17 November 2018

BMW i3 BEV 60Ah – Review and Test Drive

The best car in the world today







My first contact with the BMW i3 was several year ago at a London car show, back when these cars were still new. I distinctly remember that the stars of the show were the i8 and the Tesla Model S. Hardly anyone gave a second glance to the i3, so I had the opportunity to give it a good look around, sit in it and generally admire it. The i3 ended up being my favourite car from that show.

Nowadays they are quite popular in the hip places of London and seeing so many of them on the road, the urge to drive one came back. So I hired one, from car sharing company Drive Now.

Exterior

The most striking feature of the i3 is arguably its exterior design, it looks like a road going concept car, futuristic I’d say. It’s tall and narrow and the body lines intersect at odd angles, yet somehow it’s still instantly recognisable as a BMW. In the front we still have the kidney shape grille but the inlet holes are now covered, which makes sense, since there is no radiator behind them.

The unconventional design continues in the back where we have a rear hatch made completely out of glass. What’s more the light clusters are installed behind it. But the weirdest things on the car are most certainly the wheels. Today when pretty much every car comes with very wide tires the i3 rides on what look like bicycle tires; they are 19-inch tall but only 155 millimetres wide, all in an effort to reduce rolling resistance.

Suicide doors are another unusual design element, today only found on the Rolls-Royce Phantom which incidentally is another car made by BMW. They, the doors that is, were designed to aid easy entry, or maybe just for design’s sake. We will never know.

The Shark fin antenna on the roof is another signature BMW design cue.

Interior

The genius of the interior design lies in its simplicity. Because it lacks many a component a normal car would have they could do away with the bulky transmission tunnel. The flat floor and large windows create a sensation of vast interior space.

Seats are modern with flawless ergonomics. Comfortable if somewhat on the hard side, typically German. The blue accented upholstery makes for a very pleasant place to be in, and definitely a departure from the usual BMW dark tones.

The instrument cluster is a small floating LCD screen, backed up by a larger infotainment system, which incorporates the much reviled I-drive system. The information provided by the instrument cluster revolves mainly around speed, range and a prominently displayed sliding scale that shows how energy efficient is your driving.
The gear selector itself now lives on the steering column. The rest of the switchgear is borrowed from across the BMW model range.
Seats are manually adjustable, without an electric option… for obvious reasons.

Rear space is plentiful, but only for 2 occupants. I suspect they designed it this way to reduce total weight. Interestingly the rear windows do not open in any way, a weight saving feature no doubt.

Popping the boot, which is also the bonnet on this car as the electric motor lives under there, it becomes obvious that there isn’t all that much boot space in here. Nonetheless, by folding the rear seats, more space can be gained.

Mechanical

In the design of the chassis BMW has made extensive use of carbon fibre and aluminium, all in the name of lightness. And while most electric cars are plagued by the heft of their batteries, the i3 ended up light indeed… it only weighs around 1200kg for the basic versions.
Now couple that to a 170hp engine and you get a very lively hot hatch.
Power delivery bears special mention. Electric motors, by their nature, have a constant torque figure. Max torque is available from 0 rpm all the way to redline. In the case of the i3 this figure is 250nm (184 ft-lb). If you’ve been paying any attention you’d realise that these figures are eerily similar to some 2.5 liter straight sixes that BMW used to make.
As far as range, this base model, fully electric version will do between 80 and 100 mi in normal driving according to the European Driving Cycle measuring system.

The optional Range Extender, which consists of a petrol powered generator, can easily double the effective range. So it’s not a long distance cruiser by any means, but then again no one said it’s going to be. It is a compact car, designed for short commutes and city driving and for that its range should be enough.

Driving dynamics

Driving is where this car shines, and this is where it’s expected to shine, as it is a BMW after all, The Ultimate Driving Machine, or so the propaganda goes.

It's rear wheel-drive, of course, has optimum weight balance and a power to weight ratio that beats many older non-turbo, 6 cylinder BMWs.
Add to all that 250nm of instant and relentless torque and the car feels invincible performance wise, within reason of course.

The laws of physics will defeat it eventually as the boxy shape is not ideal, 170hp only go so far and the skinny tyres are not going to help. In fact, the tyres are the Achilles’ heel of the i3, they simply cannot provide enough grip to match the otherwise excellent chassis.

0-60 is a claimed 7.5 seconds but it feels quicker than that. The sensation you get closely resembles that of an accelerating airliner. It starts off without any wheel spin but then it picks up speed exponentially, until about 70mph when acceleration tapers off. Overtaking in the 30 to 60 range takes mere moments.

So why is it the best car in the world today?

For years, us petrol heads have been terrified that electric cars will be little more than appliances, washing machines rolling down the road, yet the i3 is here to give us hope… it is... dare I say it... fun to drive... what’s more it can achieve something extraordinary: it can convert entrenched petrol heads into electric car believers.