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DRIVEN: The Electric BMW i3 E drive with Range Extender
|Date: 16 Feb 2017
||Author Type: Public Review
|Author: Julian Lurie Edited by Donovan Banks
|Source: Julian Lurie Edited by Donovan Banks
The BMW i3 is an all-electric small car that uses state-of-the-art construction techniques, including ground-breaking use of super-light carbon-fibre and aluminium, to offset the weight of the battery pack that’s mounted beneath the floor.
The i3 and its sister model, the i8 plug-in hybrid sportscar, are the first production cars from the environmentally-focused BMW i sub-brand which was announced in 2011, although neither car reached production until 2013. They are both assembled at BMW’s state of the art facility in Leipzig, Germany, although the i3’s carbon-fibre composite body is fabricated in the US.
The boldly styled BMW i3 hatchback is available in both pure electric and range-extending guises, the latter including an optional motorcycle engine that keeps the batteries topped up on longer journeys. Known as the i3 eDrive Rex, it is the model we feature in this road test.
Regardless of whether you choose the fully electric i3 or the range-extender eDrive Rex version, the rear wheels are driven by the same electric motor. If you choose the range-extender model, this adds a two-cylinder petrol engine that sits alongside the electric motor beneath the boot floor and is designed to only keep the battery charged. It's not connected to the wheels and you don't get any additional performance. In fact, because of the increased weight, the range-extender i3 feels slightly slower off the line than the pure electric version.
BMW eDrive technology including electric motor and high-performance lithium-ion battery developed and manufactured independently by the BMW Group; hybrid synchronous electric motor developed specifically for the i3, maximum output: 125 kW, peak torque of 250 Nm; with power sent to the rear wheels via an integrated differential gear; lithium-ion high-voltage battery with usable energy capacity of 18.8 kWh.
The intelligent drive-train and charge management using power electronics developed by the BMW Group; means that the battery can be recharged from a domestic power socket, the BMW i Wallbox or public charging station.
Power is delivered to the rear wheel through BMW’s automatic gearbox with the option of three driving modes ECO PRO and ECO PRO+ mode including coasting function; range under everyday conditions: BMW claim a range of 130 to 160 kilometers when COMFORT mode is engaged using the Driving Experience Control switch; but I never got near that. They also claim that the range can be increased by 20 kilometers when ECO PRO or ECO PRO+ mode are activated; additional option: two-cylinder range extender petrol engine developing 28 kW maintains a minimum charge level and boosts range to around 300 kilometers, but you’d have to drive very economically to achieve that.
Performance-wise, the BMW i3 will sprint from 0 to 100 km in 7.2 seconds and has a top speed electronically limited to 150 km/h making it easy to keep up with traffic on the freeways, the downside being that it will use up the energy much quicker the faster you go.
The i3 is extremely nippy around town; and the quick acceleration will leave most other cars behind when the traffic light changes to green. Also the small 9.86 meter turning circle: makes it easy to maneuver in tight spaces. 9.86 meters Energy consumption is given as 12.9 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometers in the EU test cycle; with efficiency further optimised through technology, such as Brake Energy Regeneration.
There’s no doubt that the styling of the BMW i3 is different and does draw attention. It’s tall and narrow proportions give it the look of a compact MPV rather than a family hatch. Lightweight plastics are used for the heavily sculpted body panels, while the bonnet and glass tailgate get a distinctive gloss black finish. Other highlights include the angular window line, swept-back headlamps and metallic blue trim for the faired-in grille and lower sills, while the i3 test car was fitted with five twin-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in narrow 155/6020 Bridgestone run-flats.
The theme of the outside continues inside. Access is easy thanks to the rear-hinged doors and lack of a B-pillar – although you have to step over the wide sill, and the rear bench will only seat two adults.
The driver’s seat is set quite high for a good view of the road, and immediately noticeable is the pair of large TFT screens – one ahead of the driver and one that appears to ‘float’ above the centre of the dashboard. These units display everything from speed to sat-nav info, and are controlled via BMW’s trademark iDrive dial. Metallic blue inserts add the final flourish, while the low-set dashboard and vast windscreen create a bright and airy feel.
The boot has a high floor, due to the running gear underneath, but the 50:50 split seats fold flat. There’s no loading lip, so you can easily slide things in to the space that measures 260 litres with all the seats in place. That capacity grows to 1 100 litres with the seats folded down. In the nose, you’ll find the cables for both the domestic power socket and for the BMW i Wallbox or public charging station.
Using the domestic socket to boost battery power, I left it plugged in for nine hours to get about an 80 per cent charge, and using BMW’s Wallbox charger it went to 92% in three hours.
Extensive standard equipment, including keyless go, full leather upholstery, Navigation system Business, USB and AUX-in sockets, hands-free facility for telephone, air conditioning, leather steering wheel, LED daytime driving lights and Park Distance Control with rear-mounted sensors, rear roof antenna, rear wash-wipe.
Safety equipment includes a combination of a strong carbon-fibre reinforced plastic structure, six airbags and standard stability control but the front end cost it points in Euro NCAP’s pedestrian assessments with a four-star score.
With its sprightly electric performance and good handling, the BMW i3 was great fun to drive. From behind the wheel it was quite amazing how quickly you get to know your way around. Every lever, switch and button are easy to identify, and the i3 takes crowded city streets in its stride, while the electric motor’s instant response lets you zip through gaps in the traffic with confidence.
On twisting back roads, the i3 has a bit of body roll, but the steering is quick and well weighted, and there’s more grip than you’d expect from the skinny tyres. The short-travel suspension does get unsettled at times but you never feel like you’re going to lose control, and the stability control intervenes smoothly, enough to make you take things a bit easier.
Braking performance is perfectly adequate, but you soon learn to drive with a 'single-pedal' technique around town, anticipating when you're going to have to come to a halt and allow the car's energy recuperation systems to slow you down to a stop naturally. It sounds odd, but it soon becomes second nature, particularly since it maximises the i3's range.
In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed my week with the BMW i3 but it was spoiled somewhat but its relatively short range between charges. A trip to King Shaka airport and back from Durban North followed by a trip to Westville and back brought the distance left to just 39 kms before having to re-charge. Even the i3 REx isn’t well suited to longer journeys. The engine is limited by the tiny nine-litre fuel tank, and adds at most, another 125 kms to the range. But it’s great for driving around town.
The recommended retail selling price for the BMW i3 Rex is R653 900 which includes BMW’s Maintenance plan for 5 years or 100 000 kms.