BMW charges into the electric brigade
With a revolutionary carbon-fibre body and impressive powertrain, the i3 really sparks
The rear seats are well able to take three adults - as was proved during our trips around the Frankfurt motor show in the car – but getting in and out through the rear-hinged doors can be a pain. Somehow, despite being designed with ease of access in mind, they actually make things a little more complicated.
Driving the i3 is relatively easy. Hit the “on” button and then twist the stubby control unit on the right of the steering column. It’s a new addition to BMW: click it forward for drive, back for reverse, and half-click it for neutral.
As with most pure electric cars, the throttle takes a little time to get used to. The Lithium-Ion battery pack has 22kW/hrs of electric power and discharges at 360 volts into a 125kW electric motor.
Power is almost immediate and, despite its small-car looks, its packs a sports-car kick thanks to a torque of 250Nm, which is more than you get in the hottest Mini on the market. The little car can hit 60km/h in an incredible 3.8 seconds, 100km/h in 7.2 seconds and is limited to 150km/h. This car is a lot faster than you think and even knowing the figures doesn’t prepare you for the surge of power.
It’s so sharp, in fact, that the chassis feels a little giddy at full throttle, struggling to plant all that power on the ground. That’s only at the extreme, however; overall the i3 is great fun to drive – and remarkably easy as well. The steering is light in town but informative on the open road, while the benefits of having the heaviest part – the batteries – low to the ground and between the wheels, gives it impressive balance and poise.
The i3 has three driving modes: Comfort, EcoPro and EcoPro+. BMW claims it will do between 130km and 160km on a full charge in the Comfort mode, somewhere towards 200km in the EcoPro mode and a claimed 300km in the EcoPro+ mode. The likelihood is that you will not be able to cope with 300km on EcoPro+ mode, given that it effectively switches off the air-con and makes the throttle limp and lifeless. On the official EU numbers, the range is claimed at 190km/h, which is probably more realistic.
One big difference between driving the i3 over a regular car is when you lift off; the car slows down immediately, as if you’ve just dropped anchor. It’s so dramatic that BMW applies the brake lights when you lift off at speed, as a warning to cars behind. This is why many BMW engineers say the i3 is a really a single pedal car. There is of course a brake pedal, but after a few minutes’ use, you start to fall into the rhythm of slowing down by simply lifting off the throttle.