My name is Steven and I was Born Electric on Friday, 14th February, 2014.
Do I? Oh yes! BMW may not have delivered the alpha and omega of the motoring world, but boy, how good is it?
Every aspect to like has been covered in many a publication on many a different medium, but does this bombardment of information convey the feeling of ’togetherness’ of the finished product I have? I guess not, but I leave this for everyone to judge for themselves. Having driven 1600 km (around 1000 mi) the last week, of which 1230 km (765 mi) electric, my preliminary conclusion is that BMW has delivered something good here. And I’m not going to be talking about the performance, which is excellent, E-range, which is adequate, or about the battery, knowing that it could have been larger, but I will tell you a story about what you can do while having a nice conversation with your mother-in-law.
To begin with the latter: the effortless way the performance is delivered is absolutely fabulous. It is not just about sheer speed, there are faster cars, it is about acceleration with a creamy topping. This allows, for instance, for keeping up nicely, in this case up to 80 km/h (50 mi/h) in city traffic, with, say, a dark-blue 911 with spoilers extended and engine roaring. Whilst having a civilized conversation. With my mother-in-law, her being the least ‘brave’ of passengers one could imagine. Not a peep. At least not in the i3 :-) Just the subdued jet-airplane whine of its motor.
The same goes for decelerating. The recuperation is done very well, it comes naturally almost instantly. If one does need the footbrake, the transition is seamless. It is like the engine braking of a heavy diesel-powered vehicle and then some. Excellent !
To round it off, the comfort level is kept up nicely by the suspension and the road holding abilities are surprisingly good. The suspension is not soft, the wheelbase is on the short side, you’ll notice this on speed-bumps and short humps, but safe and comfortable it feels. It could be it is simply exactly to my taste and on par with my expectations. Just don’t ask me for an unbiased review then…
So, I like driving it. Almost as much as I like the interior now, for which I needed some time to get accustomed to the wild styling. We went for Lodge, being the light wool/leather combination. In our original order, we ordered the standard grey, but after driving our friend’s BEV with the white Loft interior, we changed our order on the very last moment. The light upholstery combines so much better with the interior design. Especially while ours is Laurel Grey on the outside. Not a topping, but a creamy center in this case. Nice. The feel and quality of it is absolutely on par with other BMW products, I am relieved to say, for we where a bit worried by the pre production cars we were presented with last year. It looks good, it feels good, even the doors sound fine now.
The ergonomics are ok. Some bonuspoints are not scored, some function follows form, as is the case in some other aspects of the i3, but if you are accustomed to other BMWs, you’ll get in and drive off. Also, the interior space is quite good. Everyone taking a ride is surprised the car is bigger than expected on the outside and roomier than expected on the inside. Fine for four adults not going around the world. When 1m90 (6’3”) though, it does get a little tight on the backseat. The ceiling is a tad on the low side for your average basketball-player. Also, the bootspace is, as widely written about, not ideal to cater for your basketball-team. It still is a small car, one needs to remember…
Finally, my take on the much debated exterior. It isn’t exactly pretty, but I like it a lot for all its quirkiness, what can I say ? The size is spot-on for me, with a length of 3999 mm (157.5”), the proportions render a sturdy image, the details look great in real life. Except the rear. It remains just too weird. But hey, nobody is perfect !
Love lost ? That is overstating it for dramatic purposes, but downsides there are. It feels like most of it is caused by form prevailing over function or, maybe, judgmental errors. For instance, the front windows seem to have difficulty coping with heavy gales. The top can leak air in this case. Also, the frameless windows cause a little turbulence around its rubbers on the B-pillar. The frameless windows could be a weight-saving measure and I am not against letting design rule over function, but I do question the decision to omit the window-frames.
Next issue: the charger. This is a big one. It is inexcusable BMW didn’t fit a three-phase AC charger. I really don’t get it, it is simply stupid. It could be that three-phase electrics aren’t common outside our little corner of the world, but north-western European customers could have benefited greatly having their AC charging times cut to one third. Let’s hope DC charging catches on…
Also high on my could-be-better list is the remote control. It is such a small part of the car, but you’ll handle it multiple times every day. It is a sort of plastic/metallic fob with buttons one can’t discern by touch, so it is not easy to press the right buttons unless looking while doing.
