When BMW decided to design an electric car, they didn’t just convert an existing model – they created a brand new one from the ground up. Everything about the i3 is breakthrough technology, from the carbon fibre passenger cell to the in-house design of the electric motor and battery pack. Reflecting this, it looks like no other BMW on sale, and the interior is something completely different too. The fact it’s now available from around 50 BMW dealers nationwide is thus a real event: it’s one of the most remarkable new cars in years.
The BMW i3 is a fast car. Surprised? Wait until you try it: acceleration from the electric motor, sending its drive through the rear wheels for maximum grip, is instant, linear and GTI-strong. With no gearchanges and no hesitation, the force is addictive.
BMW does limit it to 93mph though, which it admits is to make sure the batteries don’t run down too quickly. Unrestricted, it would do 125mph, easily. All of this is conducted in spooky silence, with the faint whine of the rear-mounted electric motor very distant and subdued. A class act.
There’s another surprise when you lift off the accelerator pedal: the BMW i3 slows down, with the sort of force you get when you brush the brakes. This is intentional: such energy regeneration recharges the batteries, but it’s something you have to get used to. When you do, the i3 effectively becomes a one-pedal car. There’s literally no need to use the brakes.
The range extender model feels just the same – the 650cc two-cylinder engine is there to top the batteries up when they run low, not actually drive the car. It’s a little bit slower due to the weight but there’s otherwise little difference. Ingenious.
Ride and handling
BMW prides itself in building cars that handle really well and the i3 is no exception. No other electric car manufacturer up to now has prioritised this, which is why the i3 is such a standout. Steering is well weighted, balance is impeccable and the poise it shows through corners is like a 3 Series. The ride is firm as a result, but it’s not crashy. Because the clever construction – including plenty of aluminium and carbon fibre – keeps weight low, BMW’s been able to carefully tune ride as well as handling.
Pricing and equipment
The BMW i3 is, of course, an expensive car. It’s an EV, after all. List prices start from £30,980 and the range extender adds on an extra £3150. But then again, other EVs aren’t cheap either and the Government will give you £5000 off this price as part of its initiative to get more EVs on the road. This initiative has been extended until 2017, leaving you plenty of time to make your mind up.
The BMW i3 is very well equipped. A lot of the connectivity wizardry is standard, for example. It’s such a high-tech car, though, you do feel compelled to spend more and add it all on: it’s such a well finished car, few will be able to resist adding on trim options too.
The EV doesn’t consume a drop of petrol and goes for around 100 miles on a full charge. BMW says it’s entirely down to how you drive it – utilise that lift-off regeneration, for example, and you could add a third to the range with ease. Charge fully depleted batteries using a BMW wallbox in three to four hours, or a normal three-pin plug (the latter takes several hours longer). You can monitor the recharge via the smartphone app – very clever.
The range extender model doesn’t have the issue of range anxiety. Its nine-litre fuel tank kicks in when the batteries run down and, on the official cycle, means it averages a staggering 470.8mpg overall. The more you use it without a recharge, obviously the worse fuel economy gets: it’s thus not intended to be the main motive power source.
The BMW i3 is a gamechanger. It is an extremely intelligent car that works and drives brilliantly. Desirable, fun, luxurious and basically very accomplished, it is the first EV you’ll really want to own. And if you really want to own an EV but can’t live with the range anxiety, there’s an EV answer there, too.
BMW really has thought of everything with the i3 and has given us a class-leading car as a result. It will take a mighty effort from a rival to beat this.