I believe that it’s a good thing to be open-minded. Even nature verifies this. If you are not robust and flexible or open to options in an ever-changing environment, you’re doomed. Even a mighty tree that isn’t somewhat flexible will snap in a strong wind. If we rely on one type of sustenance, we starve when the supply ends. Period.
With that in mind, at some point the subject goes to either the environment or the reliance on fossil fuels and the political influences (or tethers) placed on its reliance. All that is fine and we generally have little input on the prices of gasoline. But we do have options these days on how much we use in our daily situations. This affects our pockets directly.
So I guess it’s time we consider the option of driving an electric vehicle for our daily driver. But first a little background of what I’m up against.
It’s not easy here in America for an all-electric car to make headway into the fossil fuel dominated market. Even with the government subsidies and credits, it isn’t an easy sell. But like anyone in the automotive industry will tell you, the right product solves everything.
It’s a well-known fact that I’m not a fan of electric “looking” cars. In my opinion they’ve looked like toasters…generally. I’m not talking about some of the American made hybrids that are based off of standing models. I’m speaking of true electric cars. Thankfully Tesla stepped in and created a revolutionary vehicle that is not only mainstreamed and beautiful in it’s appearance, but also ground breaking in its technology.
It solves some of the primary concerns we have with electric vehicles. “For the price, I can’t go anywhere but around the neighborhood. Why not just get a golf cart?” Recent offerings have finally begun to solve this limitation to a degree through one technological solution or another.
I’ve known about BMW’s entry into the electric vehicle market through the “i-concepts”. Both the i3 and the i8 were being developed from the ground up to be electric and lightweight. This may not be an original solution, but with the BMW innovation teams working on it, I expected it to be pretty good once they came to market. They didn’t disappoint us.
The good thing is these days when you see a concept vehicle, you can pretty well bet that the end product that that makes it to the street will be VERY close to the original vision. Once again, BMW doesn’t disappoint us.
Moving right into the subject of this review. I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time with the new BMW i3. I had taken a short test drive earlier in the year and was intrigued enough to be anxious for a more extensive look at it and how it would fit in a daily driving situation.
During that initial drive, I recall being impressed by the openness of the interior and the fit and finish as well as quality of the materials. I also was impressed by the driving dynamics of such a vehicle. But again it is a BMW.
Stepping forward to now, I can’t help but to notice how I think my views on the looks of electric cars are evolving. Initially they did nothing for me. They still don’t…really, but I’m not opposed to it. In fact I understand it. They are designed with a purpose in mind. Once I understood the purpose. I’m good with it. In fact, I sort of like the looks of the BMW i3 after a bit of settling in.
There’s no mistaking this as anything but a BMW upon walking up to it. The common person might just be surprised that BMW makes something so small. Or should I say “small-ish”, as it’s really not a super compact or anything like that. It’s just efficient.
Again it bears repeating here that as always, we aren’t going to deep dive into the specifications or technological innovations on this car. We’ll leave that to the other media outlets. Our main focus is about our impressions and the daily use and suitability for being our Daily Tread.
The outline of the i3 is obviously influenced by wind tunnel testing and to provide ample room for the occupants and its primary purpose of being efficient in size and footprint.
At first glance you might initially think this is a two-door coupe due to its efficient size. Then you notice the doors that enable you to enter the rear seats. The doors are clamshell doors that you gain access to by first opening the front door. At first this seems like an unnecessary step, but upon further evaluation you come to appreciate that extra step when you can step back and see the open access to the rear. Essentially it’s like the entire side of the cabin opens up without the interference of a huge structural B-pillar in the way. Once again I understand.
Moving inside, I still can’t help but to be impressed by the choice and quality of the materials presented here. The interior of this i3 is beautiful.
You typically see spacious and futuristic designs on concept vehicles only to have them dumbed down when the production model arrives. Not in this case. You feel like you are sitting at the auto show inside a concept. But its well done, useable, and not just for show. There are the usual BMW components and the interior design though ultra-modern, is in keeping with the current sweeping design language seen in the other models.
Since the i3 was designed from the ground up to be electric and “green” they have made extensive use of either recovered or recoverable materials inside. The composite sections of the dash and door panels per se don’t look cheap. Nothing inside this i3 looks cheap.
The model I had was the Giga World model with the mid-range interior and option level. To me, it would be my favorite as it’s open and airy and includes leather and wool-cloth seating. I loved the look of the flowing dash that includes floating instrumentation and information screens that sit beautifully on curved “open-pored eucalyptus” wood. Again, the interior was wonderful crafted with lots fo stitched leather trim and surfaces.
Everything was in easy reach; the controls were as expected and typical to the BMW line. The start and drive selector was tucked efficiently behind the right side of the steering wheel. At times the steering wheel was in the way of looking to see where it was but this was a small inconvenience as opposed to having it floor or console mounted and decreasing the open space.
