BMW has entered the sphere of environmentally friendly motoring with its first mass produced electric car, the i3. It is supposed to be a technological masterpiece, and, since it is a BMW, fun to drive as well.
The i3 stands out thanks to its unique looks: The lines are unconventional; it is a bit bulbous, but it isn’t something people can’t fall in love with. It is a hatchback with a tall boy stance and large wheels. These are 19-inch high, but the tyres are skinny (155 mm wide, as wide as an i10’s).
Inside, the i3 uses natural materials like special cotton, Eucalyptus wood, natural tanned leather, plastic from recycled materials and renewable resources, and textile from recycled fibres.
It scores well on having a spot-on driving position and ergonomics that are centred around the driver. The simple but informative instrumentation is easy to read and moves with the steering column.
But the i3 has its quirks: The rear door opens only after the front, and if the front passenger forgets to undo his seat belt, opening the rear door almost strangles him. This is because the front seat belts are on the rear door. Head room is very good, with adequate leg room at the front and acceptable knee room at the rear. But, given it is a four-seater, shoulder room isn’t great.
The i3 uses a 125 kw or 170 PS electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries. It makes a healthy 250 Nm of torque. The engine is coupled to a single speed automatic box, which drives the rear wheels.
It has three driving modes: Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro +. The throttle response in Comfort is instantaneous, and can literally throw you back in the seat: It takes 7.2 seconds from standstill 100 kmph. In the Eco Pro + mode the throttle response is lazier, but the range better (up to 200 km compared to 130 km in Comfort).
The two shortcomings: The i3’s range is not long enough to eliminate range anxiety; and you still need hours to charge it.
The i3 will go on sale in India in 2014, and will be expensive. But for owners of the 7 Series and Rolls Royce, it will be a statement that clearly outweighs the price.