Who is the i3?
i3 represents BMW’s initiative to enter the electric vehicle market. It is part of the so-called “Project I” and it is sold under the separate BMW i badge, now joining the well-known BMW and MINI badges. Looking at the sales figures and comparing them to the competition, it is obvious that the i3 was a resounding success. In November 2015 it was the third best sold electric vehicle of all time.
Beyond these numbers, the reality of the electric vehicle market is that your place on the leaderboard is not as important as your contribution to the expansion of the segment. The tiny scale of this market is the main obstacle in the path of progress, but I believe the future is bright. And electric.
A silent film in an era of noise
We approach the car…it is…a bit different…like all electric cars are. They stand out. They shout at the world “Look at me! I am so eco-friendly!”. The side windows are large and bright. The rear windshield continues seamless into the glass looking trunk. The tail lights are under this thin glassy strip. No depth. Clean. Flat. Modern. I feel like sliding my finger on the surface to turn them on. Now that’s an interesting idea…a touch screen would’ve been nice. The turn signals are located in the fog lights. The headlights have an interesting LED daylight design. I bet they’re very low power. I can’t find the distinctive BMW headlights rings but the “radiator kidneys” that usually serve the purpose of cooling the engine, now only serve aesthetics.
I would’ve loved if the bonnet was a little bit longer and had more flow with the windshield. The whole car looks like it got an epic: facepalm: resulting in a flattened nose. It’s strange, but I like it. It’s like a fashion show costume: you wouldn’t exactly go out dressed like that but you appreciate the artist’s work.
Inside everything is modern and nice. The huge windows create the impression the car is more spacious than it really is. There is no transmission tunnel so the floor is flat. Everything feels tactile…wood, textile, leather, fibres…it’s like being inside a Louis Vuitton bag.
I get a quick look at the Start/Stop button (which I’m sure is useless because the car knows I’m in and some of the electrical equipment is already working). It’s struggling for space behind the steering wheel. I don’t get where I should squeeze my hand to press it. I think I should break a small tree branch and press the button with it through the steering wheel. But I’m too eco-friendly to do such a barbaric thing to a tree. I finally succeed in pressing the button and…nothing happens. As expected. Near the start button there is some sort of…comma shaped….gizmo. I turn the thing into drive and…
We are moving
WOW!!! I don’t think I ever experienced such a smooth acceleration from a stand still. It’s like I was already moving. I couldn’t feel any inertia. From a standstill to motion with no vibration what so ever. If I held my eyes closed I don’t think I would have realised that we were on the move. I feel like I jumped on a cloud made of velvet and nice thoughts. This is more relaxing than a Thai massage. I stop only to experience this again. Pfffu…it’s magic. I’m glad I live in Bucharest and I can experience this acceleration from a stand still like 40 times at each traffic light. I think I’m going to visit the corporate area at rush hour this evening. That’s where I’ll really enjoy this….pfffu…I’m moving again. I want to do this all day.
I’m cruising through the city aimlessly. No noise. No vibration. Everything is a slide on Aladdin’s carpet. To reduce energy consumption the tires are tall, narrow and inflated at a high pressure. This combined with the horrible roads…is a very good thing because we would be falling asleep in this perfect silence otherwise.
The car is about 1.2 tons, which is impressive considering a lot of weight is brought by the batteries. It feels agile. The steering is responsive and direct, quite surprising for this kind of car. The engine produces 170 horse-power and gets you from 0 to 100kmph in 7.2 seconds. Which is not slow by any means, but what is truly impressive is what happens when you accelerate while moving. When you are doing 60kmph and you floor the throttle the car just thrusts forward in complete silence. This effortless acceleration, at any speed, without any lag…is very addictive. I wish all cars were like this. You forget about your problems and your stress. All the power is there when you need it. I don’t know how the rest of the world bares the trembling, noisy, smoke generating cars. We are not in the Stone Age anymore! Duh…
Inside the car is full of LEDs and light. I feel like I arrived in the future. The wood insertions bring this car to life. I feel at home even though I should feel like I’m in a corporation office. The rear doors are “suicide”-style, meaning they open contrary to the front doors. This makes them look very chic. There is a slight problem: if you have your seatbelt on and you try to open the rear door you might hang yourself because the seatbelt is fixed on the B-Pillar, which is incorporated in the rear door.
I think they used some sort of magic or spells building this car because I can’t stop smiling. I let everyone pass, I let them cut me off. Nothing can annoy me. Especially because most angry gestures I can make while on the road will take a toll on the battery life. I can’t honk because it uses electricity. Don’t even think about flashing your headlights. If I want to yell I need to let the window down…which is electric…so no. The best thing I can do is get in front of the guys and brake really hard so this way I can regenerate my battery.
By the way, the regenerative braking system is so good that you will never have to use the brake pedal. The brake pedal is the second most useless thing in this car, besides the start/stop button. As soon as you let go of the throttle the car starts braking and regenerating battery. This effect is so intense that BMW decided to make the brake light turn on when you release the throttle. After a few kilometres you start anticipating the way the system works and everything becomes a dance between you and the car. It’s wonderful. You have to try it to understand it.
ECO Friendly ECO Love
This car is a wet dream for ecologists. ZERO emissions at the tailpipe…which it does not actually have. Really, you can’t find anything greener even if you look behind the walls of a dorm room.
The car has a 22kwh battery, of which only 18.8 are usable. It seems if you don’t allow the full battery to be used, you can extend its life. Yes, everything about batteries is annoying. In the real world we managed 120 km on a full tank…I mean battery. The problem is that charging takes time, depending on the socket you have at hand. If you charge it at home it takes about 8 hours. If you find a special plug, you can achieve 80% in 30 minutes.
The infrastructure is virtually non-existent in Romania. There are a couple charging stations in Bucharest. The one we used is at a restaurant. To use this you need to buy something from them, and while you wait there is no way you can spend less than 12 euros. Which is how much the fuel would cost if you owned a diesel.
The 120km autonomy is ok for a city car…but the range anxiety…in a petrol engine car, when you reach about 80km of range left, all the lights on the dash beg you to stop at the next petrol station. In the i3 at the same range your battery is almost full. It’s like driving close to the limit all the time. It’s kind of stressful.
The solution, for now, is something called a range extender which is actually a small 34 horsepower petrol engine that charges the battery. But…I want an electric car because of the lack of a petrol engine.
If there were more public charging stations in parking lots this range anxiety wouldn’t be a thing. Only this dream is far away even for more eco conscious countries. In Amsterdam there are a lot of charging stations, but there are also many electric car owners, so it is still very hard to find a vacant one. Another problem is that manufacturers don’t use a universal standard for charging stations, so you can’t charge a BMW at a Tesla supercharger.
We really like this car. It is the essence of our dreams of the future of the car, the only thing being…it isn’t quite here yet. If you can forget about battery limitations: the long charging times, low range…an electric car can offer you so much joy. I would love if I could charge the car from my phone battery.
Most European governments offer some sort of a discount if you buy an electric car. This and the low running costs seems to add up to quite a reasonable investment. What I can guarantee is that you will get a lot of joy from your choice. Not everything in life relies to a reason.