Auto savant Peter Ryan loves being behind the wheel of beautifully crafted man-made machines.
It is difficult to think of any other industry that has had more false starts across such a long period as the electric car industry. It’s come a long way since the production of the first electric car in the early 1880’s, and this time, it should stick.
There have been new starters in this space over the last few years in Australia, with manufacturers like Mitsubishi, Renault, and Holden offering what are essentially weight-reduced versions of existing production cars with an electric motor. BMW, on the other hand, has gone to market with a purpose-built vehicle designed from the ground-up (no electrical pun intended) unlike anything we’ve seen before. Enter the BMW i3 all electric city car.
Replacing a petrol-gulping city commuter with the BMW i3 is a surprising pleasure – particularly for those truly converted (no stopping the puns) from an electric sceptic. The problem electric cars have had in the market is their level of compromise when today’s consumers don’t like compromise. The concession is always around that electric-elephant-in-the-room range which, as a result, has coined the term ‘range anxiety’. But the BMW i3 really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. There is something to be said when having fifteen kilometres range left in the tank and driving past three perfectly-functioning petrol stations that are of little use or occasion.
Experience the epiphany of fit-for-purpose, while silently zipping through traffic. People who need a ute do not buy a sedan. People who need a 4WD don’t buy a front-wheel drive hatch – although the opposite sometimes applies. And if a car is needed for long haul drives, don’t buy an electric car. The BMW i3 has a range of around 130km which in testing mode, is easily reached. There’s also the advantage of having the range topping i3 Rex, which has a great little motor that acts as a generator to charge the battery and adds at least another 100km to the range. Electric cars are here to stay, and the BMW i3 has proven they can be beautiful, functional, luxurious and sporty.
As a luxury city commuter, the BMW i3 is incredibly versatile, exceptionally manoeuvrable and a great talking piece.
BMW have gone out on a limb with some interesting design elements including the stubbiness of the vehicle. This is the shortest BMW on the market and looks bigger than a 1 series, though not quite as big as the X1 in the metal. There is the dynamic swoop of the rear passenger windows, which are fixed in place. These sit atop a rear-opening ‘suicide door’ which cannot be opened unless the front door is. While it sounds awkward, it all works well. The configuration does away with the need for a B-Pillar – which usually constricts egress in smaller cars – so when both the front and rear door are both open, it presents an incredibly practical high and wide opening. Look carefully for a glimpse of the Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic safety cell specifically designed for this vehicle.
Be excused for thinking the interior decor of this car was designed on the set of the movie OBLIVION. It is very much a futuristic lounge room- and beautiful. The seats are slim-line, incorporating a mixture of sustainable materials from fabric to leather and the eucalyptus-wood dash – like a narrow coffee table with tablet screens. The floor is higher than many other small cars due to the battery packs giving this an SUV driver position, while the high roof allows for expanses of glass to enable great visibility.
Driving this car is a unique experience. The silent start is only evidenced by the simple display of ‘Ready’ on the screen to replace the standard instrument cluster. There is, of course, no engine noise though there is a Jetsons-like quiet whir in the background. The vehicle rides on slim-line 155mm wide tyres with 19” rims, limiting the rolling friction of wider tyres with very little road noise. The higher body gives a higher centre of gravity which does, contributing to a little body roll in corners, which, if pushing too hard through tight corners, means the experience of an understeer. This is the only negative about the entire car. The acceleration is very impressive, if a little disconcerting, as the 250Nm of torque is available from a stand-still. There is no wind up of a motor: you just go. The experience is fantastic.
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