The “floating” iDrive screen had enough options and modes to keep anyone busy as well as fully informed about the operation of the vehicle. The primary cluster gave good information as well on the instant state of charge as well as the required information such as speed, range, etc. All was properly and efficiently presented.
BMW is about being the Ultimate Driving Machine. That’s what sold me on BMW and continues to be a standard that I use to judge others by. With the i3 they succeeded in making this drive like a BMW. But of course; that’s what it is. The near 50/50 weight distribution and low center of gravity makes this a fun and controlled drive. This is surprising given the rather tall but narrow tires. There was never a moment that I didn’t feel that what I wanted the i3 to do wasn’t translated properly into action.
My initial test drive of an i3 was my first drive of any purely electric vehicle. The surprise and elation I felt from the immediate surge of instant torque is addicting. I’m used to a car downshifting or revving to gain the pull of torque. This car is swift. I understand this is typical of electric vehicles. This alone will make some power hungry drivers take a look at the torque advantage of electrics. In fact several supercar manufacturers are now benefiting from this through hybrid versions of their super-cars. The immediate and usable amount of torque cannot be denied.
This quick and immediate access of pulling power is very useful if needed. It added to the feeling that you were in full control at all times. Typically in gasoline-powered compacts, you have sacrificed power for the sake of efficiency. Not here. Those days of picking your spots to merge into traffic just so you can avoid being in the way of larger more powerful vehicles is not a concern with the i3.
Being designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle, BMW has made full use of regenerative braking in helping charge the battery. This takes a minute or so to get used to, as this regenerative braking can be stronger than in other electric vehicles I’ve been told.
While driving, as soon as you lift your foot off of the accelerator, you are immediately slowed down by the battery being recharged by the energy otherwise lost by the rolling of the car. So much so that when you lift your foot and the regenerative braking is aggressively slowing the car, the brake lights illuminate to let cars following you that you are indeed slowing even though you don’t have your foot on the brake. Thank you BMW for this.
With BMW eDrive’s Brake Energy Recuperation you can essentially drive your entire urban excursion using “One Pedal” driving. It’s not as far fetched as that sounds. I even embraced and welcomed it.
I also discovered that for the times where you prefer a more “typical” driving mode where you can simply coast downhill or not be dragged to a stop, you “slightly” lift off the accelerator. This will allow you to coast. With this you still capture a bit of energy, but your drive will be like any other vehicle where you coast until you hit the brake pedal.
This is an urban vehicle thought its no slouch on the highway. There’s no need to reach the advertised 93-mile/hr top speed these days, but the i3 doesn’t strain at normal highway speeds. During my highway driving I even got to use the adaptive cruise control, which operated flawlessly.
Another benefit of the amount and availability of instant torque was obvious when climbing the hilly terrain in my area. My normal ICE vehicle would typically downshift to gain the power to make it up the hill. There was absolutely no drama or strain for the i3 to climb the hill with surprising ease.
I can’t stress enough how much I liked the interior of this i3. Though this is a relatively compact car in it’s exterior dimensions, the interior is surprisingly spacious. At no time was there any inconvenience due to cramped or tight quarters.
Seating is great and properly firm to sustain you on an extended drive. I recall when I first got into a European sedan and noticed how “hard” the seats were, I was somewhat put off. I hear that from others occasionally too. I have to explain to them though that after a bit of time in these seats you come to appreciate the firmness. It al but eliminates any back or bottom fatigue you normally experience with a softer and therefore non-supportive seat.
Being a green car, manually operated seats were great. It took me a moment to learn how to adjust them properly, but they were good. There was no seating position I desired that I could not achieve with these multi-adjustable manual seats. There is no need for the added weight and complexity of power seats in this lightweight green BMW.
Visibility was another bonus of the high seating position of the i3. The open-ness of the cabin and the glass areas made you forget you were driving a small car. At no times while driving this car did I feel like I was in a small car. The dash stretched out in front of you and the surfaces were far enough away from you that you were secure, but “spacious”. In fact, though I’m not the biggest fan of the exterior, you totally forgot about it once inside.
I had the opportunity to spend some time in the rear of the cabin as well. I’m approximately 5’ 11” tall of medium build. With the front seat adjusted perfectly, I had no problem entering the rear seats and sitting behind the driver’s seat comfortably. This is an urban car however so it’s not designed for long hauls, but rear seat riding can be done reasonably given the purpose of the vehicle.
Getting used to the clamshell doors was not as much of an issue as I thought it would be. True, you cannot exit or enter without the front door being opened first. But it wasn’t a true hassle as expected. The benefit and sight line of having both front and read doors open at once was worth it.
