There is no doubt that in the car evolution race, electric vehicles could have put in more effort. After all, they were first off the start line in 1837 compared with 1864 for internal combustion. Plus, they didn’t smell, were clean and above all didn’t frighten the horses. And at that time they were probably faster.
But we have come a long way regarding our views on sustainability and effects on the planet. So, if you’re after a new experience, the BMW i3 has a lot more in common with the Apple ethos than that of a car manufacturer.
To say the i3 breaks the mould of BMW might be a bit of a stretch – there is no doubting its lineage is German – but no-one has invested more than BMW in the luxury EV market.
The styling is of the crossover genre that is much in vogue but with that unmistakable BMW family resemblance that gives you the assurance of high build quality. Attention to detail is obvious from the moment you hear the click of the doors closing.
The use of Kevlar and aluminium makes sense for structural rigidity and, with a low centre of gravity courtesy of the clever positioning of its batteries, makes for an exceptional ride quality and the perfect platform for sound road-holding you would expect in the larger executive class rather than in this small to medium sector.
It’s quite spacious up front, helped by the lack of a central handbrake and a gear selector that’s located on the steering column instead of between the seats. There are two displays. The central one shows intuitive sat-nav and infotainment selections, while a smaller rectangular readout takes the place of conventional instruments behind the wheel. It’s all easy to use, helped by a version of BMW’s iDrive controller.
The tall windows and boxy body make the i3’s extremities easy to judge when in a race for that elusive parking space. It has rear ‘suicide’ passenger doors (hinged at the back) with no ‘B’ pillar, which aids access to the two rear seats, but adults will find it easier if vertically challenged. Boot capacity is 260 litres, or 1100 litres if you lower the rear seats.
The over powering impression is of silent progress as the scenery through the side windows moves like a film when the mute button is pressed. The rear wheels are driven by the same electric motor, whether you choose the range-extender version or the fully electric i3. It has 168bhp, enough to take the city-focused i3 to a maximum speed of 93mph.
What is surprising though is that it feels extremely nippy around town. It’s not easy to resist embarrassing larger, sports vehicles away from the traffic lights, using the 0 – 60 mph in 7.2 secs.
A range of 80 to 100 miles, depending on driving style, is respectable for this sector, but the range-extender version with a 32 bhp petrol engine ups the range to 150 miles.
There is a rumble when the two-cylinder petrol engine kicks in – similar to someone starting a lawnmower in a distant garden – but you’ll only really notice it when you slow down for junctions.
There may have been anxiety about its moderate rate of climb, but the electric car has once and for always, taken off. The i3 is definitely an urban girl – modern, trendy, with quirky looks that are like nothing else on the road.
It has a surprisingly spacious and yet genuinely interesting cabin, plus the instantaneous maximum torque makes it a hoot to drive – albeit in an urban environment.
The only thing holding it back is its ultimate range – as with nearly all EVs – but the consolation to this is the zero road tax and zero congestion charges.