Being always intrigued by anything with wheels and a tech junkie to boot, I could not pass up a chance to take part in the first local test drive of the new BMW i3.
The i3 is BMW’s interpretation of the city car of the future. It is one hundred percent electric, powered just like your iPhone or your Braun razor by only a lithium-ion battery pack. No Prius mixed-drink of combustion engine and electric motor here; this is the straight up bourbon shot of futuristic all electric drive. And I want to say up front, it does not disappoint.
A futuristic vehicle must have cutting edge technology, right? Well, here it is: a super strong carbon fiber body (the Life module) sits on an aluminum electric chassis (the Drive module) to make a lightweight (for it’s size) four door, four-seater with 170 HP. All the expected high quality BMW appointments are there; leather, integrated NAV and iDrive, iPhone integration, 20-inch wheels and everything else you expect in a BMW; a BMW through and through, with no corners cut. The
A fleet of five cars are traveling the country with a great team of young experts to present this new vehicle at selected BMW dealers in major metropolitan areas. There was one car to see, sit in and poke around in, plus four to test drive. The team members are from all over the country and were very friendly and really knew their stuff. Thumbs up to BMW for training this team very well. Their last stops were in Houston and Dallas. Next stop? Indianapolis, then Chicago.
This vehicle appears to have the interior volume of a late 90’s 3-Series; more than enough room inside. A six-footer has enough leg and head room in the back seat area. The carbon fiber frame eliminates the pillar between the front and rear doors, so opening both side doors reveals one large opening for entry and exit to both front and rear seats: very cool. Hatch reveals a decent sized storage area. Think of the car’s shape as being a small SUV; four doors, hatch, high roof. In overall concept that’s very practical for a metro car.
From the Driver’s Seat:
Electric motors make their maximum power right at startup, so it’s no surprise that this is the fastest BMW from zero to 30 mph. This puppy has the power of a mid-70’s Porsche 911 with all of it available right off the line. My Mini-Cooper S was my previous favorite cut and thrust “fun-house ride” car, but this is even better. Mashing the pedal (rheostat?) yields instant, silent thrust: serious thrust! Lifting off the pedal gives strong, linear deceleration. The brake pedal is needed much less than with a conventional car. The chassis has serious grip due to a very low center of gravity; remember that the flat, wide battery pack is the heaviest and lowest component of the car. Do your tastes trend more to quietness and smoothness? When just motoring along sanely, silence and ride refinement exceeds that of a 5 Series BMW: think Rolls Royce here. Even your finicky Lexus-owning neighbor would be most impressed with the i3. In short, this car is really entertaining to drive from a “car guy’s” point of view and superior to the driving experience of most of the cars I’ve ever driven. Getting back in my X3 after this test drive was a real letdown with slower acceleration, noise and slower overall responsiveness than the i3. Most impressive result, BMW!
No, a full electric car won’t have the range of a gas, diesel or hybrid car before needing recharging. Expect 75 miles as the real world range here in Louisville. But, since everything is only 15-20 minutes away; a Highlands to Middletown round trip is but 30 miles at the most. So, this vehicle could be just the right combination of driving fun, luxury car ride and green qualities to satisfy the most fastidious. By the way, the people who were totally blown away by this car (according to the BMW i3 team) were the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf owners, people currently driving a much less developed electric car than the BMW i3.
Yes, George Jetson, it looks like the future has finally arrived!
May 12, 2014.