The BMW i3 must be the most eagerly-awaited electric car since the Nissan Leaf was introduced in 2011. Like the Nissan, the i3 is a purpose-built battery electric car.
Looking like nothing else in the range, the i3’s avant-garde styling will certainly grab the attention of other road users as it travels along in silence.
A compact four-seater with a plug-in range of up to 100 miles, the i3 has been engineered with trademark BMW characteristics – it’s rear-wheel drive and has 50:50 front to rear weight distribution.
Include the £5,000 plug-in car grant and the purchase price is £25,680 for the base model. There are three themed interiors that basically function as equipment grades. Loft is £1,000 more than the standard car, Lodge is a £500 premium over Loft, and there’s another £500 step to choose the range-topping Suite. All models come with Bluetooth, satellite navigation, LED daytime running lights, and 19-inch alloy wheels (20-inch wheels are an option).
The electric motor produces 170hp and 184lb-ft of torque, the latter being available instantaneously and sufficient to propel the car from 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds. Extensive use of lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre components has also helped its performance.
The ride was quite firm (but less than expected) on the 20-inch wheels of the test cars, and the i3 has the fun-to-drive characteristics you’d expect in a compact BMW, with the added appeal of travelling in silence.
The gear selector is behind the steering wheel, and the interior is surprisingly spacious for a vehicle that’s shorter than a Mini Countryman.
As there is a significant amount of energy recuperation when lifting off the accelerator, it replicates engine braking and speed reduces as much as when applying the brakes gently. This saves brake wear, and the electric motor has fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine.
The i3 has a typical range of around 80 to 100 miles between charges, although using maximum acceleration will reduce the available range.
Customers can also specify a range-extender version that uses a 650cc motorcycle engine to continue charging the battery after the plug-in charge is depleted, offering a potential 186 miles until recharging or refuelling, although the range extender was not available to test on the media event (but it is available from launch).
BMW i also offers a smartphone app that guides you via public transport options (or on foot) for the remainder of your journey, assuming the destination for the i3 is the nearest public charging point rather than your place of work or the venue for your meeting.
BMW talks of ‘megacities’ as the places where the i3 works best.
The i3 impresses as the best battery EV to date, with the idea of integrated mobility firmly ingrained in all aspects of its design. It might take a while before the UK catches up with the infrastructure needs, but if EVs work for you, the BMW is currently the best available.