Yes yes yes oh YES: LOVE love love I want!!!!!!, smug factor, tech genius
Oh dear me no: can feel choppy on rough roads, price
At times, hybrids seem morally ambiguous. The batteries are expensive to replace and are made of polar-bear-unfriendly heavy metals, they require fuel, and, they take more power to make than they could ever save. But the i3 is different.
It is made with green power and when the end of life comes, most of it can be recycled. BMW says the batteries will last at least 8 years before you may need to replace them. If they don’t, BMW will cover them with warranty. That’s bonkers, but you can expect them to last even longer.
I3 is made in a factory that is so clean, the 5 second rule does not apply. You could eat your 3 course dinner, and an extra pudding, off the floor with no fear of dysentery to follow. The workers smile and wear big ear rings, and ear tunnels, and that’s just the boys. However, most of the work is done by robots. The carbon fibre fabric, the doors panels, the carbon fibre reinforced plastic, the batteries, the frame, all made by robots.
The exterior looks the business.
It has a glass rear hatch consisting of 2 fixed panels, and behind the lower section are the LED tail lights leaving the surface as smooth as, well, glass. The front end has the BMW kidney grille which is solid and does no cooling whatever, not even in the Range Extender (REX) model. The range extender uses a discrete grille in the lower section of the front and has an exhaust pipe that’s hidden. How very James Bond.
The passenger cell is plastic, yes plastic. This means it is strong and light and completely recyclable. The front doors open as normal, but the rear doors hinge from the rear. When all 4 doors are open there are no pillars to impede passenger’s ingress and egress. Remember the front doors have to open first. The front seat belts are attached to the back doors so the front passengers have to remove their belts and open their doors before the rear doors can be opened. That’s a small price to pay for the epitome of cool.
My 9 year-old nephew thought this was coolness personified. He said the i3 looked like a toothy
Inside is a classy modern gentlemen’s club experience.
The cabin is Bauhaus, mid-century modern Scandy, with a touch of Iphone thrown in for good measure. A lot of the driver aids present in cheaper cars is absent in this BMW. It is sans Apple Carplay and has no lane guidance and radar cruise. It wouldn’t kill BMW to add it to a car of this price but the cabin and drivetrain go a long way to making up for the foibles. Idrive has been simplified over the years and now has clear intuitive menus. The system can seem bewildering at first, but each function is clearly defined.
The test car has the sexy Eucalyptus Wood option so the dash looks like a piece of Danish mid-century modern furniture. The instrument cluster consists of a 5.7” tablet-style LCD screen, and a larger 10.25” display for the infotainment system in the centre of the dash. It hovers over a dip in the top of the dash. Making a space where you could leave your odds and sods short term. It gets mighty hot under the windscreen so don’t leave your mobile there or it will turn into one of those shrunken vinyl record fruit bowls.
The front floor is flat and because the centre console doesn’t join up with the dash, you can slide your legs across like you used to be able to do in bench seat Holdens of the 50’s. The test car has the sunroof which makes the cabin feel extremely spacious despite the Lilliputian proportions. We also had the uprated leather and Harmon Kardon options. Sure, it bumps up the retail price but the options make such a difference to the motoring experience which is almost silent thanks to the electric drive system.
The electric motor is under the cargo hold in the rear and drives the rear wheels. i3 ReX (ReX for Range Extender) has an 125kw/250Nm electric motor with a range or 130km. This range can be extended by the tiny 28kw/58Nm petrol engine from a motor bike. The petrol engine only generates power to charge the batteries and does not drive the wheels. It sits beside the electric motor under the rear floor. It completely eliminates the range-anxiety which dogs every electric car driver. The electric motor is powered by a battery pack with 21.6kWh/18.8Wh available with 8 modules/96 cells. It is much easier to find a petrol station than a power point. Any power point used has to be within reach of the car without using an extension cord. The charging modes are mind boggling, but there are 4 modes and the quickest is about 20 minutes to 80% of charge. Our i3 had a fast charging option.
The driving experience is not one I’ve experienced in other electric cars. It’s complex and you do have to keep a few things in mind:
If you drive under 130-150 km each day, you’ll never need the petrol generator provided you as access to a power point.
If you drive further than that you have options.