I took the opportunity to take the i3 to help my 95-year old father make some of his rounds. Dad is in great shape for his age with the exception of his bad knees. Like most senior citizens, he never hesitates to go into details about this or any other ailments he has at any given time. But he realizes his ailments pale in comparison to the alternative. So he understands his blessings.
He loved the car! He didn’t mind the looks at all. He couldn’t get over the fact that it was quiet and didn’t burn gas to run.
Being an old-timer, his gauge as to how good the car is, was to look at the speedometer to see how high it went. He was looking hard to see if the speedometer went up to “120”. I had to first explain that this had a digital readout, blah, blah, blah. He understood but still felt he wanted to see 120 on the speedo.
My father getting in and out of this car made the trip worth it. Dad typically has to work his way into any car including his. Yes, at 95 he still drives. He has a hard time lowering himself into most cars and getting his legs in because of his bad knees. Then comes the effort to get out. Dad had absolutely no problem entering, the i3. I didn’t even have to adjust the seat to give him more room. He could easily get his legs inside and the seating was comfortable. Nor did he have any trouble exiting the i3 as since it’s a compact car, the seating position is still rather upright and tall.
Here is where I get to find out whether I can make the leap to electric. Like most people who live in or near a city, range is important. Though costly, I like the comfort of being able fill up my tank and not having to be concerned about where I go or how I drive for a few days. Can I gain some sort of comfort that I can safely make my daily runs without concern about being stranded? So let’s see.
The i3 I drove was the model with the range extender. I’d like to think of the range extender engine more of a generator than an engine. It is simply there as a gasoline generator to keep power going to the batteries charged to run the electric motors. We expect this to be the majority of the units sold within the US. Range anxiety is huge as well as a hurdle in this market.
Specifications aside, I’m glad to see the base BMW i3 BEV is rated as essentially the most efficient vehicle available at this time by the US Government as reported on their list of 2014 model vehicles. (Fueleconomy.gov’s Top Ten EPA-Rated Fuel Sippers 2014). The base model is rated at a whopping 124MPGe combined. The model I had with the range extender is a bit lower due to the weight of the engine, but you are afforded almost double the amount of miles you can drive.
At the start of my day, the readout showed I had an estimated 70 miles of electric driving and 68 miles of range extended miles if needed. My goal was to drive normally and not have to dip into the extender. I’m not going to bore you with my route but all the driving I did was no problem for the mileage. I was finally down to 7 miles left on electric when I made it to one of my stops that also had a public (and FREE) Level 2 charging station available. So I was able to “re-charge” my i3 quite a bit for the balance of the driving I needed to do for the day. Once I got home I simply plugged it in and I was ready to go the next morning.
Charging was not the unpleasant event I thought it would be either. I was able to find plenty of public charging stations in my normal driving environment that it wouldn’t be a problem to keep topped up until I got back home. True, I had to be aware ahead of time of where there were stations. But since I was new at this, I took more time researching than I probably would if I had to do it regularly.
The iDrive showed visually where there were charging stations in my area. However since this is a moving target with more coming online regularly, I found plenty that it didn’t show. I was yet to find one all-inclusive website or source for every potential charge point. But a little homework goes a long way in satisfying your need. I was satisfied that I would never be too far from a source in my normal circuit. Either paid or free, the charging stations are there in the metropolitan areas and growing as the awareness and need grows.
For any venture plans outside of the normal range of your charge, a bit of planning is warranted. This is true with any EV including your i3. Unless it’s at a mall, office, restaurant, etc. that you are going to, you will have to find something to do while you get a quick charge. Still, given the proper amount of planning, this isn’t too big of a deal. The range extender helps in this area. Knowing that regardless of the miles left on the initial electric charge, you have enough to get you through your day is huge.
So how did I do? Well I think my mission was accomplished. At the end of my time with the BMW i3 I was no longer wondering if I’m going to make it home or not. I had almost totally erased my range anxiety with the range extender. Throughout my excursion on a longer than normal daily drive, I never needed the range extender. I still feel that the range extender is needed in the North American market.
The BMW i3 was identified to me as an “urban vehicle”. Knowing that, there are a number of circumstances where this vehicle is great and all you would need on a daily basis.
Ergonomically this i3 is a hit! There was absolutely no problem getting in and out of this car. The seating was very adaptable and supportive. The sight lines were better than expected for a car of this size. Spending time in the rear seats did not punish in any way. Nor did the effort needed to enter the rear. Requiring the front driver or passenger to open the front door first was a bit of a hassle but the ease of stepping out made up for it. The front seats leaned away easily to give you more maneuvering space when leaving.
Since there was no drivetrain under the floor pan, the floor is essentially flat that added to the usable space inside. Headroom in the front and rear was better than expected, as was the elbowroom. Interior storage space was more than sufficient. There was no shortage of storage slots, pockets, cup holders or other areas to stow items. The glove box, which sat on top of the beautiful dash panel, was larger than expected as well.
