First Drives

07 November 2013

BMW i3 driven

Not just another all-electric city car. It's surprisingly useable, reports Girish Karkera

Girish Karkera
Car image



BMW isn't the first one to toy with the idea of an all-electric car. But it too strongly feels that zero-emission electrically-powered cars will take personal transportation into the future by being practical, useable and clever.

The i3 is the first car to emerge from the new 'i' division of the Munich major. Unlike the first one - the i8 sportscar - the i3 is designed for more everyday use, like taking you to office and back home or the supermarket or the movies.

It's a big hatchback, almost the size of a Honda Jazz although not as spacious inside. It looks futuristic in the way some of the body panels look like they are floating. The front has the characteristic BMW kidney grille in a new avatar. The trademark BMW's Hofmeister kink on the side has been rethought and the rear gets a wrap-around effect. It isn't particularly handsome to look at, but is striking in its own way.

The body is made of special carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, which makes the shell tough and light. In fact, the body structure is so strong, it does not require a B-pillar. As a result, coach doors are an added feature.

The i3 runs with the help of an electric motor that sits over the rear axle. So, true to all traditional BMW cars, this too is rear wheel drive. So there is no drive tunnel intruding into the cabin. The batteries stay under the seats and are good enough for a real world 140-150km on a full charge. BMW studies claim that an average city car user needs much less mileage than that on a daily basis. The car comes with a plug-in charger that can go into a regular three-pin plug point in the house.

There is space for four and ample luggage space. You sit a little high because the floor is a little high thanks to batteries underneath. That robs a bit of underthigh support at the rear. The front feels more spacious than the rear. At the rear, a thick C-pillar and a sloping roof may make you feel a bit cocooned if not cramped. But it is a proper four-seater.

On the road the steering feel is fantastically alive. It’s an agile car. Gearshifts are done through a grab-handle sort of device on the steering column. Push it in front for drive, and pull it towards you for neutral and reverse. Acceleration is instantaneous, as expected in an electric car. But unexpectedly, it is relentless in ‘Comfort’ mode. Floor the accelerator and the car guns like a regular fossil-fueled car. And there’s little noise except for some distant hum from the electric motor. Give the steering a slight tug at a turn – you can feel the roll – but it doesn’t leave its line easily, which is enough confidence-inspiring at most times. Ride was pliant on smooth Amsterdam roads, but the suspension can get noisy. Typically BMW.

But of course, this is about saving energy, so the i3 comes with two more driving modes. Eco Pro is the ideal balance between giving you power and enough range. And then there is the numbing Eco Pro+ mode, which switches off the climate control and doesn’t allow you to go past a predetermined speed of 90kph. But there is more to the i3 than just driving. In a bid to make the car really environment-friendly, BMW has also employed ‘green’ production methods to reduce its carbon footprint. For example, the factory that makes the car in Leipzig uses wind power. The wood panels inside the car are also sourced from cultivated local trees.

The i3 is a fresh new approach to motoring. While it gives you a decent car that drives better than many of our petrol and diesel-powered cars, it’s also responsible. For example, in congested places where you possibly cannot take the car, there is an onboard computer that links to a BMW server and lets you know where you can park your car and take public transport. Or simply walk. For that there is a mobile device pre-fixed in the car, which you can simply carry with you. The same device can even tell you how much charge is left in your car, whether it is charging or even if you have left a window or door open.

The BMW i3 is a clever machine. It’s a good drive and can actually try to make its owner’s urban life a tad easier. A good companion that’s more than just about going green.

Tags: i3, bmw

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