First drive BMW i3 2015

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Side and open door view of the BMW i3 city car

The BMW i3 city car and i8 sports car represent a large leap in the electric market, with a lot of technology and refinement packed into them.Each iteration of the electric car over the past few years has brought a notable improvement, although it’s seemed manufacturers have just been testing the water with these futuristic cars.

BMW has now jumped in with both feet. The new i3 city car and i8 sports car represent a large leap in the electric market, with a lot of technology and refinement packed into them.

The i3 is a small 4dr, four-seat hatch. The standard car is $63,990, but for another $6000 you can get the range extender: a small petrol engine.

Electric propulsion comes from a 125kW, 250Nm motor which drives via a single-speed transmission. It has a lot of low-down torque, making the i3 sprightly in the city. Yet it’s no slouch on the open road either, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.2 seconds.

Driving it is virtually a one-pedal operation. The i3 has aggressive regenerative braking when you release the accelerator, slowing it dramatically but once you get used to this behaviour you can almost drive the car normally with limited use of the brake pedal.

BMW claims the i3 can travel 160km on electric power alone. There are also modes that limit top speed, accelerator pedal response and air-conditioning to conserve energy. In the most economical ECO PRO+ mode, the claimed range is 200km. This can be extended by a 647cc 2cyl engine that merely works to charge the battery; it does not drive the wheels. It isn’t that noisy but you notice when it kicks in.

The i3 can be charged at a standard power point, and BMW says a full charge takes 11 hours. Owners can get BMW’s i Wallbox Pure charger which reduces charging time to around six hours. The i3 can also be optioned to give 80% charge in around 30 minutes from a suitable fast-charging station.

To test the range extender, we fully charged the battery, brimmed the 9.5L fuel tank and bravely set off into the country. We did 250km, with 20km of range remaining before filling up. We’d used 8.2L of petrol, which translates to an impressive 3.3L/100km overall. But around 150km of the trip was on electric power, so in reality the i3 used 8.2L/100km, which is not so good. This is a similar experience to other range-extended electric cars we’ve driven, and it’s often down to the excessive weight of all those batteries.

The i3 electric drive has been designed for city commuting and its small 9.86m turning circle certainly helps. The steering feels quite fast though and the i3 can be a bit nervous when cornering on a winding road.

A feature of the body is that the two rear doors can only be opened after the front and they open backwards to give reasonable access.

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Written by Blake Harris
March 02, 2015

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