The i3 will step down the power available as the charge runs down and at 6%, only 30% power can be had. This means your top speed and acceleration are severely limited. Cleverly, you can go into iDrive and tell the computer to hold the charge at any percentage you like. The advantage is that as long as you can fill the puny 9L fuel tank, you’ll always have full power available. The power step-down begins around 30% of charge so if you get to 40% and activate the petrol generator, you charge will stay at or around 40%. Your top speed will remain at 150kph and you’ll have full acceleration which is 0-100 in around 7.9 seconds.
BMW claims 0.6L/100km when you leave the i3 to do its own thing. I don’t understand how this is so. The 9L tank gives you around 150km range, so combined is around 300km. even if you average the 9L tank across the 300km distance you don’t get a figure of 0.6L. I did ask BMW how they worked it out, but the answer was like reading Swahili. In theory you could jump in your i3 and drive the central NSW, Brisbane, or Melbourne. It would be worth having a crack at with the range extender safety net. It would prove once and for all the veracity of electric motoring.
Once you press the start/stop button, the smug facial expressions are in full swing.
Around town, the i3 is very nippy. You power and torque is available from the moment you put your foot down. It’s an eerie feeling hurtling through traffic in complete silence. They say the petrol generator engine sounds like a motor bike in the distance but I had to summon all my concentration to hear it. You’ll beat most other cars off the mark at lights looking even more smug while you’re about it. More smugness ensues.
A 9 year-old will tell you the whole stinkin truth and as we drove on, his comments turned from
“yeah it’s ok”, to “wow this is amazeballs”. He loved the tablet LCDs and the iDrive controller. Our car had an upgraded system including the iDrive controller dial with built-in track pad.
Those little highway stints are no problem either. Unless you dip below the charge where the computers limit your power, the experience is no different to driving a spritely petrol turbo. This is where the figures don’t give a full picture of performance. It feels lithe once you master the regenerative braking. It’s gentle yet powerful acceleration turns into gentle yet power deceleration the second you begin to lift your foot. If you lift your foot right off the accelerator, the affect is dramatic. The car will generate power as you decelerate with a dynamo type effect. Around town you can almost forget the brake. It’s eerie. Your pads will probably outlast time itself.
Then, there is the auto parking.
Unlike most other systems, i3 will find a space and perform the parking maneuver unaided, as long as you hold your finger on the button. Because I’m used to controlling the brakes and acceleration with other cars equipped with auto parking, I kept either lifting my finger, or touching the brake and accelerator. This instantly stops the car and cancels the parking. You simply press and hold the parking button to resume the procedure.
The electric motor drives the rear wheels and the petrol generator only comes on when the charge is low, or the driver turns it on manually. Once you’re confident you can experiment because BMW has made the i3 user friendly. You just have to get to know each other.
The batteries are in a module under the floor in a separate chassis/frame. You notice the thickness of the floor as you step in. The passenger cell bolts on to the chassis like older style cars use to. I’d like to see the batteries changed. It should make for quite the spectacle.
Ideally you need to charge regularly. You can’t use an extension cord so that excludes most unit dwellers. Inner city cottages don’t have garages so they’re out too. The market is small considering those limitations.
It’s even smaller when you consider the price which is $82,820 (plus onroads) for our car.
There is no doubting the viability of this low volume model, but it isn’t the car in particular, but rather what its techology represents in automotive evolution.
The BMW i3 small on the outside with a tardis-like interior space. It’s very nice to drive especially in town. The 300(ish) KM range drops like a stone when you turn on the lights, or heating/cooling. Since most of us don’t drive huge distances, that hardly matters. Zero emission transport to and from work appeals to us all. I can foresee a day when our government might subsidise electric and hybrid cars. They may also allow them to use the bus lanes or have special cheap parking. Perhaps there will be allowances for car poolers too. The sky is the limit.
It was a joyous, serene experience in an i3. Others don’t consider a car worthwhile unless it uses vast amounts of petrol and corners are warp 9, but they’re an increasingly scarce breed.
There are some excellent videos on the i3 manufacturing process on youtube. They are not narrated but are interesting none the less.
Would I buy one? Yes, the range extender eliminates Range Anxiety and answers all of the questions I have about electric motoring.
Price: $76,241 (on road NSW) for the range extender version
Engine: 28kw/56Nm (note: petrol engine charges battery pack and does not drive wheels)
Transmission: Single speed
CO2: zero g/km while in electric mode, 13g/km while generator is active
Combined fuel consumption: 0.6L/100k according to BMW spec sheet.