On top of this there are some niggles. The modulation of the heater could be better. And there are the caps (blind plugs ?) for the charge ports. Why ? And why the little hook for these to hang them from the flap ? It is all but useless. And why the rubber cord holding the two caps to the car (which I removed) ? And why is the flap covering the charge-port so big that I fear that somebody will break it off while walking past the car one day ? And why is there not a kind of courtesy handle for unlatching the security latch of the bonnet, like on our good old 3 series ? Oh well…
Born to live electric
What range do I get ? Perhaps the single most important question for battery drivers. This depends heavily on the driving style and top speed of course. My combined total is now around 17 kWh/100 km (62 mi) doing mixed driving and including road testing from me and my family members. I have observed a consumption of around 17-18 kWh/100 km (62 mi) when driving a hundred (62 mi/h), around 18-19 when driving one-ten (68), around 21-22 doing one-twenty (75) and around 24 doing 130 km/h (80). In not too cold weather (approx. 8 degrees centigrade (46 F)), and without too much wind and no torrential downpours.
My preferred mode of operation is using EcoPro with the climate control excluded and set to 19˚C (66 F), without A/C, the fans on the lowest setting and seat heating for driver and passenger activated as needed. This gives us a nice balance between comfort and consumption, for I don’t like the EcoPro implementation for the climate control. It is a very good thing one can exclude the climate control from EcoPro.
In real use, I haven’t used my REx all last week, doing 1000 km (621 mi) on electricity, I am pleased to say. For instance, we did a full-electric roundtrip to Germany yesterday of 290 km (180 mi) with a stop to and fro at a DC fast-charger and charging in Germany during our shopping expedition without a problem. One has to be careful to feather the throttle, even in EcoPro modus, and one has to keep Vmax at around 110 (68) for best results. I admit I couldn’t keep myself in check all the time, driving is supposed to be fun at times, right, so I used a little more than I could have used, but there was no problem reaching our designated charging stations. Driving like a granny is no prerequisite for driving off your kitchen socket….
Of course, I cannot get away here without telling you something about our i3’s party trick: the never ending range. At least until we’ve managed to drain all earths resources. The REx has been much disputed, highly coveted and widely renounced. For me, it’s just perfect. It does its job nicely but not so nice as to forgo on charging the car at all. The exterior noise is reminiscent of the good old loveable Italian egg, the original Fiat 500. Although not air-cooled, it sounds eerily similar. Inside, the noise is never a real issue. It is never exactly loud, however you’ll hear it when it needs to work hard to keep your seats heated and your speed on the other side of 100 km/h (62 mi/h).
Our REx kicked in automatically with around 6 km (4 mi) of range remaining. When cruising along, even with this minute battery reserve, the engine adjusts its output to match the car’s requirements nicely. Until you start to floor the throttle at the lights. Every flat-out acceleration will cost you around one km of range, so the engine starts revving up time after time, a couple of seconds after taking off. It keeps up the revs until the range start to creep back up.
The same thing happens on the motorway. Taking it easy, doing a 100 km/h (62) with mod cons, the engine keeps its revs in check. When picking up the pace, going 120 km/h (75) in EcoPro with heater in Comfort mode set at reasonable temperature, using 21-22kW to heat and propel the i3 with two passengers, the engine starts to work. Depending on the wind and terrain, which is nice and flat here for it was designed especially to suit E-vehicles when creating the Dutch ‘polders’ from the seventeenth century onwards, the engine keeps it up nicely though. Even with a fully drained battery so it seems. I tested this on the motorway in the torrential rains and high winds we had here last Friday night. But that is about it. Going 130 km/h (80), using 24-25kW will see you eating into your reserve, albeit slowly. My preliminary conclusion is that our little REx pumps out something close to 22 kW of electric power, enough to keep up a pace of around 120 km/h (75 mi/h).
That said, the little bee under the floor didn’t mind buzzing for an over hour at a stretch with 100-110 km/h (62-68) on the clock with windforce 9 plus gales against and not much left in the battery (11 km (7 mi) of range to be exact). This on a day on which we drove 320 km (200 mi), of which only 100 km (62 mi) electric. It did consume 8 litres in 100 km (29 MPG US) doing this exercise though. But I also scored 4.25 l/100 km (55 MPG US) driving around 80 km (50 mi) at a stretch going the other direction and 6 l/100 km (39 MPG US) on a 160 km (100 mi) round trip the next day. The variation in the data is still quite large, and our experience not extensive after a total of 370 km (230 mi) of buzzing, but my estimate would be it is going to do a little over 6 l/100km (39 MPG US) for us.
The aforementioned shortcomings, niggles and design choices still bother me a little because the car is, in essence, so good. I’ll get used to them. I’ve done over sixteen hundred kilometers (1000 mi) at the time of writing this. It has been a joy, it will continue to be a joy I guess. I expect some other niggles or problems popping up because of the innovative nature of the i3 and the inexperience of BMW with many of its parts and materials, but I really like what they have done with their 3 billion euros. It is absolutely not merely a city car, feeling like riding a lame duck on the motorway, it is a proper little beemer. BMW scored, for me, a 7 out of 10 when we first saw the car at the introduction, but it ramped up to an outstanding 9 out of 10 for the Münchener.