Well, this was fun! At the last minute I was offered the chance to experience all-electric driving, courtesy of BMW and their i3. I’m glad it worked out, because it was an exciting week.
My personal car is a hybrid, so I was curious to check out the differences between that combination of gas and electric and the EV variety that’s getting so much attention lately.
Sure, Elon Musk hoards most of the media hype with his Tesla brand, but obviously the i3 is able to get a little love. As of the end of last year (2016), the i3 was the third-best-selling all-electric car of all time. They’ve surpassed 60,000 units and are climbing.
And for good reason. Despite the objections of some based on the limited range and the charging requirements, this little car rises above.
First announced by BMW in 2011, and then subsequently on the market a couple of years later, the i3 has won converts to the concept of a plug-in vehicle not so much because of its eco-value, but because it combines that ‘green-ness’ with a great drive.
But let’s begin outside. Most of your EVs are going to have a look that sets them apart, but the i3 seems to do it in a way that’s more stylish than most. The five-door hatchback sedan I drove impresses in an understated way. The rear-passenger doors are of the reverse-hinge variety, and you have to open one of the front doors to access them.
Once inside, you discover an interesting marriage between eco-sensibility and the fact that BMW is a luxury car maker. Those worlds can intersect, and it’s called the i3.
The controls are easily found and equally-easy to adapt to. That includes the shifting device, which takes a few seconds to digest, but once acclimated you’ll find that it’s intuitive and kinda fun.
I was most impressed with the legroom, especially for rear-seat passengers. But here’s the thing: This car wasn’t built with cross-country trips in mind, so the comfort you’ll find in the backseat works perfectly for cross-town trips.
There was enough storage to satisfy, and the materials are terrific.
The car drives quite well. I didn’t expect sporty acceleration, but I got it. Since the car distributes its weight in a remarkably balanced manner, handling is first-class. Even the steering felt sporty and fun.
Of course, we have to talk about the process of charging the little car.
The i3 that I drove for a week is the Range Extender model, which means it has a tiny little gas engine that’s included for emergencies. And that’s exactly all it’s good for. Driving a hybrid as I generally do, I’m used to my car shifting between gas and electric. Not with the i3.
The tiny gas engine that comes in the Range Extender version is essentially is for those “oh damn” moments when you’ve accidentally overrun your electric charge.
BMW improved the battery on the ’17 models, so a full charge will now deliver about 115 miles or so. Because the majority of people won’t need more than that in a typical day, I can’t see getting the Range Extender option unless you know you’re putting on a lot of miles. And if you’re doing that, this may not be the car for you, anyway.
But for most of us, 115 miles is plenty. I found myself hypnotically watching the “range to empty” meter on the dashboard. The funny thing is, I never dropped below 65 before re-charging.
And that is interesting in itself. Yes, you can plug the i3 into a regular home electric socket, and the car will (slowly) charge. Overnight is generally more than sufficient.
If you install a 240-v outlet in your garage, like that of a house clothes dryer, you can get a full charge from empty in about 4-5 hours. And if you use the super-duper charging stations that are situated around town – the kind that have 480v capability – the i3 will go from empty to about 80% charge in around 20 minutes.
I happen to believe this type of car is not only the future, it’s a future that’s rushing at you much sooner than you believe. BMW has produced a model that’s not only efficient (and getting more efficient as the years progress), but is also a hoot to drive.
Check it out online at BMWUSA.com.