2015 BMW i3
When I lift off the throttle, the i3 goes “Zzzz” and stops right in front of the pedestrian crossing.
– Futuristic, I thought. The frameless side window automatically drops down a little after opening the door. Clean lines, flat screens and electronics – an environment created for smart people in business suits with neat laptop computer bags. I found a decent seating position, but felt that the seats could have had a little more lateral support. The interior of this car is different from anything else I’ve seen. The colors are held in gray with blue accents emphasizing the EV theme.
You are not supposed to insert the key anywhere. You just need to have it nearby to use the Start/Stop button. If you press the Start button without keeping your foot on the brake, it turns the radio on. Put one foot on the brake, and try again, then the car is ready for take-off. I actually had to take a look in the owner’s manual to understand this. I did not find the unusual “park” position on the gear lever at once, either. As I’m sure everyone knows, BMW has a separate button for “Park”.
The feeling of not being quite familiar at once, makes a poor first time impression on me. Anyway, the quality of the buttons, the switches and the plastic felt good. Some parts of the dashboard and door lining are covered with a substance that looks pretty cool. It feels like cheap plastic, though, – something that might be easy to recycle the day everything ends up in the recycling press.
I liked the radio, the parking assistant and the navigation system. I also liked the car’s dark gray color. It blends in well against the many black panels on the car.
170 horsepower to 1200 kg sounds prefect. The torque of 250 Nm is available from a standstill, and leaves everone else behind. The car is, – and feels – quick in city traffic. Nevertheless, I saw strikingly many MGIF-drivers out there (MGIF – Must Get In First). Obviously, many motorists don’t know about the i3’s potentials. Maybe BMW’s designer team should have given it a more aggressive look.
On the road I noticed that you sit quite high. I felt like I was looking down on ordinary cars, while high-built cars, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, was on the same Level
EVs, like the i3, have remarkably high torques. I experienced that quite well as I was driving along a back road filled with professional cyclist teams where I had to make frequent accelerations from 30 km/h (19 mph) to pass groups of cyclists. I also felt that the i3 got very good grips along the winding roads. It felt like the suspension did everything possible to keep the car tight to the ground, making an optimal road grip. It felt safe.
Behind the wheel of the i3, you will especially notice two things: The power steering and the engine brake. The power steering gives a constant resistance through the bends. There are no auto correcting. You have to guide the car all the way through the bends with a steady hand. I liked the suspension, but the steering was a bit of left-down on the twisty country roads. Another unusual behaviour happens when you lift off the throttle. Then you get a pretty powerful engine braking, which is actually a recuperation function that automatically recharges the batteries. Once you lift slightly from the throttle, the charge meter shows that the batteries are being recharged. If you lift the foot suddenly, the engine will give a very strong brake effect. It does not take long to get used to driving with one single pedal which both accelerates and stops the car.
In VW e-Golf I could choose whether I wanted the engine brake, or just let the wheels run freely. I am convinced that experienced drivers can save energy by utilizing the freewheel effect optimally. BMW does not let you choose, and honestly, I don’t know how much it affects the range, either.
You may drive the i3 in three modes, “Comfort”, “Eco Pro” and “Eco Pro+.” I drove mostly in “Eco Pro” because I experienced little difference between “Eco Pro” and “Eco Pro+” except for the change in air conditioning and a self-imposed speed limit of 90 km/h. I hate to drive a car that cuts the engine at a certain speed limits.
I have not measured the total range, but after taking an easy drive of 81 kilometers (50 miles) in nice wheather, I had only spent a little over half the battery capacity. It’s not bad, but since I sometimes gets a little “range anxiety”, I’d prefer the New “i3 REx” (Range Extender) which has an auxiliary engine that charges the batteries while driving.
I do not think the term “premium car” fits the i3, but I still get a feeling of well-being behind the wheel. What I like best is the sound. I think the tires were less audible than in the e-Golf, but the i3 has a completely different, and odd tyre dimension, 155/70R19 which is pretty thin tyres with a lot of rubber to the ground. It was possible to hear a slight engine noise when accelerating, but the coolest sound of all, is when you release the throttle and let the car stop by itself, for example in front of pedestrians. It sounds like a real science fiction vehicle when it stops with a silent “Zzzz”.
The suspension is comfortable. It takes away small bumps and potholes in a nice way probably due to the tyres. Crossing bigger bumps, like speed bumps, makes the i3 a little bouncy, though.
In reality, the BMW i3 is just a 2 + 2 seater, ie 2 adults and 2 small seats for children. That is not class leading spacing, when considering that the car’s total length is 4 meters. I suspect that the batteries should take the blame. I feel that the designers did not focus so much on space, so you should not expect the i3 to be the number 1 family car. Actually, it does not look like a family car at all.
According to NCAP, i3 is somewhere between the small family cars and the so-called super minis. It did fairly well in the crash test, even though the latest security assistance programs were not available at the time of testing – like for instance, adaptive cruise control.
I fear the powerful engine brake could cause dangerous situations on winter roads, due to the powerful engine brake. On nordic winter roads, the engine brake might cause the rear wheels to block and cause the back-end of the car to loose grip. I hope the DSC (stability control) and the DCT (traction control) take over the control to prevent the rear end from sliding out.
Another security problem is the brake lights. Would the powerful engine braking come unaware to the drivers behind? I prefer to control the brake lights myself, knowing that early brake lights may prevent accidents. According to this video, brake lights are lit when the engine brake takes effect. Good to know.
It makes good economy to buy electric cars because of the tax relief (in Norway only), high demand for secondhand EVs, and – not least – the fact that you fill your batteries at home for pocket money.
I recommend the comfort package with automatic climate control, etc. That brings the price tag to NOK 259,900.
The new i3 REx raises the price to NOK 359,900 for the same equipment. It is a pity that the Norwegian tax system does not provide benefits to such solutions, ie electric vehicle with gasoline-fueled charging motor.
On the down side for all EVs today comes the risk of new battery technology, like in the Tesla. A rapid product development, might reduce the demand for yesterday’s car.
The i3 is not an ordinary car that is converted into an EV. It is a brand new concept, telling everyone about a new trend of modern technology.
⦁ Powerful engine
⦁ Pleasant sound inside cabin
⦁ Require some time to get familiar with basic handles
⦁ Impractical back seats