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BMW on a charge

BMW on a charge

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BMW’s electric-powered i3 gives Ross Kiddie a shock.

I’ve been a member of the New Zealand Motoring Writers’ Guild for 28 years and value highly its annual Car of the Year Award. Last year’s winner was probably the most significant
in the award’s history. The award was presented to BMW New Zealand for the i3 – it is what BMW describe as a mega-city vehicle.

Significantly, the i3 is electric powered. It’s the first time an unconventional vehicle has won the award, and that suggests to me that times are definitely changing. The motor industry is viewing a whole new strategy in the way we drive and the propulsion for doing so.

It’s a little bit of a lie to say BMW’s i3 is totally electric powered. The test car was fitted with what BMW describe as a range extender – a two-cylinder internal combustion engine courtesy of BMW’s motorcycle range. It will double the distance the i3 can travel – up to 400km-plus depending on conditions and auxiliary draw such as air conditioning.

Like I said, the petrol-fuelled unit is an option on the i3, it is there for those who fear range anxiety, or who need just that little bit of extra distance from the batteries on their daily commute, or the ability to travel longer distances on a regular basis. The i3 utilises the latest generation lithium-ion battery technology, up to 94Ah from 60Ah previously. Both AC and DC charging systems are incorporated, the latter will charge 80 per cent of battery power in 40min.

Technology aside, the i3 is a surprise. Beneath the bold, quirky look lies a spirited easy-to-drive model; it feels super-quick with immediate drive, the strong torque flow an electric motor develops is dominant, it also has decisive braking under deceleration.

BMW claims an acceleration time of 8.1sec (7.2sec, solely electric) to make 100km/h from a standstill, and if laws allowed it would reach a 150km/h top speed. I’m in no doubt they are achievable performance figures. The i3 has energy at all speeds, acceleration is constant, to my way of thinking it is a lot more than just an urban commuter, it feels spirited at highway speed, and its whisper-quiet motion is relaxing.

The latter needs to be kept in perspective, the i3 makes little sound as it moves; that being the case, the driver needs to be aware that pedestrians don’t always hear it coming, and in built-up areas that could jeopardise their safety. That didn’t happen during my time in the test car, but what was noticeable were the looks it received from passers-by.

The i3’s styling is very avant-garde, it has styling cues and design elements that are ground-breaking, yet fit with its role – it is a vehicle that stands out with its concept, and beneath its chunky design is an environmentally-friendly cockpit, which can be optioned to suit each eco-conscious buyer.

The BMW i3’s ideology will lure the person who is concerned about the welfare of the environment and just needs a commuter where distance of travel isn’t a consideration, but at $74,300 it does carry a premium price ($85,300 with range extender). However, any i3 buyer who is familiar with BMW vehicles will automatically be at home in the i3, it is intuitive inside and simplistic in its operating systems.

It is also a useful four-seater. There are two rear-hinged doors that allow easy access to a cosy rear section, and it has the functions that make BMW vehicles desirable in the first instance – satellite navigation, i-Drive and BMW Connected Drive. Vision is high with large glass areas, and although the tyres are thin there’s never a point where you think the i3 is vulnerable. And, being short, it has fabulous manoeuvrability with a 10m turning circle.

I’ve seen several i3s on Christchurch roads, and that would suggest people are looking to alternative transport yet understand personal motor vehicles are still very much a necessity. The i3 arrives in New Zealand at a time when the awareness of electric cars has increased hugely. Hopefully an increase in quick charge stations will pop-up for those who do choose electric only.

My best friend is a Nissan Leaf owner, he is very much a ‘greenie’. He and the i3 have certainly heightened my awareness of where we are heading in a world where sustainability is becoming a global demand.

The specs
Price: BMW i3, $85,300.
Dimensions: Length, 3999mm;
width, 1775mm; height, 1578mm.
Configuration: Two-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive, 647cc, 28kW (125kW), 56Nm (250Nm), automatic.
Performance: 0-100km/h, 8.1sec.

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