We have forever attempted to predict what everyone will be driving in the future. During the 60’s in particular we were promised flying cars and rocket shaped taxis. Well, looking outside of my window now I can’t see any hover boards or nuclear powered sports cars. The truth is that we were mis-sold the future decades ago as predictions of pure fantasy do not line up with todays facts. Eventually the world will run out of oil although nobody, not even the experts, truly know when. Alternative power for cars is coming and BMW have placed a bet on that power being produced by electricity. Today we are testing something that doesn’t just represent the future metaphorically, but in the case of this BMW i3 Range Extender, visually also.
You can not deny that it is an interesting thing to look at due to the BMW i3 appearing like nothing else on the road with four wheels. Appearing almost identical to its concept car, this BMW turns many heads as you silently glide through populated areas. Where competitors such as the Nissan trade on how their electric machine is so much like a conventional car, BMW have purposely styled the i3 to contrast other cars and make them look a bit old fashioned. Retaining a few key BMW styling traits such as a kidney grill motif, our test car in Ionic Silver with blue detailing and 20 inch alloy wheels looked premium, something BMW are very much hoping to capitalise on.
The cabin of this BMW i3 had the standard interior world, what BMW are naming trim levels, and features two displays. One is mounted for use as an instrument panel and the other centrally for infotainment and car systems. Its interior gives an airy feel thanks to the large amount of natural light let in through big windows and roof panels. Simplicity isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the lack of buttons makes for a stress free environment. The four seats are comfortable although they are missing some lateral support. This cars rear bench is accessed by a pair of suicide doors which reveal a flat floor for rear passengers. These rear passengers will also enjoy good levels of head and leg room. However, the boot is not particularly big due to the placement of a tiny petrol engine.
Power for this BMW i3 Range Extender comes from an 18.8kWh lithium-ion battery and a 647cc two cylinder petrol engine which kicks in to charge said battery when it starts to run low. Power is sent through the aluminium chassis to the rear wheels for a total output of 167BHP and 184lb ft of torque. A carbon fibre reinforced plastic body shell then sits on top. Officially this BMW i3 will do 470MPG on the combined cycle. It can be rapidly charged to 80% power in less than 30 minutes and when equipped with the range extender has a real world range of 150 miles.
If you are not used to driving an electric car, the way the BMW i3 silently comes to life and whispers into motion will have you crying “witchcraft!” There is a beautiful tranquility in just how quiet it is with the noise of the wind your only audible clue to being in motion. The car has three modes; Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro+. In each different mode the throttle mapping changes in order to produce better economy and in its most efficient state, Eco Pro+ the i3 is limited to 56MPH. You have to change from your usual thought process whilst driving in this car. Acceleration is brisk with a 0-62MPH time of 7.9 seconds and the instant torque on offer from its electric motor is intoxicating. Coming off of the throttle it is almost as if you had applied the brakes. Regeneration from the brakes lead to fast deceleration, much like heavy engine braking. In most scenarios, especially in an urban environment, you will find yourself not needing to use the brake pedal at all. Picking up the pace reveals that the BMW i3 shares more than just its grills with its combustion brothers. The i3 feels agile and turns into corners with not too much body roll. Its skinny environmentally friendly tyres are this cars limiting factor as you lose grip long before the chassis is done playing. The ride is comfortable, although our 20 inch alloy wheels did make quite a thud every time they found a pothole. It wasn’t disruptive but did clash with the peaceful quite of the cabin. When the petrol engine starts to charge the battery, its thrum from the boot can become a little bit irritating. It is not its overall volume that is the problem, but when everything else is so silent its unattractive monotone hum requires the radio on to be ignored.
The BMW i3 Range Extender is our first everyday premium electric car. It is highly usable day-to-day and if you really want to drive something that is so radically different to everything else in the car park, it ticks that box very firmly. BMW must be credited for their investment in technology, particularly in the mass production of carbon based components, and have shown real forward thinking. Whilst our test car came to nearly £40,000 (before UK government grant) and for most people that will be the biggest stumbling block, it does represent a true BMW product in both quality and design.