us as South Africans.At 3 999mm long, 1 775mm wide and 1 578mm high it is fairly compact yet, comes across as almostMPV-like with short front and rear overhangs.
In terms of design features the front end gets a familiar BMW grille only this time it is blanked off and finished in either blue or silver to demarcate its Eco-roots and lack of an internal combustion engine. Both the front and rear-end of the vehicle features U-shaped lights. From its side profile the massive wheels dominate the look while the jagged window line and sloping roof make for a unique silhouette.
With a kerb weight of 1 195kgs the i3 is considerably lighter than other electric vehicles. The car’s body is made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), which BMW claim is not only lightweight and corrosion-proof, it’s also crash-resistant. In terms of repairs on the carbon there is a centre that BMW runs, which can repair it, while BMW assures us that the i3 will cost the same to insure as a BMW 118i.
The chassis has also been made light with the use of forged aluminium. The car uses 50 percent less energy and around 70 percent less water to build than an average BMW product. The plant in which it is built uses wind-generated power, which is a renewable energy source.
The stiff nature of its body means there’s no need for a B-pillar and therefore the doors are in the “suicide” style with the rear items being rear-hinged a-la-Rolls Royce. This makes access easier into what is a spacious and airy cockpit that presents quite a bit of natural light.
The rest of the cockpit is like no other BMW out there. From the two seemingly floating screens to the use of recyclable materials in the door cards and dashboard. The gear lever is even located just in front of the steering wheel on the right-hand side meaning no transmission tunnel and a large amount of space in the centre console for the iDrive system, which also includes theConnectedDrive service with built-in SIM card.
There’s an app for it...
The i3 owner can download the I Remote app and control several vehicle functions from their smartphone or smartwatch.
What’s it like to drive?
Well, it’s strange at first. The car is basically silent most of the time with the slightest of electrical hums as you whisk along. You sit high up too, which BMW says is to optimise the view over city traffic for which the car was designed.
Then there’s the braking. You see, the electric drive system motor regenerates power as you tap off at low speed and coasts at higher speeds, which means getting off the juice creates a braking sensation. I only used the brake pedal twice on my 100-odd kilometre drive. It feels odd but at least you know you’re gaining some range while saving those brake pads.
There’s no shortage of that for a city car. The 125kW/250Nm from the electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery, can take you from 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds while top speed is 150km/h. The acceleration is quite relentless and the i3 certainly redefines the motoring cliché: “Nippy in the City.”
The model is rear-wheel-drive, rear-engined and has a transmission in the rear but its skinny low-rolling resistance tyres (155/70 R19) don’t inspire much in the way of dynamic driving, despite its 911-style layout.
Purpose and range
One full charge gets you 130-160km. There is the option of a range extender model which adds a 28kW two-cylinder 650cc motor that doesn’t provide drive but instead generates power for the battery pack, allowing a range of around 300km. Therefore this model is designed purely for the urban sprawl.
How do I charge this beauty?
There are a few charging options for the i3. The first is home-charging from a conventional plug (around seven to eight hours) or you can pay BMW R25 000 to install an i Wallbox at your house (three hours), or you can have an express charge (30 minutes) or at a public charging station (in our major cities).