Since we last drove BMW’s diminutive i3 with Range Extender (read it here), i3 has been improved in range and consumption with the 94Ah (with or without range extender) recently brought to Australia.
We liked i3 a lot. It’s either cute or silly depending on your point of view. My 10-year-old nephew loves it because it has blue lights inside, like Tron. He also likes the fact that we need no oil to be burned. When I told him you could power it from solar cells on the roof of the house if you have them, he was elated. Smart kid! I’m amazed that a 10-year-old gets what jaded old men in blue ties don’t, and as a result, i3 is “Ollie-Approved” with 5 stars.
Our i3 94Ah is pure electric, and updates the previously fab model using improved lithium-ion batteries to get around 200k from each charge. In an ideal world, leaving the air conditioning off might get a rather handy 310k’s, but the range-anxiety would probably kill you. The extra capacity has not changed the battery’s exterior dimensions. Samsung SDI, in partnership with BMW, has put considerable development into the new packs, so snaps to them for not having them explode like their phones do.
The consumption is improved by 0.3kWh/100km, to 12.6kWh/100km. i3 gives a better CO2
Balance “providing the cleanest urban driving experience possible. As a result, the BMW i3 94Ah continues to score significantly better than a modern diesel or petrol-engined car in the overall CO2 balance, where factors such as supply chain, production, service life and recycling are considered. “
In the updated i3, the high-voltage lithium-ion battery consists of 8 modules with 12 cells in each module. Cooled by the air-conditioning’s coolant system, the cell-internal packages have been “optimised with increased electrolytes, resulting in a gross battery energy increase to 33kWh, of which 27kWh can be effectively used. For reference, the existing i3’s 60Ah capacity produces 22kWh gross with 19kWh of useable energy” according to BMW. Better still, if a single ell goes wrong, it alone can be replaced instead of shelling out big bucks for a new battery. You don’t need to dismantle the car to change batteries either.
The electric motor puts 125kw and an instantaneous 250Nm of torque to the road through a single speed auto gearbox. The 0-100 dash is done 7.3 seconds is thanks to a feather-like weight of 1245kg despite the batteries. You get a generous 260L luggage capacity for the airport runs, which is mazing considering an exterior the size of a box of tissues. The figures don’t give an accurate impression of the driving feel.
Before I bang on about the ethereal driving experience, I want to mention the automated parking I was not brave enough to test last time. The first time a car parks by itself makes you feel slightly nauseous. In most cars, you still control the brakes and accelerator when using semi-automated parking. The i3 does it unaided as long as you keep your figure on the “park” button. It steers, brakes, and changes direction while displaying a large friendly graphic. At first, you watch like a hawk as your $65,900 glorified golf cart goes about its business with you as an interested bystander. Eventually it is second nature, and it can get into far tighter spaces than we mere mortals.
To evaluate the i3, we set it simple tasks. It had to live a week with us as if we were an average owner. We even did a school run. It used surprisingly little charge because it recovers almost as much energy as it expends. Well, OK that’s a slight exaggeration. The true test came the day we decided to take a run to the Naitonal Park. The Bald Hill observation deck is about 64k there and 51k back via a short cut. Despite fanging it through the tight twists in the rain forest, the hills seemed to recharge the i3 at an insane rate. On the outward leg, we left the climate control off because it was such a lovely day, and the park provides post card views. There is nothing like the smells and sounds of nature. Coming back, we did 110kph with the air on and the windows up, and still we managed to get back home with 137k in charge.
After a week, my range anxiety and vanished but only because our building manager allowed me to use a communal power socket normally used for our irrigation system. This is where it gets interesting because the communal power is offset by solar cells. In other words, our week didn’t cost a zack, and this raises an interesting question. If it’s possible to offset charging by solar, and to recharge overnight when the tariff is cheapest, you’re practically making money.
You’d normally be burning oil, even in a hybrid. If you are able to offset your power usage, you could be generating more than you’re using, and, you aren’t paying for petrol or diesel. And it doesn’t stop there. Even if you have to pay, you won’t be using more than a few bucks of electricity for a full charge.
There are people who suggest it costs more carbon to produce the electricity than if you burned fossil in an internal combustion engine. Of course, this is nuts. Those same people suggest that an EV (electric vehicle) uses more carbon over its life cycle than a petrol car. Again, this is wrong as I said earlier.
Then we come to the purchase price of $65,900 for a very small luxury city car. If you’re offsetting your recharging, there are no fuel costs. All of a sudden, the 70 grand (with on-roads) doesn’t look so much. Let’s not forget there is nothing to service in an electric motor. It either works or it doesn’t. It doesn’t need oil changes and there are no valves or cam belts to go wrong. Your big end can’t fall out and your tail pipes can’t fall off. Most of the big-ticket items come from the mechanical parts of a car, right? Even the steering and air conditioning are electric. The air conditioning fluid also cools the battery pack so it is fairly important your AC works. Every way you look at it, it is a win.
The drive is not like that of a petrol BMW. The centre of gravity feels different, and it is. It is much lower than a conventional setup because the heavy battery pack is in the subfloor. You’re aware of the faint high-pitched whine every time you take off, and with the windows down, it is at fever pitch in a tunnel.
There is an “other worldly” feel to the experience. Without the engine vibration, the only thing you feel is the road. I described the drive as “ethereal” because there is really no other word for it. The temptation is to stick the boot in at the lights, but doing this can make your passengers sick. The kids will love it but their parents? Not so much.
I3 symbolises a fundamental shift in thinking. Although there were electric cars 100 years ago, petrol companies soon saw them off. Now, although the petro-chemical industry is a powerful one, even they can see the writing on the wall. They must be sitting uncomfortably in their gent’s clubs as they skull their 50th Tanqueray and Tonic. In the last 10 years, alternate fuel motoring has become mainstream and it is now only a matter of purchase cost.
It still isn’t easy to go pure electric between capital cities, but it can be done with planning. Once city dwellers have access to convenient recharging, the shift will gather even less moss as the stone rolls inevitably towards a green future. City apartment managers are grappling with the complex subject of providing such facilities and I have it on good authority that the change is nigh.
It is expensive, no doubt about it. Despite, or perhaps because its weirdness the i3 will become iconic. Teslar can be credited for making electric cars cool but even a second hand one will cost you $115,000. You watching the birth of a new era, no doubt about it.
Would I buy one? Yes.
BMW i3 Electric Vehicle: $63,900*
BMW i3 with Range Extender: $69,900*
BMW i3 94Ah Electric Vehicle: $65,900*
BMW i3 94Ah with Range Extender: $71,900