I had to remind myself that this is an urban car. Though this is more than a typical commuter vehicle, there are times that you need to transport items. Well, forget about transporting anything in the front boot. It’s small. But at least its there.
The rear hatch and cargo area is sufficient to handle most of your needs. Especially if you don’t have anyone sitting in the rear seats. In which case you can lower them extending the space available to carry items.
We were able to easily carry our usual haul of groceries. I can also envision being able to carry most of what I’d pick up from the local home improvement store.
This car drives like a BMW and once inside you forget to a degree that you are in a very small car. The interior space helps with this illusion. You are reminded that this is a small vehicle when you realize you are able to make very tight turns or get into small parking spaces. This car maneuvers very well as you would expect it to. This adds to its usefulness in a daily drive.
I still feel you should have another vehicle in the household to serve as a primary vehicle. But for a daily drive, this i3 is perfect. I would have no problem using this as my daily drive. Now that I can see that even with my occasional extended mileage route, I’m okay.
I can say that I think I’ve grown a bit more. I’m a meat and potatoes eating guy that loves horsepower. But I think I’m evolving. I still love what I love, but now there’s room for more options.
I can definitely see where this type of vehicle and the technology is emerging. It serves all of my “daily” needs very well. Better than my usual heavy hauler in fact. It’s definitely more efficient. With the exception of cargo space, I’m not sacrificing anything by using an i3 as my Daily Tread.
One other thought I could mention in my observations. I’m thinking of this car as something for the working class that goes back and forth to work or even making rounds through out the day. It’s perfect for them. But then I thought about my 95-year-old father. He had an easier time getting in and out of this car than his own vehicle. I really like the thought that in his urban setting he wouldn’t have to expose himself to the inherent risks while going to a gas station with cash to pump gasoline. He still drives great and his rounds generally consist of going to the doctor and grocery store, etc. For a senior citizen, this car could serve as an aid in their mobility.
Aside from the technological advancements of this i3 with the “born to be electric” slogan, I think a lot of people are overlooking the fact that this is a luxury vehicle. This is really a BMW in the true sense of the word. It not only drives and handles like a true BMW, it has the character of one as well.
The price of this i3 is a bit higher than most of the similar vehicles, but considering you are in a luxury vehicle its not out of line with its quality. There’s nothing cheap about this car. Like I mentioned earlier, the interior is world class with high quality materials and execution. The fit and finish is second to none. The fact that you are not driving something typical in construction is an added benefit. Not steel or aluminum but a carbon fiber reinforced plastic shell is strong as well as light. This high-tech application adds to the i3’s exclusiveness.
You are afforded a high tech vehicle with everything from adaptable cruise control and speed sign recognition to a high-end navigation system and automatic climate control. Don’t forget the better than most BMW HD radio and stereo system, Bluetooth connectivity and really cool looking LED headlights and accent lighting. These are some of the perks you don’t find on other less premium EVs.
In summary, the one thing that took a couple of minutes to get used to on this BMW i3 was the one thing that had the most impact. That rather aggressive regenerative braking took a moment to get used to. So much in fact that you can drive the car effectively with one pedal. This is very similar to the regenerative braking used on the current Formula 1 cars.
The fact that it uses the kinetic energy that is otherwise lost to help recharge and extend the range of this EV is refreshing. After a while I got used to it and learned to control and take advantage of it. I loved it and what it did for the drivability of the car.
After I turned the BMW i3 back in (reluctantly I might add), I returned to my ICE-vehicle. I immediately noticed that it was a bit larger than necessary. But the biggest shock came when I took my foot off the accelerator as I approached a traffic light.
The car didn’t drag down or slow down. It simply kept going, and going, and going. This isn’t really bad. Not a bad thing at all because I hadn’t hit the brakes yet. That’s when it hit me. It just seemed like a waste.
|BMW eDrive energy consumption in kWh/100 km
|CO2 emissions in g/km
|Energy efficiency (with Range Extender: CO2 efficiency)
Range and charge time
|Electric range in km
|Electric range (mean customer value) in km
|Capacity of lithium-ion battery in kWh
|Fast charging, e.g. at DC fast-charging station: DC; 125 A; 50 kW (80 %)
|Under 30 min.
|Charge time of high-voltage battery in h at 16 A (80%)
|Unladen weight in kg (DIN)
|Max. permissible weight in kg
|Permitted load in kg
|Permitted axle load front/rear in kg
|Electric motor: Output in kW
|Electric motor: Max. torque in Nm
|Top speed fully electric in km/h
|Acceleration 0–100 km/h in s
|Elasticity 80–120 km/h in s
|Tyre dimensions front
|Tyre dimensions rear
|Wheel dimensions front
|Wheel dimensions rear