LAS VEGAS – The homeless man didn’t hear me coming. There was nothing I could do but honk as he stepped onto the street, his back turned toward me.

There was nothing to hear as I crept up. I was going about 70 km/h and could hear only the rubber of the tires smoothly slapping the pavement while this four-door car rolled down a Las Vegas street, free from traffic and away from the crowds along the strip.

bmw_i3_cabinSilence, until the honk, and then he leapt back on to the curb.

The BMW i3 is the German automaker’s first production electric car. There is no gasoline engine, no small engine to extend the range. Just plug it in, charge up and drive away.

But it has the potential to be a game changer. My 45 minute jaunt around Vegas in the i3 changed my perception of electric cars.

The car’s lithium-ion battery is mounted in a manner that keep’s the car’s centre of gravity low – making the i3 as nimble as a figure skater, whether I was driving on open streets or in brutal CES gridlock.

And on the open streets, the acceleration is brisk. Put your foot down and all that 170 hp (equivalent) power is available right away. You actually have to get used to easing off the “gas” pedal soon after pulling away from a red light because you’ll be speeding in no time.

The instant and spontaneous acceleration — and the car’s eerily silent behaviour — are the two most astonishing things about this vehicle, to everyday drivers. It darts off like a rocket, silently.

The technical wizardry that goes on under the hood is astonishing too, but ultimately what matters is what the car is like to drive in real life.

To handle the real world, BMW says the i3 can travel between 130 and 160 km before requiring recharging, which takes three hours to return to full.


Inside, there are hints of BMW design cues but the interior doesn’t feel like the luxury cabin you’re used to seeing in the company’s cars. It’s sparse and simple, mostly to keep the i3 lightweight.
The outside, well, it looks different than other cars. At least one user Tweeted me to say they didn’t like the looks very much. I tend to agree.

The i3 is expected to hit BMW showrooms later this year and will cost about $41,000 in the U.S.

Would you buy an all-electric car? Could you see this in your driveway?