A while ago I announced that I would be starting a new series here called, “I was Born Electric on…”. I’ll be featuring readers who are i3 owners and who are willing to share their thoughts on the car after taking possession. They will begin the post by introducing themselves and stating the date they were Born Electric, which is when they picked up their i3. Without further ado, I bring you Andy from the UK, our first i3 owner & Born Electric guest blogger:
Hi, my name is Andy and I was Born Electric on Saturday, January 11th, 2014.
I came to the EV party a bit late in the day, as I was a typical petrolhead and dismissed electric cars as an irrelevance – underpowered, no range, ugly, the usual stuff – and even when I first saw the i3 concept, it looked weird & the projected price seemed way too high (I think a projected £40,000 base price was mentioned at the time). So I ignored it and carried on driving my gas guzzling M3, even though I wasn’t enjoying the daily grind in it: mainly in traffic, 40+ miles a day, costing me around £350 a month in petrol. The only times I really got to enjoy the M3 was on my drives with the guys at Petrolhead Nirvana, who arrange trips to Scotland, Wales, the Alps, and elsewhere – amazing places where you can give a 400hp car a bit of stick. More about them later.
Then the i3 proper was launched in August, and at seemingly sensible prices (c£25,000 after the UK grant), with leasing costs at around £350 a month. Hey, that number looked familiar – an idea began to formulate in my mind… and a few days later, early August 2013, I was putting down a deposit. My man-maths (or man-math for our American cousins) told me that the fuel saving, together with fewer miles on the M3 meaning lower depreciation, less tyre wear & fewer services, could make the i3 a “free” car! A quick spin in an ActiveE in September blew me away and confirmed my thoughts that I was doing the right thing, then an actual i3 test drive in early November really sealed the deal. Except the demo car was loaded with extras which I had a chance to play with, so my originally bare bones car ended up, if not fully loaded, at least three-quarters loaded. On top of the gadgets like Parking Assist & Driving Assistant, I liked the wood on the dash, but I also liked a darker interior that wouldn’t show the dirt so much, so the Suite (Tera in US) interior was added in too. Suddenly my arithmetic wasn’t adding up quite so well, but too late now!
Delivery was scheduled for late January, but you’ll have gathered that I was hardly racing to be the first owner of an i3; I figured there had to be many UK buyers who’d been more far-sighted & quicker off the mark than me. So I was really surprised to be the first in the UK – or at least, the first in the UK on the mybmwi3 forum – to take delivery of an i3. As I write, 10 days after, it seems there have been no more deliveries still, and there’s even talk of further delays, so I don’t know how mine beat the blockade, but I’m glad it did!
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Before the car was due at the end of January, I had to get one fitted at home, so after a fair bit of chasing, I took a call on Monday 6th January booking me in at short notice for the following Thursday – “we’d better get on with it as your car’s at the dealers”. Wait, what?! A quick trip down there after work confirmed there was a car matching my order exactly, sitting there quietly – but the dealer at first denied it was mine! A bit of pushing from me finally established it was mine, but also that there was a mistake on my invoice, putting the dealer’s £5,000 grant from the government in potential jeopardy. So while it was all sorted out, my car sat there doing nothing, just out of my grasp, and I eventually took delivery on the Saturday. Frustrating – but in light of the delays others are experiencing now, I should’ve been more patient!
It turned out my house, built around 1900, had electrics that weren’t much newer, so neither the supply to the house nor the cable to the garage were up to the job of charging at the full 7.5kW. I’ve ended up with half that, but that’s plenty to recharge the car from almost flat to 100% overnight. The BMW wallbox is a big ugly thing though, and I wish I’d gone for the smaller & cheaper option made by Polar, or one of its competitors. I think for the charging rate my house will support, it would’ve been free in fact.
My first few miles
My first day as an EV driver was spent going round friends & relations, and blowing their minds. I’m sure this is old news to all you current EV drivers, but the whole experience is so alien, yet so pleasurable, that a huge grin is inevitable the first time you try it, whether driving or as a passenger. It’s a fantastic talking point too – friends, clients, even strangers are all eager to know more about what the future of motoring holds for us all.
My first long trip. Range Anxiety – what’s that then?
Each month, Petrolhead Nirvana (the guys who organize the long distance driving trips) hold a meeting at the Ace Cafe, a famous venue for car & bike owners in northwest London. January’s meet was only two days after I’d taken delivery, but I was keen to take my new toy to show off to my pals there, although it wasn’t quite in the spirit of the occasion – people usually bring their Ferraris & Lambos, M-cars & 911s. I was fairly sure they wouldn’t kick me out, but there was another hurdle for someone with a 2-day old pure electric car (I’d avoided the REx on cost, performance, and purity grounds – lugging a petrol generator around everywhere seemed to spoil the whole idea, and with a bit of planning, didn’t seem necessary, for me anyway) – the Ace is about a 70 miles round trip, and at that stage of my ownership, a whole week ago, I really wasn’t sure if I’d make it. I know better now! A cold & slow EP+ drive up there left me with plenty of range (especially after borrowing some electricity from the cafe manager, thanks Nick!) to give some rides to my Petrolhead mates, all of whom raved about it – the more demo cars BMW can get out there, the more they’ll sell, definitely – and to drive home in Comfort mode, and in comfort, with the heating on and a heavy right foot. I figured that if the range remaining got close to the distance to home, I could soft-pedal and knock it back to EP or even EP+ mode and still get home. Using this method, I had a fantastic fast drive back through London and made it home with 6 miles to spare – a close call, but I really didn’t feel worried at any stage.
