There are certain traits BMW models have had for many years. Sleek designs, dynamic handling, and melodious exhaust notes being just a few. Well, you can scratch some of those off that list with a new model you’re likely to see on the road soon.
The 2014 BMW i3 is not sleek, and it doesn’t have a melodious exhaust note. That’s because it’s a purpose-built plug-in electric vehicle. The lack of an exhaust note is because there is no exhaust, which is the whole point of an EV in the first place. And as for its looks, well, this BMW is function over form.
The somewhat stubby shape serves to make the i3 an efficient urban transportation pod, not a long-distance touring car. The way the car is laid out, there is more than ample room for two or even four passengers, with the electric motor and battery located to the rear.
Particularly noteworthy with regard to the interior is the way it’s accessed. The two main doors swing open wide, and then two more mini doors, hinged at the rear, allow easy access to the back seat.
The other thing you’ll notice right off the bat about the interior is its distinctive design and layout. Quite futuristic, everything is purposefully placed, and materials have an earthy, organic look and feel to them. Definitely a different kind of BMW.
The operation of the car is quite different too. As with many newer vehicles, there is a proximity key that just needs to be inside the vehicle somewhere in order to start things up. A large stalk juts out from the right of the steering column, containing both the stop/start button and the gear selector. (Or perhaps “motion selector” is a more apropos term.) Twist it forward to go forward; twist it rearward for reverse. Pretty simple, though it does take some getting used to.
As with other EVs, acceleration is pretty brisk from a stop, and the i3 will have absolutely no trouble keeping up with typical city and freeway traffic. One odd trait in BMW’s regenerative system is that if you completely let off the throttle, the car really decelerates. This serves to put juice back into the battery by capturing motion energy via the motor-generator, but you have to train your foot to stay in the throttle a bit to maintain a gentle cruise or when wanting to slow down at a more gentle pace.
Range is anywhere from 80 to 100 miles per charge, according to BMW. Doing a few overnight charges while I had the car, I’d say their estimate is spot-on, though that 100 mile figure would only be with really careful driving and not using the air conditioner or heater.
For some buyers, the thought of having to rely solely on the battery’s stored power is a little unnerving, in case a day’s worth of driving takes many miles farther than they had planned to. For them, BMW offers another variation on the i3.
They call it the i3 “Range Extender.” A small 2-cylinder engine is at the ready to fire up and produce power to keep the car going when the battery is depleted. There’s 2.4 gallons of gasoline available, and that means the EPA’s official project range goes from 83 miles to 144 miles. That’s quite a difference. The upgrade to the Range Extender model will cost you about $4000.
As a commuter car, the i3 is really ideal. Obviously being able to drive around on electric power is a plus for your wallet, and the car qualifies for an HOV (“carpool”) lane sticker, so you may be able to save time as well. Its maneuverability is wonderful, with its compact size and short turning radius making it a dream in a tight parking lot. Another great plus is the outward visibility, which is very good.
And of course, BMW wouldn’t put their badge on a car that didn’t handle well. Like other EVs, the i3 carries its weight low in the chassis, primarily the 450 pound battery pack. The drive motor sits at the rear, which is pretty much the opposite of where other smaller electric cars have theirs.
The base price for the i3 is $41,350, which can then be reduced with various state and federal incentives to the low $30,000 range depending on where you live. There are different trim packages available to add more luxury if you wish, and one option is the ability to connect to public DC quick charging stations for a fast top-up of the battery when you’re out and about.
The new i3 may not look like a BMW as most people know them, but it’s a BMW in terms of being crammed with engineering. The kind of engineering that makes for a very distinctive electric car.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz