We just had to get more seat time in what I reckon is one of the best products ever built by BMW: the i3. My automotive heart is currently owned by the i8 Supercar but I still have room for its humble brother the i3 with the odd Range Extender gasoline power generator. The last unit we tested was a privately owned i3 that simply gave us a glimpse of BMW’s brand new world. This time we had the full factory test unit in Solar Orange/Frozen Grey and it exceeded our expectations once again.
The Range Extender, as I mentioned when we first tested it, is actually slightly less quick than the standard fully EV i3 not because of the marginal weight gain but more because the gasoline engine does not drive the wheels at all but acts as a generator, so its control systems create uncommon behavior to extend range. On normal conditions, the generator will engage when you have 5% of battery energy left, and when it does, you actually lose forward momentum. You feel like you are towing a boat. And once again, the same experience was relived with the second test unit but with the addition of a keener ear listening to the droning thump of the tiny two-cylinder generator engine.
Bottom line is if your daily driving routine does not exceed 100 kilometers and you do have a weekend car for long distance travel in the garage, then the pure i3 would be fabulous; a premium golf cart that handles and goes like a BMW with the size and agility of a 1-series with almost as much interior space as a 3-series. It is very fun and very engaging despite having a very inert steering experience. The sophisticated carbon-fiber passenger cell, extensive use of aluminum, thermoplastics, and other exotic materials both exposed and hidden makes the i3 truly a technological masterpiece bested only by its supercar i8 big brother. All Teslas are great by function and efficiency but they still do not have the fit/finish, craftsmanship and soul. As dynamic as Teslas are, they have quickly become the iPhone of cars; not a bad thing at all for most people, nevertheless, gearheads still need more character and personality to accompany performance. We all know a car is a necessity, even an appliance, for most people, but it is more than how quickly you can get from point to point with the least amount of used energy; it is also about enjoying the process in the middle.
I love the interior of the i3. The deliberate contrast of high quality materials like the Natural Leather upholstery and the very tactile treated eucalyptus wood against the raw carbon weave and the sea of gadgetry makes for an environment that Star Trek and Star Wars fans will love every day. The coach doors not only look cool but are also very effective with space saving and ease of getting in and out of the rear seats. Because the rear-mounted electric motor drives the rear wheels directly, the i3 does not have a center tunnel to house a driveshaft, which also helps create a very spacious cabin.
We can go on endlessly about the BMW apps, the mind-blowing information overload between the i3 and a smartphone, and etc. But at this point we needed to know how the i3 actually drives. Will it be robotic and lifeless? Slow and clumsy? With its astonishing, near-perfect weight distribution, fully independent suspension, low center of gravity, powerful blended brakes, and rear thrust on spindly yet well widely placed mixed gumballs, the i3 very much drove consistently like a BMW. The unique gear actuation on the instrument panel stalk was an oddity; it got familiar and even quite effective in a very short time, and the i3 behaves with more understeer than expected, but overall it is a real accomplishment.
The BMW i3 is still currently the most engaging of its type under $60,000.00. BMW has definitely covered its bases. If only we are given the opportunity to purchase the model domestically. What a shame that our current government penalizes car manufacturers that are actively celebrating and continuously evolving green technology with high taxes instead of giving them real incentives.
Specification – 2015 BMW i3 with Range Extender
Engine: Inline-2, 647 cc, dohc 8V, BMW eDrive technology: Hybrid synchronous motor with integrated power electronics, charger and generator mode for recuperation. Lithium-Ion Battery with 22 kWh. 1-Speed AT
Max power: 34 bhp @ 4300 rpm (EV 170 bhp)
Max torque: 55 lb ft @ 4300 rpm (EV 184 lb ft)
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 7.8 sec.
Top Speed: 150 km/h (93 mph) Governed
Fuel Mileage: 240 kilometer maximum range on full tank and full charge (3.5 hours for full charge using 220V) 117 MPGe / 39 mpg
Price as tested: US$ 52,750.00
C! RATING 10/10
+One of the finest BMW’s ever made, immensely versatile and relevant, very much a BMW of the highest order