BMW i3 Hands On Review – with gallery

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The future of the car is electric. That’s a foregone conclusion, what hasn’t been decide on is how best to electrify our fleets. Hydrogen isn’t anywhere near set up for mass market use, pure electric cars (bar the Tesla Model S) have ranges that are impracticable for most users and standard hybrids are a stop gap solution that’s gone on far to long. This leaves the range extended electric vehicle.

Vauxhal (GM) have the Ampera (Volt) and now BMW joins the party.

The dedicated brand for electrified BMWs, ‘i’, is being used for their pure electric and their range extenders. The first of which to be commercially available is the i3. The BMW i3 comes in two main flavours, pure electric and range extended EV (Electric Vehicle).  The most important parts of the i3 are not its method of propulsion though, it’s the construction.

Firstly, we’ll look at propulsion before we get to the really important part. The i3 in it’s pure electric version will get from 0-62 mph in 7.2 seconds. When you keep in mind that’s faster than a Toyota GT86 (7.6 second), it’s impressive. The Range Extended EV (RE EV) version is slightly slower at 7.9 seconds. The electric engine produces 170 bhp and 250 Nm of instant torque and delivers a range of about 80 Miles.

The RE EV is the one I take particular interest in though. Not just because it’s the one I got my hands on, but given that the small motorbike engine that is fitted to it, with a 9 litre fuel tank gives a maximum range of a claimed 186 miles. Theoretically, that could get you from Sheffield to London on a charge, 9 litres of fuel and not pay any congestion charge or pay any road duty. You want to go further? Put some more fuel in. That’s why I think RE EVs are the way forward till we get faster charging, higher capacities batteries. Or hydrogen fuel cells, I’ll take either.SONY DSC

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how that drive train feels and how the car handles (It’s rear wheel drive, which is promising) as this was a prototype only for looking and touching, but not for driving. What I can tell you is that BMW are not pulling any punches with the i3. The styling is causing some discussions, with some people calling it ugly and unbalanced. Me, I think it’s bold. So many modern cars are not and spend all of their days blending in. The Range Rover Evoque and the Citroen DS5 are bold looking cars, they stand out, wither you like it or not. The i3 is just like them. If you want to stand out and be bold, the i3 will be for you.

You’ll be repaid for that boldness when you open you suicide doors and sink in to to a cabin that has been very well thought out. As you close your frame-less door, take a second to admire the exposed carbon fibre that lets you see what your car is made of. The inside of the i3 is a very nice place to be, especially with the glass roof, the feeling of space is refreshing. With there being no transmission tunnel to go through the center of the car, the foot well is flat, like the previous generation Honda Civic. It’s another one of those futuristic styling elements. The floating multimedia display is another.

The entire dash is a lesson in modern design. Not bound by bulkheads and standard design forms, the i3 exemplifies modernism.  I postulated at the launch of the it, that the dash would not convert that easily to right hand drive. I may have been unduly worried as the transition as worked well. The drive selector on the right of the steering wheel is a little reminiscent of the stalks on the steering wheels of old american cars. The thing is, that’s a good place to put it. There’s no need for the gear stick to be in the centre as, there are no gears to select.SONY DSC

The seating position will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has been in a crossover. Slightly elevated over a standard car, significantly lower than a proper 4×4. This i3 came in ‘Lodge’ trim. BMW seem to have gone a little mad with the names for the trims for the i3. It stems from the ‘lifestyle product’ aspect of the car. The Lodge trim comes with some leather, tweed like fabric and FSC sourced wood to go with your carbon fibre.

As alluded to earlier, the most important thing about the i3 and the new i range is not it’s powertrain but how it’s built. BMW call it LifeDrive. BMW LifeDrive is the first vehicle architecture custom-built for electric cars. It is created from two separate units: the Life module – the passenger cell made of carbon fibre – and the Drive module, comprising the suspension, drive components and high-voltage battery. The advantage? By securely housing all drive components in the lower module, there is no transmission tunnel running through the middle of the car, leaving more room for passengers. LifeDrive architecture not only compensates for the extra weight of the battery, it also lowers the car’s centre of gravity.

All of this combines to make an important leap forward. The BMW i range currently comprises of 2 cars. The i3, a real world, every person car and the i8 super car. Both use this new technology to showcase that you can really do anything with it. In the same way VW Group’s MQB and Jaguar Land Rover’s Aluminium Platform allows them to produce many vehicles from one system, the LifeDrive does the same.

Expect the next i car from BMW to be a 4×4 softroader (because, lets be serious here, they don’t make a proper off roader) to show that this platform will eventually underpin the future of BMW.

Bring on the future! Preferably one that has me getting to test drive the i3 and the i8.

[I’d like to thank BMW Teesside for the invitation to view the i3 and for being very accommodating.]

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