All-new 2014 BMW i3 electric car mimics an entertaining service puppy. It doesn’t poop or otherwise pollute, eats very little, doesn’t intrude or annoy anybody and, when its life is over, can be recycled.
Though BMW earned its reputation as a builder of high performance automobiles suited to all-day driving at triple digit speeds on Germany’s autobahns, it is navigating a new direction with the i3, an electric car designed to handily negotiate modern mega cities.
|STATS||Starting Retail Price||As Tested Price||HP / Lb-Ft|
|2014 BMW i3 Giga||$42,275||N/A||170 hp electric motor|
|Range Miles||As Tested Range||Curb Weight LBS|
|80 – 100||N/A||2,700|
Except for the fact that it gets its power from an electric motor, the BMW i3 is unlike any of the many other electric vehicles that are popping up like wild asparagus in springtime.
Most of them run strictly on electricity, like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla, Ford Focus Electric and Fiat 500e. Others seek to calm range anxiety—the worry among some prospective buyers that they might be stranded when the batteries run down. They are plug-in hybrids or carry gasoline engines to recharge the batteries.
The i3 is both. With a claimed practical range of 80 to 100 miles, BMW expects the vast majority of urban buyers to opt for the pure electric version. But the i3 also offers an optional onboard 34-horsepower, two-cylinder engine that keeps the batteries charged on a long trip. The system is similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt and it costs $3,000.
The i3 doesn’t remotely resemble any other BMW. It’s a chunky little critter, just an inch over 13 feet long for parking in tight spaces in big cities. It rides on skinny tires—the better to maximize its range, or fuel economy, if you prefer.
There are four doors and a hatchback to accommodate four passengers and a modest amount of luggage. The rear doors are hinged at the back and can be accessed only after the front doors are opened—similar to Toyota’s FJ Cruiser, a Jeep-like SUV.
The upside is ease of entry into the back seat, where most average sized adults will find enough knee and head room as long as the people up front don’t run their seats back too far.
Upholstered in soft leather on the tested i3, the seats are supportive and reasonably comfortable. The leather is an anomaly because other BMW models increasingly are upholstered in man-made leatherette.
But the i3’s genuine leather, tanned with an olive leaf extract instead of formaldehyde, is a component of the car’s intended environmentally friendly personality. Other interior trim is made of eucalyptus wood and a crude surface that essentially is dried grass.
Exterior panels make extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum, with a thermoplastic skin that deforms on contact and pops back in place. BMW says the i3 is 95% recyclable.
There are three models, with a starting price of $42,275 before any government incentives. The base car is called the Mega World, followed by the better equipped, and more expensive, Giga and Tera World models. The tester was an early Giga, with prices not yet set.
The cargo area under the hatch has just eight cubic feet of space because of the battery pack underneath. There’s no spare wheel and the tires are not of the run-flat variety. A pump shoots an adhesive that can temporarily plug a leak but doesn’t work with a blowout.
Classified as a compact, the i3’s passenger space is similar to that of BMW’s 3 Series sedan. Like other BMWs, it has rear-wheel drive. The 170 horsepower electric motor delivers a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time of about seven seconds, with a top speed of about 93 miles an hour.
Because it is electric, maximum torque—or twisting force—happens the instant the driver steps on the accelerator pedal. That produces a quick jump off the line.
On the road, the i3 is disconcerting at first. To maximize battery recharging, the BMW engineers built in aggressive regenerative braking. Lift off the throttle and it feels as if you’ve applied the brakes. The system will even bring the i3 to a stop without using the brake pedal.
Charging the battery pack from an ordinary household 110 volt outlet takes about 20 hours. However, BMW expects that most buyers will also order the company’s custom 240 volt charger, which costs about $3,000 plus installation and can recharge the batteries in three hours.
A charge from a fast 480 volt charger—available initially only at public charging stations—can do an 80% charge in about 20 minutes. But extensive use of the quick charger risks battery deterioration.
Check out this TFLcar video about a day in a life of an all electric car: