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Andy Williams - Tuesday, March 10, 2015

BMW i3 EV – Non Range Extender - Review

The first thing that strikes you about the BMW i3 is the originality of the exterior design. Not to most peoples’ taste, the black bumpers and tailgate give a bit of much needed character to what otherwise would look like a fairly standard small city car. To reduce weight and improve economy, the body is made from carbon fibre - reinforced plastic, this helps reduce the weight impact from the batteries. To the hand it simply feels like plastic, not something we are used to but this should hopefully be more resistant to damage as well as saving weight.

Inside the cabin, you immediately recognise the BMW styling, with a high quality infotainment system and cabin controls. Comfort is good and the only unfamiliar instrument was the drive selector, which is an indicator stalk situated on the right hand side of the steering wheel. The Bluetooth worked seamlessly with my music and for telephone calls. One problem which has been noted by a few is that the driver has to exit the vehicle, in order to allow a rear seated passenger to exit the vehicle. The driver’s seatbelt comes out of the rear door pillar, which is part of the rear door, which opens the opposite way to which we are used to. If a 3rd person opened the rear door with the driver still ‘strapped in’ the driver would either have a very sore neck or end up being pulled out of their seat!

Whilst driving I did notice a little bit of wind noise as you approach 50-60 mph but nothing excessive, perhaps more noticeable on an EV but surprisingly, it did seem louder than the Nissan Leaf. The ride is fairly hard, not uncomfortable but certainly not as soft as the Nissan Leaf, which had more of a ‘floaty’ feeling. The i3 certainly feels a little sportier and is a joy to drive.

In order to extend the range of the i3, there are three selectable driving modes, ‘comfort’, ‘eco pro’ and ‘eco pro +’… The more eco we get, the higher the efforts of the regenerative braking & deceleration system. When using this mode, your driving style has to be adjusted. The regenerative deceleration will slow you down quite rapidly, this means that you hardly ever use the brakes, only when you need to come to a complete stop. If you’re driving like this then you’re not over-accelerating, thus saving power and increasing the range. The better you anticipate the road ahead, the easier this is to do, and you can check on how well you are doing via the infotainment system, which in ‘eco pro +’ mode, will mark you out of 5 on acceleration and anticipation.

I have to say the most impressive thing about this vehicle was my journey home from work which is 17 miles, I managed to get home by only using 11 miles of power. Admittedly, there were a few downhill sections which helped regenerate, but it just goes to show that it clearly makes a big difference to the range it is capable of covering on one charge. I will not go into too much detail about ease of charging and range, as we’ve heard the pros and cons of this all before but this vehicle did seem less erratic on its predicted range than the Leaf, but it may be that my knowledge of this driving style has changed. Whilst the maximum range which is displayed on the dashboard is around 85/90 miles, I’d be confident using this vehicle for a couple of days between charging it, which is two 40 mile round trips. Electrical items didn’t have much of an impact on the range, and using eco pro+ as opposed to comfort would boost the range by around 10 miles before any regeneration has taken place.

It may not be realistic to compare a BMW with a Nissan with the former being a prestige manufacturer, but one can’t help doing this when both vehicles are similar in size, power and practicability. I was quite surprised to see they are both priced very similarly with a list price of £30,680 for the i3 and £28,000 for the Leaf. If it came to a choice between both I would choose the i3 without a doubt, however I do think the Leaf is the more attractive looking vehicle on the outside, but the interior just doesn’t compare with the i3, which simply oozes quality.

Key Facts:
  • OTR: £30680 (£25680 net of £5000 government grant)
  • 0-62 mph: 7.2s
  • Range: up to 100 miles
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