It starts with… silence. Yes, you push the start button and the only thing that happens is the dash lights come on, which is a little bit of a strange experience, though.
Now, I’ve ridden fully electrical motorcycles before, so the concept to me is not really that new. I knew that the torque would be near instant, but I also knew that there would be a little bit of a range shortfall, especially since I live out in the countryside.
The BMW i3 is really a marvel of technology; they really have taken a big step forward by releasing the I3 locally in South Africa and it’s the first real battery powered car that you can go out and buy. Sure, it’s not priced as economically, but one thing is for certain; it lives up to the BMW quality.
On the outside, some say the I3 resembles a turtle-like looking creature, although I can’t see it. To me it’s a small hatch that sports these little muscular lines and seems to pop out here and there. It’s certain though that the i3 is definitely unique-looking in every aspect of the word.
The outside seems very square-ish. This, to me, means one thing and that is wind resistance. Although, when driving it, it’s very quiet and is a refined drive. The steering feels extremely light and direct to the road. This is probably due to the short wheel base and those massive 20inch wheels, riding on ultra-thin 175inch wide tires. With the chassis being made out of aluminium and the cabin out of carbon fibre, the I3 comes in at just under 1.2 tons.
And, speaking of, I really like the interior. There is ample space for driver and passenger with exception of the rear passengers. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve driven bigger cars with less space in the back, but it’s obvious that it is no 5 series. The windows are big and thankfully slightly tinted. They let in a lot of light, however, and give the cabin an airy feeling. It will be pretty hard to get claustrophobic in here. The dashboard is a mixture of leather and fine-wood Eucalyptus and features 2 LCD displays, the speedo cluster and the other the infotainment system. The sound is taken care of by a great sounding Harmon-Kardon system.
It’s hard to explain to people who have never experienced an electric car what the hype is about, but for starters, it’s electric and while this model does not come with a backup engine, there is a model available with a small engine should you somehow forget to charge your battery. The battery capacity is 18.8kw/h and features 2 charging modes; A regular at home charge at 12amps, which will roughly take between 6 and 8 hours to fully charge from empty, and a fast charge which produces 125amps and will restore a battery to 80percent in 30 minutes. These fast charge stations are available at certain dealerships through the country and my biggest concern in the beginning was cost. I can confirm that SMG in Cape Town charges absolutely ZERO to charge your I3 there… and that the charge point is available 24/7.
Once you overcome your range anxiety, the I3 is really fun little car to drive. The near instant 250Nm of torque shoots down in an elastic band fashion. It’s a little concerning for me, being a petrol head, that there is no sound from all that acceleration though. Either way, it’s a lot of fun. With its 3 driving modes, Comfort, Eco and Eco Plus, range can be extended by about 30km in the most economical mode. You have to live with some sacrifices though and on a hot day, your climate control would be the 1st to go. The other is that your speed is limited to 90kph. On overall, I tested an easy 110km range, mainly driving open country roads at 100-110kph with about 15-20km range left. Careful driving with a bit of brake and deceleration regeneration could probably bump that up by another 5-10km or so. This is not the car if you plan on doing big distances, although we did about 500km for the week and it didn’t cost us much.
A simple cost calculator calculates that at 7l/100km and 20 000km per year with your current vehicle at R12 per litre, means your current vehicle will cost you R16 800 in fuel costs. The BMW I3 will cost you only R3225-00 for the year in electricity. That’s a saving of R13 575.00 per year.
The BMW I3 is available in 2 models; The I3 which retails for R532 500 and the i3 REX (range extender – 2 cylinder petrol engine) R 602 500.
Download the I3 pricelist here.