As a blog concerned primarily with driving enjoyment, the i3 may seem like an odd choice to appear on these virtual pages. Yet, as the first new car review to appear on Motormessenger, I thought it was only fair to start with something that is the antithesis of every car I’ve owned to date – one that is forward-thinking, laden with tech and economical too.
For those who are unaware, the i3 is BMW’s first attempt at the electric vehicle market. The body, made of carbonfibre and aluminium to keep weight to a minimum, is created in the US, while the whole car is assembled at BMW’s plant in Leipzig. Buyers have the choice of a full-electric model or one equipped with a three-cylinder petrol engine known as the range-extender. ‘My’ i3 – a full-electric model with little in the way of optional extras – would give me a range of between 80 to 100 miles and, apparently, a faster 0-30mph time than the naturally-aspired V8 M3 of old. Would it be a golf kart or a fun hatchback once behind the wheel?
All versions of the i3 put 168bhp to their rear wheels by way of an electric motor. By far and away the i3’s party trick is its seemingly relentless acceleration around town. Torque is delivered almost instantaneously and – seeing as there’s no gears to worry about – you often find yourself making mincemeat of any warm hatches that are level with you at the lights. That said, the i3 is also pretty handy on the motorway, and has enough power for overtaking with just a spurt of the throttle.
Should you get it onto some country roads, the classic BMW driving experience translates well over to the battery-powered realm. Pitch the i3 into a corner and it handles supremely for such a tall car on skinny, custom-made Bridgestone economy tyres, with the previously super-light steering weighting up nicely. Only once during my test did I manage to make it ‘wobble’, but this was quickly corrected by the car’s onboard stability systems. It may be taller than your average hatchback, but the i3 rarely ever feels it on the move. The only downside, however, is that the ride is a little harsher than you’d expect. Bumps can easily thump their way into the cabin, with this trait highly noticeable on the standard-wheeled car I tested. But despite the tougher ride, the i3 still drives well for a hatchback, never mind an electric car. This may also be due to the fact that it weighs approximately 300kg less than a Nissan LEAF.
When it comes to braking, the little BMW has an ingenious system for harvesting as much energy as possible to refill the battery. Should the driver lift their foot off of the accelerator, the i3 automatically begins to slow down due to a process known as regenerative braking. The energy collected by the inverter is then directed into the battery in order to extend the car’s range. This single-pedal style of driving really helps around town, and you quickly learn how to make it work and how to read the road ahead as well as possible. Of course, the brakes are there for when you need them, too, and they’re great for everyday use.
Drivers can choose from three driving modes – Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro + – with each mode more economical than the last. Unless you need to hare around at over 70mph everywhere, the i3 is a biddable little car set-up for motorway and city use.
It’s not a conventionally pretty car, this. Nevertheless, the more time I spent with the i3, the more I liked its looks. The signature kidney grilles are nicely adorned with the new i-branded light blue colouring, and the smattering of LED lights front and rear complement the car’s modern focus. To me, the i3 looks at its best side-on, with the suicide doors opened. Darkened rear windows tie in nicely with the black bonnet and tailgate, though the greyish-brown tinge of my test model would not be my choice.
Once you’re inside, it’s the interior of the i3 that really excels. Recycled fibres are used for the dashboard and door cards in order to highlight the car’s green credentials, but its the expansive dash space and low overall layout that grabs your attention. The instrument panel is replaced by a gorgeous screen detailing the car’s vitals, such as an energy bar which swings left or right depending on whether you are using or conserving electricity.
You sit higher than normal in an i3, making it very easy to park or otherwise negotiate into tight spaces. Rear parking sensors are standard too… they must know most i3s will be spending their time in cities!
Using a home mains plug and left overnight on an eight-hour charge to a full tank, the i3 should only set you back £2 or £3 at current energy prices. And with 0g/km CO2, the i3 isn’t liable for VED either. Fast-charging points are scattered around the UK, usually close to supermarkets and local council properties (and marked out on your sat-nav), but range anxiety would be an almost ever-present concern with the full-electric model. The updated i3, which comes out this summer, will boast an extended range of up to 120miles and a shortened charging time at fast-charging points.
Despite being marketed as a city car, the i3 is a tight fit for four adults. Boot space is swallowed up by the large battery mounted under the boot floor, but as a saving grace the rear seats do fold flat for added space. Your passenger will be comfiest up front, but if you have children then they can be carried in comfort in the rear seats. The suicide doors do make it much easier to load up the car, but you’ve got to have quite a bit of space beside you to make use of them. It’s just a shame it’s so dark in the back, though.
VALUE FOR MONEY
‘My’ i3, as tested, would cost roughly £35k. If you take this money to the hatchback market, what would you get? A Golf R, an Audi S3, a BMW M135i… there’s a lot of choices around this price point. The i3 is also eligible for the government’s plug-in car grant of up to £4,500, which may help soften the expense of purchasing it. It’s obviously more expensive than equivalent small hatches such as the Renault Clio or Suzuki Swift, but the i3’s crushing advantage over anything else are its running costs.
The i3 works best if you picture it as the first of a new type of city vehicle; one that’s as entertaining to drive as it is economical. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s made of state-of-the-art materials and costs very little to run. It’s also blessed with a gorgeous interior and a generous helping of standard kit, such as automatic wipers and lights.
So if you can get past the looks and smallish boot, the i3 makes a strong claim to the title of premium city car of the future.
OVERALL RESULT: 22/30
With thanks to John Clark BMW for the i3 to review. If you’d like to learn more about their range, visit www.john-clark.co.uk/bmw.
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