Range Reduction vs Miles Traveled
Since my epic(!) trip, it’s been the usual commute for the last week, and as I know I’m going to do around 50 miles a day at the most, I drive it without thinking about economy at all. As a result, my iPhone’s been telling me I have 75 miles at the start of the day (100% SOC), but then my spreadsheet tells me that my range reduces by about 13 miles for every 10 miles I drive, even though the car’s had a few days now to predict it accurately. So if I drove normally (for me), I’d be stranded at about 60 miles. Don’t be alarmed though – if I needed to go further in a day, I’d drive differently, and get maybe 90-100 miles. I don’t know for sure yet though, as driving economically is next week’s experiment!
As it is, one thing I’m enjoying immensely is coming home, plugging it in, and knowing that a few hours later I’ll have a full “tank” for minimal cost. I’m certainly not missing my frequent visits to the petrol (US: gas) station, and it feels strangely liberating each time I drive past one. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll love it.
Performance – the i3 vs M3 race
You’ve probably seen this video of the drag race at Brands Hatch from the UK launch, where the i3 storms ahead of the M3 before finally being overtaken at maybe 50mph. After driving the i3 for a week, and being in the fortunate position of having both cars, I thought it didn’t quite seem right, and once the weather improved enough to get the M3 out of the garage, I fired up my Dynolicious app (no, this wasn’t going to be a properly scientific test!) and set off – to a test track near me, obviously. The i3 was very easy to measure consistently – just put your foot down. The M3 needed a bit more finesse, and it was strange having to get used to driving it again after only a week. It turned out that, surprise surprise, the i3 was quick, but not as quick as an M3. To its credit, it was only a second off at 50mph (5.5s vs 4.5s), but then I wasn’t really trying in the M3 as it was a bit damp and I had to be careful with the throttle. If the M3 was properly driven by someone who knows what they’re doing, the gap would be much wider I’m sure. Click on the pictures to enlarge:
I guess I’m a bit of a geek, although I don’t profess to be any kind of computer expert. I do enjoy fiddling with technology though, and that’s one of the things that attracted me to the i3 – I’m especially enjoying stuff like the Driving Assistant, almost making my commute enjoyable, and the Parking Assist just makes passengers laugh! The voice control is very good, much better than the old iDrive’s in the M3, and the phone call sound quality over Bluetooth is much better too, helped by the quietness of the car I guess. And coming down to a toasty car with a clear windscreen on a frosty morning is superb! However, I somehow imagined the quiet peaceful surroundings of the car, and using the Active Cruise Control, would get me to work completely relaxed and happy, but that was expecting too much: it still takes me just as long, and there are just as many idiots on the road, after all. Even an i3 can’t magic them away! Some of the tech is pretty tricky to figure out, even for a geek like me, and I wonder if BMW will lose some of their potential audience – people who aren’t tech-savvy but who would otherwise be perfect for an EV might get scared off.
There’s also stuff that doesn’t work so well, including both the things I’ve just praised. The Active Cruise Control, part of the driving assistant, intermittently (but quite often) switches itself off, saying it’s outside its working parameters – even when it’s in the same conditions it was working fine in a minute ago. I’m not sure if it’s a design “feature”, or if my car has a fault. The Parking Assist threw a fit last night too, just when I was showing it off to someone, naturally. As it began to reverse, it lost track of where it was and slammed on the brakes (it sounded like the ABS came on, even though we were going slow), with dire messages appearing on-screen about the system being broken and insisting the car be taken to a dealer ASAP. I turned it off and on again (see, I do know about computers) and it worked fine. I’ve dropped it in to the dealers today though, and they’re sending the diagnostic report off to BMW to see what they say.
The rear doors can be closed quite gently before you close the fronts – but if you do, a warning appears on the dash as you drive round corners saying they’re open! A proper slam to close them does the trick; the dealer’s looking into that too. Finally, some of the connected drive stuff is pretty poor (not unique to the i3, I realize); Facebook & Twitter don’t give you enough of each post to be useful, email doesn’t work at all unless you have a Blackberry apparently, and the apps like Napster & Audible are very clunky to operate.
So, it’s fair to say that overall I’m really pleased with my i3. It’s quick, interesting, cheap to run, well made (niggles aside – but it feels solidly put together), and superbly designed inside. I’m still not 100% keen on the exterior looks, but she’s growing on me. The Andesite paint looks great in some lights, a nice technical shade of grey, possibly with a very slight hint of brown to go with the dark brown leather interior & the wood on the dash – and in other lights it just looks like old man’s beige! I rather wish I’d gone for a different colour, but unlike Tom, I like the contrasting black hood & roof, so the dark greys are out. And I don’t like white or silver – so bright orange is what I should’ve gone for. Next time, eh? For now, I’m looking forward to many happy miles in this futuristic vehicle which seems to get everyone talking. I might be a latecomer to this particular party, but hey, I’ve got the perfect ice-breaker!