By Tom Voelk- The New York Times
Generally, there have been two approaches to creating electric automobiles: Stuff batteries and an electric motor into existing gas-power cars, or start from scratch and create a new design. Not satisfied with either of those methods, BMW in a sense used a time machine.
Its new i3 is a deep dive into what the car of the future should be: efficient and sustainable. It’s transportation to be sure, but the i3 is also just as much an environmental think tank on wheels.
Its passenger cell is made from lightweight carbon fiber and reinforced plastic manufactured in a hydroelectric-power factory in Washington State. Interior panels use renewable Asian kenaf plants. It’s all assembled in a German plant amped up by wind power. It would be no surprise to find that the i3 is organic. And edible.
The motor provides 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of instant torque. While the i3 can be purely electric, drivers seeking more range will insist on the model with the 2-cylinder gasoline-power generator for $3,850 more. At 1.9 gallons, the gas tank adds about 60 miles of range. At speeds over 25 miles an hour, road noise masks the engine drone. Pedestrians may think you’re mowing the lawn. With the generator, i3 weighs just 2,900 pounds.
BMW claims 80 to 100 miles on battery power alone. My average was 65 using the midlevel efficiency mode Eco Pro. My range was confirmed by a couple in a grocery store parking lot who have owned their i3 for a few months.
Rear-wheel drive, 50-50 weight distribution and a spunky 0-to-60 time of 7.5 seconds seem a God-given right for BMW (it’s slower in Eco modes and in range-extender operation). But a stiff ride and lack of any road feel should prevent the Bavarians from using the Ultimate Driving Machine tagline here. Tires not much wider than my foot don’t help much.
The brake pedal is seldom needed in urban driving. Power regeneration is so aggressive that lifting off the throttle slows things strikingly. One-pedal driving activates the brake lights. At higher speeds, the i3 coasts with less resistance.
Inside, the car makes me wary of the future. The power button location is awkward, and the unusual drive selector takes practice. Creative and renewable materials used on the base Mega World model — one of three, along with Giga World and Tera World — give off an office cubicle vibe. Nearly all my passengers viewed the kenaf fiber panels as trunk liner material. That couple at the grocery store bought the Giga World model with leather and eucalyptus wood trim. It’s highly preferable to the Mega’s budget plastic look (and sometimes feel) and adds a larger data screen. It’s a bargain at $1,500 more.
At $47,050 as tested (without tax incentives), navigation is standard; heated seats add $550. Note: A huge medical-grade electric heating pad can be found on Amazon for under $50. I’ll once again gripe that BMW’s rearview camera is part of a $1,000 grouping. Who knew that the future, and safety, was about option packages?
Getting to the two rear seats requires using cumbersome rear-hinge coach doors. Average adults will fit fine, and the i3’s floor is delightfully flat, though feet in back will be cramped.
Looking like the avant-garde offspring of BMW’s classic Isetta and 2002, people instantly know if they love or hate the i3’s design. Comparably equipped, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are easily $11,000 less than the i3. All of them will get you to work; the i3 takes owners into the future.