BMW i3: Can an eco-focused car still be the ultimate driving machine?
BMW is known for making very lovely, aspirational cars. The BMW roundel on your key ring is a sign that you've worked hard, done well for yourself, and are leading a complete, happy life.
Happy people of the world can rejoice now, too, as there's a new aspect to the roundel. It's the letter "i," and in BMW-speak it means "eco." There are currently two I cars in the offing, the superfuturistic i8 and the available-to-buy-now i3.
The i3 is a small thing, ideal for bimbling around the city, parking in awkward spaces, and darting into spaces when they make themselves known. Normal stuff. Except...it's really quick. Zero to 62mph takes 7.9 seconds if, like us, you have the range-extended version. That's hot-hatch quick. Well...it's quicker when you take into account its instant torque.
Speed aside, the i3's real party piece is its lightweight construction: it's made of Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic -- an easy-to-produce type of carbon fibre that's super strong and super light. Even with the 120kg, 650cc motorcycle engine/leccy generator onboard, the i3 is still lighter than a Nissan Leaf.
Making it light means you don't need as many batteries to go a decent distance, so a 100-mile-range isn't outside the realm of possibility. I managed it during the five days it was under my care. If we hadn't needed to film it, I'd have managed to use only battery power. As it was...the range extender came into play and, rather incongruously with the rest of the car, sounded like an ice cream truck.
To drive it's very much as you'd expect a city car to be -- especially one made by BMW. The steering is smooth and heavy enough to let you know you're driving something substantial, while light enough not to be a pain in the arse around town. The suspension, too, isn't harsh at all. It's comfortable enough to take London's poor excuses for roads while still being "dynamic" enough to excite.
As attention grabbers go, the i3 is a pretty good one. Its looks reflect what it is -- very different. People stop to ask about it, they gawp at its lines from the pavement, and they want to know what the new BMW electric car is like. For a company like BMW to create an all-electric car is a big deal and everyone wants to know what it's like.
The i3's ethos of all-electric, all the time, is a good one. Though BMW knows there are limitations to it -- you may need a car to take the family on holiday -- and will have schemes in place for i3 owners to borrow more suitable cars as and when.
The BMW i3 may just be the car to tip doubters over the edge, and if it's not, perhaps the next gen will be? After all, if this is the starting point, imagine where the MK II will go...