One of the things I like most about working here at Bill Plant is the range of different cars we are given to demonstrate. This weekend I had the new BMW i3. This was my first experience driving an electric car and my views on it are still pretty mixed. My first impression was when I saw it being delivered.
Most of the cars we get here are driven to our office, the i3 however came inside a truck because it can’t be driven far enough to make the trip up to Ripon in North Yorkshire.
When coming to drive the car the main difference I noticed it has over a standard petrol or diesel is the fact that it is completely silent. The ignition is a stop start button that only works if the key is in the car. Rather than like how a normal car turns over a couple of times and bursts into life, the i3 just lights up and plays a little jingle. Because there isn’t any noise from the engine I think it needs the jingle to reassure you that the car has started, as even after a few times of driving I was still waiting for it to start when it was already running.
I was very optimistic when coming to drive the I3; I really didn’t know what to expect. The i3 is one of the fastest acceleration cars I’ve ever driven. It does 0-30 in 3.5 seconds and 0-60 in 7 seconds. That’s 1 second faster than a 2013 2.0 TDI Volkswagen Golf. It only has a top speed of 93mph but that’s still 23mph above what we are legally allowed to drive at in this country and if you are looking for a car to do track days you wouldn’t be considering an electric car anyway.
The other big difference with this car is as soon as you remove your foot from the accelerator pedal is slows down rather quick. This is because it uses its residual motion to add extra charge to the battery, which isn’t very noticeable. It might add a few extra miles here and there but it’s not going to really extend the vehicles range. It does encourage you to drive differently though. For example, when approaching a junction if you prepare in advance you can slow almost to a complete stop without having to use the break and give yourself a little bit of extra battery life. I was also worried about the brake light, as you are not actually touching the break when it’s slowing down, but it does apply the light so people behind think you’re breaking.
In my opinion the i3 isn’t a good-looking car in anyway. My first thought when seeing it was that it was a stretched out smart car. Outside you’ll find body panels made from thermo plastics and special paint that is resistant to dings – a true city car perhaps. Same when you get inside, you’ll find the same level of luxury as a 5-series, and the interior space of a 3-series. It had all the features and more that you’d expect from any modern car:; DAB radio, Sat Nav, climate control, and heated seats. However the heated seats and climate control quite drastically dropped the range of the car as soon as you switch them on.
The control system was really nice to use, it also looked very modern on it’s LED screen using 3D blueprints of the car to show you how much battery life is left.
It also gave graph reports to show you how economically you are driving. If you’re only getting a 40 mile range it’ll show you where you’re going wrong. It had an Audi style centre console control, which I have always found the best design, nice to reach when driving and simple to use. The overall drive is very comfortable, the fact that’s it’s so quiet probably makes a big difference.
The i3 has a battery range of 100-120 miles according to BMW, I was mainly driving on country roads around 50-60mph and I found the range to be more like 80. The model we were given has a range extender, basically a petrol tank that takes 9 liters of fuel and uses a generator to charge the battery and give you another 80 miles. I managed to use the car as I usually would on a weekend and not use any fuel from the range extender. I did have to charge it a lot though, it charged all night Friday to Saturday, 13 hours. This was from almost empty and charged it up to about three quarters, giving me around 60 miles. I again charged it for 18 hours overnight, which gave me a full battery to make the journey back to Ripon on Monday morning. At approximately £1 to charge up it works out a lot cheaper than the £30 I’d spend in fuel on a normal weekend. Supermarkets and petrol stations are now starting to have charge points where you can charge it up in 30 minutes. Outside of London these charging points are a bit few and far between so it doesn’t really make much difference at the moment.
Before driving this car I thought electric cars were very far from becoming popular, now from having this one I can see how they are going to play a huge part in the future and one day more than likely take over the fueled car. At the moment owning one myself wouldn’t be practical at all, if I wanted to do a journey over 80 miles I’d need to stop and charge it for 30 minutes too often. If I lived in London however, where there are a lot more charging points and free entrance into the congestion area, I might consider it. But starting at a little over £30,000 you’d have to drive it a lot to make it save you money compared to buying a £15,000 diesel. Another worry people will have is how much will it hold it’s value, this is why BMW offer a buy back scheme on the i3 so you know how much you can sell it for 2 or 3 years later. I do now think in a few years time when the range on an electric car is a bit bigger and there are more charging points about, I would definitely consider.