My Week with a BMW i3

Battery powered transport for the first time

This article is going to be very much a personal account of experiencing an electric vehicle (EV), we’ve covered Tesla and other electric vehicles but this is my first time living with an EV, driving one and understanding one.

My day to day driver is a BMW 220d, the “d” is for diesel. Switching to a BMW i3 is going to be different but I’m hoping to still feel the BMW brand coming through, in theory, just powered differently. Upon arrival to collect the car the gentleman brings it out and if first impressions are confirming decisions you’d almost wince. The i3 has looks only a mother would love, it’s not entirely a looker for the right reasons, but it will grab attention. The front of the car looking a little overweight with a front bumper like a truckers beer belly. The car appears to sit a little higher than a normal hatch, partially due to the 19inch wheels on the i3. From the side the window line cant be simply straight, the back window line dips, just because. From the back it is a more acceptable look, mostly black, not matching the paint of the rest of the car, but that’s ok.

Opening the driver door I actually almost trip stepping in the first time. The sides of the floor are curved upwards forcing you to step into the car rather than slide in. The interior is not entirely surprising for a “green” car, wooden elements across the dash, plastic inserts in the doors (likely for weight reasons) and impressively two large screens, one in the centre for infotainment and the other replacing the instrument cluster. We adjust the mirrors and we’re away. Wait. How do I put it in gear? I had to call the attendant over for help at this point. The “gear” lever is on the column, a push of the start button and a flick of a lever puts the car into drive and we’re away. Wait. I’m not idling away slowly. Nope. The i3, and likely all electric cars, need some power applied via the accelerator to get moving.

We’ve collected the BMW i3 from Alexandria and plan to take the trip back to the office in North Ryde. As we’re moving we notice the “fuel gauge” battery meter on the instrument cluster highlighting the amount of kilometres before it will stop dead and a graphic of quarters to display remaining charge visually. Before long we experience what is now termed “range anxiety”. The trip to the office is less than 40km, the car informs me of being ready to go 180km and I’m nervous. Coming from a diesel that can stretch up to 900km in a tank, we’re nervous about the rapidly reducing km to empty graphic.

The car is immediately different to anything I’ve driven before. Not just because of how it is powered but with what it means for how you drive it. Firstly, the acceleration needs to be applied to move it in any way, but taking your foot off the accelerator also puts the car into rapid deceleration. This is similar to gentle braking and in most cases of day to day use had us never using the brake peddle at all. The deceleration takes time to get used to but is a great way to recharge the batteries as energy is sent back into the powertrain. The other thing with electric cars is obviously the lack of sound, it’s amazingly quiet that the cars in the lanes next to you seem rudely loud. There is a slight whir similar to a golf cart as you apply power and slow  down, if you really push the car it is actually an enjoyable sound. There are no gears to chew through either as the car accelerates, what we found this meant was that overtaking was very quick. At any speed you could jump an extra 20km/h quicker than many cars because there was no need to drop a gear to raise revs and deliver power. Power is on tap at the ready all day.

The BMW i3 is no slouch either, from a standstill at the traffic lights you could rush to the speed limit very quickly, not Tesla quick, but not Tesla pricing either.

The concern always with electric cars is range. Over the course of the week we would expect around 230km with our typical routes and driving style. Interestingly, if you sit on a motorway and drive at 100km/h you’ll see more drain than if you were in traffic for the same distance, this is because there is no opportunity to decelerate or regenerate charge in the powertrain, plus you’re likely using more power at a consistent speed of 100km/h than a variable drive. There is likely more to this but that was our experience.

On average we never came close to travelling over 200km in one day so a charge was always easy. The charging kit provided allows you to connect to your normal powerpoint at home and it is fully charged before we wake up in the morning. When it comes to power costs, on our electricity rates at home, a full charge would cost a little less than $2, essentially making this an easy everyday car without even caring that you stop seeing your Petrol Station friend each week. We discovered that you actually can’t disconnect your charging plug while the car is locked, this is fantastic for when the car is unattended and you’re worried someone will unplug you to charge their own car. On weekends we we’re more conscious about the i3 range because we generally take longer trips. On one occasion we thought it would be “cool” to find the electric car parking spots at the shops and charge while we did the groceries. Unfortunately, we found two petrol cars in those spots making it impossible to get a charge. This is something a little concerning but something that will change over time.

Electric discussion aside the car itself is really interesting, the infotainment system is top notch, the a car that values every drop of electricity it provides a huge display with all the bells and whistles, even remote control functions for your iPhone including turning the air-conditioning  on before you get in, sending navigation commands and more. We would have loved Apple CarPlay integration but the streaming features made up for it in some ways. The speakers are great and produce decent sound. The car also came with adaptive cruise control making trips on the motorway a sinch as it maintained a gap to the car in-front without exceeding the speed limit. We quickly notice that the i3, while being very green, is actually still loaded with all the kit and we aren’t feeling like anything is really missing. 

The boot at the back is sufficient for some groceries but is unlikely to easily accomodate a large luggage bag, the front boot aka frunk, is very small but enough to hold the car charger and some wheel kits. For passengers in the rear, space is not too bad however the rear doors are suicide in style. The way the i3 has the doors configured means you must open the front door to then open the rear door and they must then be closed in reverse order. The rear passengers are also unable to put their windows down and must only enjoy a breeze from the front windows. A strange thing but maybe efficient. The centre storage console has an armrest style box with little space which however can be lifted to expose the “bucket” console below it, there is plenty of room in here which lead me to think why it wasn’t just one box with a lid so items could be stored and hidden. USB ports are available yet I felt guilty using them to charge my phone when it was ultimately reducing the charge of my car. Which was more important?

Overall, we loved the i3. It started off like a bad blind date, but after figuring her out we started to like her quirkiness. She had her limitations and wasn’t suited for weekends away but for the short dates it was a joy. The upfront cost of a BMW i3 can stretch you past $65,000 however costs beyond that will be very low. With very little required for a service your maintenance and running costs will be very very low. Our only real question for BMW is why was it designed to look the way it did. BMW continue to make sexy cars, I love my 220d, so why can’t I have a car that looks good and runs on battery? The Prius is another example of green and ugly. Tesla has proven that you don’t need to be ugly to be green, so now it is BMW’s turn. My lease for the 220d runs out in less than three years and I am sold on the electric revolution, but I don’t like turning heads for the wrong reasons, if BMW can make the i3 as sexy as their other cars then they just sold one to me.

 

Categories
Motoring

You may have seen Geoff on YouTube where his tech videos saw millions of views or heard him while he co-hosts the Gadget Grill on Radio 2RDJ. In his day job though he is an IT manager, a lover of Formula 1, great food and wine and obviously; technology.
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