Los Angeles, CA – BMW has assembled a fleet of i3s for the Los Angeles auto show. Los Angeles is the perfect venue to show off this vehicle, after all the i3 is billed as a mega-city car, and Los Angeles is definitely a mega-city. And the keys were in them, a short route through downtown LA plugged into the navigation system, and a full battery charge. All waiting for drivers to partake.
This was an opportunity to verify what BMW intended to accomplish with their advancements in electric mobility, production processes, and car-to-world connectivity. While the drive itself was very brief, and not all aspects of connectivity could be explored, the streets of downtown Los Angeles provided a decent preview of how the car would handle in its intended environment.
The cockpit is brilliantly futuristic with both display panels seemingly floating above the eucalyptus wood dash panel. Speed was displayed in front of the driver and navigation on the center display. With ConnectedDrive services the navigation system is used to help optimize the drive and remove anxiety from the electric mobility experience.
With the battery pack under the floor the hip point of the seats is tall – lending a ‘command’ driving position. The interior surfaces and touch-points all look and feel good and they are composed of materials carefully selected to minimize environmental impact.
Access to the individual seats is good – including the rear when the rear hinged demi-doors are open and the front seatbacks tilted forward. Storage is adequate for typical urban shopping (groceries for example) and can be enhanced by folding down the rear seats. There is also a small bin for a charging cable and mobility kit in the front. BMW decided not to use run-flats due to the weight disadvantage compared to normal tires. Every gram of this car was accounted for according to BMW.
With foot on the brake pedal the car is ‘started’ by pressing the start/stop button on the shift lever. Maybe starting is not the appropriate term for the i3, rather it should be ‘energized’. Rotate the shift lever to the appropriate direction of travel, release the brake and engage the accelerator and the i3 glides off virtually silently.
The accelerator is not at all ‘touchy’, the i3 doesn’t leap forward the instant the pedal is breathed on, rather it responds progressively to the drivers input. Gentle application results in smooth movement, however, push the pedal to the floor and the i3 will scoot like a scalded cat.
Stoplight to stoplight the acceleration of the i3 is something special. And it is the i3’s lightweight structure in combination with the instant full-torque delivery of the electric motor that provides the great acceleration. And that acceleration is not accompanied by a cacophony of noise – merely a hum. The i3 is exceptionally quiet in town at typical city street speeds.
But the i3 feels more substantial than its under 2700 pound curb weight. That might be attributed to its steering weighting, elevated seating position, and a very stiff structure. And that stiff structure gave the i3 a confident, connected ride – easily absorbing the less than smooth pavement without float or excess jarring. Thanks to the rear mounted electric motor the i3 has a very tight turning radius. The steering felt good – well tuned for the urban streets it traveled on. Unfortunately it was difficult, given the route, to get a good sampling of handling characteristics.
Too soon the route was over and the i3 was returned. The initial impression is that this will be a hit – BMW will have no problem selling all of the i3s it can manufacture. Given some additional seat time in the i3 we should be able to get a better glimpse into the features of ConnectedDrive, real life range, and handling – but I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this vehicle for anyone in the market for a premium city car.