Electric BMW causes a whirr
The BMW i3 sure gets attention. At the electric city car’s launch in and around Canberra last month, onlookers were spellbound as the i3 whirred by.
You can see why it would catch the eye: it’s different, fun, vibrant, funky — all the words marketers like to drum up to sell cars to hip young urbanites. Other hybrids and electric cars might be happy to slip under the radar; the i3 prefers to scream its differences.
Good thing, then, that BMW has something to say with it.
Six years in the making, the i3 uses BMW’s “LifeDrive” architecture, which sees a lightweight aluminium base and a carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic module sitting on top. The outside has recycled thermoplastic which is light but incredibly strong.
There are ultra-skinny 19-inch tyres to reduce rolling resistance and air vents and contours to make it as aerodynamic as possible.
The weight saving is to offset a 230kg, 360-volt lithium-ion battery which runs a 125kW/250Nm electric motor.
There are a couple of options with the i3 —“Bev” and “Rex”. While it may sound like a couple who’d run a country motel for a living, it’s actually what BMW internally calls the two i3 variants: the purely electric “battery electric vehicle” (BEV) or a version with a 0.6-litre two-cylinder engine “range extender” added (REX).
So how do these innovations work on the road? In its natural urban environment, the i3’s a hoot.
As its torque is available straight away it is zippy off the line (0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds for Bev, 7.8 in Rex), the ride is comfortable, steering direct and, of course, it makes the requisite cool sci-fi noises.
Thanks to a small turning circle of 9.6m and only 2.5 turns of the wheel to go from lock to lock, it nimbly conquers tight parking spots and poky city streets.
The only thing to get used to is the brakes. The car is calibrated to regenerate as much energy as possible when coasting, meaning as soon as you release the accelerator it does decelerate very quickly. It’s weird at first but you get used to it and around town you find yourself barely needing to use the brake.
You’ll get 160km from a charge if you drive in Comfort mode, while there are also Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus modes which scale back things such as heating and air- conditioning for maximum efficiency.
If you really do want peace of mind, the Rex offers up to 300km. As with the Holden Volt, the petrol engine doesn’t actually turn the wheels — it works solely to recharge the battery. It sounds like a buzzing motorbike when it does its thing but it actually suits this car’s spunky personality.
Even with the Rex, this still isn’t a car you want to be hitting the open road in very often. Acceleration is great even at high speeds — the i3 gets from 80-120km/h in just 4.9 seconds — so overtaking is no issue. The main problem is poor body control.
No one will be expecting amazing dynamics here but the i3 is hardly assured when hitting a bump mid-corner at more than 100 clicks an hour. Road noise is also excessive and the skinny tyres make things a bit sketchy if you’ve gone into a corner a bit hot.
But decrying an electric city car struggling on harsh rural roads is like complaining about a road train’s performance in a drive- through — it’s not what it’s made to do.
In its element, it’s excellent. The cabin up front feels like a compact SUV thanks to its space and great visibility. There’s plenty of storage and while a screen instead of an instrument cluster might look a bit bizarre, it works perfectly.
There is no B-pillar, meaning the coach-like rear doors allow front and rear passengers to enter simultaneously without folding seats down beforehand.
A 260-litre boot swallowed a pair of suitcases and you have 1100 litres with the rear seats folded. Plus, there’s a bonus 35 litres under the bonnet, so fitting in groceries shouldn’t be a problem.
If there’s a downside, it’s people usually want a premium feel when dropping 70 grand on a car and the i3 is more about extroverted fun.
Plus, some features you’d expect as standard cost extra or, as with electric seats, are absent entirely. Some may not be keen on the swooping, futuristic dash layout inside, either.
Still, if you can afford to do the right thing by the environment — and you want everyone to know you can afford to do the right thing by the environment — the i3 will let you have plenty of inner-city fun while you show off your green credentials.
BMW i3 lowdown
Model Base; Range extended
Price $63,900; $69,900
Engine Electric motor powered by 360-volt lithium-ion battery; with 0.6-litre two-cylinder petrol
Outputs 125kw/250Nm; 20kW/56Nm
Transmission One-speed transmission driving rear wheels
Thirst 0.0L/100km; 0.6L/100km
CHARGING OPTIONS AND TIMES DC RAPID CHARGING
— 30 MINUTES
Charges to 80 per cent, available at UWA Club, Nedlands only. PUBLIC CHARGING STATION
— ABOUT THREE HOURS
Many stations throughout Perth — visit chargepoint.net.au or therevproject.com for locationsiWALLBOX
— SIX HOURS
Available with car purchase for $1500-$1750, plus installation. OCCASIONAL-USE CABLE
— 11 HOURS
Free with car, can plug into normal household 10-amp socket.
PHOTO: BMW i3 bmw.com.au/i3
© The West Australian
More Motoring news and information: westwheels.caradvice.com.au