Review: BMW i3 hints at our future of electric cars – and it’s fun
The pointing, and then the sun-shielding hand above his eyes as he gawked at the car in front couldn’t be missed from my vantage point, glancing in the rear-view mirror while stuck in traffic.
I was driving what was arguably the most noticeable car on Highway 401 that day. More noticeable than a Ferrari, a Smart or a Tesla.
It was the BMW i3.
It’s the Bavarian company’s first foray into a production all-electric car, and it’s a good one.
The i3 is more of a family car or a daily commuter, appearing shorter than a 3 Series and with a much higher roofline.
Lithium Ion batteries along the bottom of the car store enough electricity to power the i3 for 160 km of driving, BMW says, depending on driving style. The particular i3 I tested also has a range extender, which is essentially a gas generator, to provide additional range (via electrical charge) for up to an additional 300 kms.
Important to note here, is that range really depends on your driving style. Considering the i3 can accelerate to 60 km/h in just under 4 seconds, it’s very easy to shrink your range with each standing start from a red light, especially since you can beat most other cars on the roads, all the time.
Acceleration with the i3 is unbelievable. Unlike traditional gasoline engines, torque from the electric motor is available right from the start.
With the “gas” pedal, you have to be so vigilant to avoid speeding since this electric car gets up to speed so quickly. It’s as if you’re pouring paint from one can to another over freshly finished floor – overdo it, and you could be in a bit of a mess.
The brakes are just as reactive, quickly bringing this carbon fibre-framed car to a stop.
Because the batteries are low along the bottom, the i3 carries a low centre of gravity so despite weighing, it’s actually fairly nimble.
The ride, meanwhile, can seem hard and jarring over potholed roads, such as stretches of Lawrence Avenue or Dufferin Street in Toronto.
Other than the eerie absence of engine noise, the i3 drives like a normal car. It has air conditioning, seat heaters , and a fancy I ConnectedDrive infotainment system – which connects to the Internet and makes everything, well, connected.
I was able to see my vehicle’s energy consumption – 15.9 kWh / 100 km. Using Toronto Hydro’s mid-peak electricity rate of 11.2 cents / kWh, it would cost about $1.78 for every 100 km I drove. And it wasn’t like I babied the accelerator to achieve the highest level of efficiency.
By comparison, BMW says its 320i consumes fuel at a rate of 7.1 litres / 100 km. Depending on the price of a litre of gas…you can see which one is more cost efficient.
Charging can be done at home by plugging the car into your typical wall outlet (with a provided adaptor) and it takes about 12-15 hours to fully recharge the i3.
The better option is to find a ChargePort charging station and get topped up in about three hours (for 80% charge). They can be found at several malls, parking garages, and even at a coffee shop on the outskirts of suburbia in Milton.
If you neglect to charge the car entirely – and you ticked the option box for the range extender – the tank is less than $5 to fill.
I was able to go a full weekend without ever stressing out about my range, and I could imagine drivers going up to the cottage driving models equipped with the range extender.
How do people respond to the BMW i3’s looks?
These cars feature a two-tone paint scheme – my loaner was grey and black, along with blue accents. To be honest, it appears to be as sexy looking as a vacuum cleaner, but it still manages to turn heads everywhere.
One day, while trying to go out for a run, I was stopped by neighbours and spent more than 20 minutes explaining how the i3 works and what it’s like to drive.
There was also a family at the Tim Hortons, a cyclist on his bike, and that boy and his father I mentioned at the start of this piece.
From sustainable manufacturing to zero emissions, I could go on about how this car is as good for the environment as it is to spend a summer planting trees, but I think this is just the hint of what most of our cars will be like in the years to come.
And it’s fun.
Price: From $44,950