By Jeff Southern
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I have always been an auto enthusiast. Recent, I have become an electric vehicle enthusiast. I spent about a year from July of 2012 until May of 2013 restoring a 1974 VW Thing and converting it to electric drive. You can see my work and the car at www.EVThing.me.
The EVThing is a great car for cursing around town on nice days and frequenting car shows. I absolutely love owning and driving the car. After driving this car for a few months I knew that I wanted to also own a modern electric vehicle with more creature comforts. I work in sales and have a sales territory that is roughly a 50 mile radius of Atlanta GA. I have to keep a mileage log, so I know my daily driving habits quite well.
I drove a Nissan Leaf, but knew that the range was not suitable for my daily needs. It was close. I also tried the Chevy Volt which could work for my primary vehicle, but I wanted a vehicle with more electric range. At the time, the Tesla Model S was my only option with enough range to cover my daily driving needs. So, I scheduled a test drive.
Driving the Tesla Model S
I first test drove the Tesla Model S on July 14th. I found the car to be an excellent vehicle with only a couple of issues for me. It was a quiet, fast car with excellent handling. It is a large sedan with plenty of cargo space and seating for five adults. However, I am almost 50 years old, 6’4” tall, about 230 lbs and have a bad back. I found the low slung Tesla Model S difficult to get in and out of. I also noticed that I had limited visibility out of the windshield. I would have to lean forward and look up to see traffic lights and overhead road signs. I also notice that my head hit the headliner in the back seats of the Model S. My head also just brushed the head liner in the drivers seat. I am not sure the seat was all the way down, although I did try to get it down as low as possible. Since the Model S is a large sedan, I actually though there would be more room inside the car.
I recently owned a 2008 Chevy Corvette that had similar issues. It was not a deal breaker for the Corvette as I owned it for four years and enjoyed the car. However the Model S would be a $80,000 to $90,000 car and I just would not have wanted to live with these annoyances in such an expensive sedan. However I did like the driving dynamics of the Model S, so I put a deposit down on a Tesla Model X thinking it would likely be more comfortable for me.
The New Kid On The Block – BMW i3
Shortly afterwards, I began reading more and more about the new BMW i3. The one with the Range Extender seemed quite interesting to me and would cover about 90-95% of my driving needs on electric drive, and the REx could handle the 5-10% of the time I need an extra 5 to 20 more miles of range. On November 6th I was able to get a test drive in the BMW i3 here in Atlanta.
My first impression was “I’ll never fit it that thing”. (Which is ironic since I actually own a Thing). However, when I got inside I was quite surprised at how much room it had. I had plenty of head, shoulder and leg room. The telescoping steering column had a good deal of travel. It is a feature that really helps tall drivers find a comfortable driving position. I also noticed that I had excellent vision out of the vehicle in all directions.
When I got in the back seat. I was again surprised to have more than enough headroom. With the driver’ seat all the way back, the leg room was quite tight, but I as able to move the seat up a little and still found a comfortable driving position that also allowed me to sit comfortably in the back seat. I did this test because I need to be able to carry three adults in my car if I intend to used it as my company vehicle. as we often carry our clients out to lunch. I felt this vehicle would be fine for that role. In summary, I found the i3 to be more comfortable for me than the Model S due to the ease of entry, the upright seating position and much better all around visibility.
After my test drive, my wife, who is only 5’2”, quickly snuggled down into the i3’s driver seat and found what she described as a comfortable driving position for her. I can assure you that it is rare for both of us to find a comfortable driving positions in almost any car due to the difference in our physical size.
On the test drive, I was impressed with the i3’s quickness. It is not Model S fast, but still quick. The i3 is smooth, quiet and has solid performance. The handling is what you would expect from a lightweight BMW. It is quick, precise and well balanced. Of course it’s not an M3 or a Corvette, but still a joy to drive. Just like my EVThing, it actually makes driving in traffic a pleasure.
I know some people do not like the look of the i3, but I find its styling to be refreshing. To me, It looks different and futuristic. I especially like the interior. For such a small vehicle it is amazing how much usable space this vehicle has. There are useful little cubby holes to hold all kinds of items. The trunk is a little small, basically a big cube. I often carry some demo equipment around with me and the shape of the trunk is well suited to rectangular demo cases. The height of the cargo deck is IDEAL for people like me with a bad back. It would also be great to hold a weeks worth of groceries (as the wife pointed out). If you lower the back seats there is actually a solid cargo area for many larger items like a 50” LCD TV.
Just after our test drive, the wife and I both agreed (also rare) that this will be our next vehicle. I would have ordered one on the spot if they were taking orders in the U.S. at this time. I hope to get one as soon as they are available next year. If it turns out be be as good as I think it is, I will request a refund of my Model X reservation. I am sure that the Model X will be an excellent vehicle, but I think the i3 is just as great and it is about half the price and well suited to my needs and quite comfortable…. and fun to drive.