It’s about the funkiest thing you’ve ever seen – and certainly the coolest car you’ll drive all year.
Don’t worry about running short on fuel, it doesn’t use any… It’s innovative and has wonderful performance… It’s the all-electric BMW i3.
The 2016 i3 has green credentials galore. Even the factory in Leipzig where the car is manufactured, is modern and sustainable, just like the car itself.
In fact, BMW claims the wind-powered and carbon-neutral i3 production plant is the world’s most sustainable.
So now that we know about the factory, what about the car.
The version I tested was the all-electric model, and therefore lacking the range-extender option. Essentially a small auxiliary motor, the range-extender adds charge to the electrical system, but does not directly power the wheels.
So, how is it to drive? The acceleration is stunning. Think of it as an electric golf cart on steroids.
Power is immediate, and strangely addictive. And be assured, no golf cart has ever been so futuristic or looked so stylish!
Silent? Well almost, although there is a soft whirring noise when you press Start, perhaps to inform anyone nearby that it’s ready for action.
Braking is very effective too, quite pronounced even, helping regenerate battery charge.
How about the look of the i3?
Upright, giving a great view of the road ahead, much like you get in a small SUV. There’s a blue tinge around the stretched kidney grille, and blue cabin lights when the car is unlocked. In this context, blue it seems equals green.
Unlike any other, and oh so eco-friendly. There’s wood, wool, leather that’s tanned using an olive leaf extract, and some trim panels derived from a plant called kenaf. No, I hadn’t heard of it either.
However, it looks good and with the flat floor and lots of glass, the cabin feels light, airy and welcoming.
The controls are simple to negotiate – start, stop, forward, reverse, park – the information screen works well, and you quickly get used to the rear-hinged back doors.
They can’t be accessed until the front doors are open, but once wide open, getting into the rear seats is a breeze.
It’s quite roomy in the back and the upholstery has a similar attention to detail as in the rest of the cabin.
While the boot provides adequate cargo space, my golf gear was barely able to be squeezed in, even with the rear seats folded down.
So it’s futuristic, well thought out and the acceleration is invigorating.
But there are one or two things I must mention.
It isn’t my favourite feature of the i3, especially on freeways. Maybe it’s just me, but I found the car had a tendency to drift out of its lane at 100km/h. Cornering too didn’t feel as well set up or composed as you might expect of a BMW.
More concerning was the dreaded Range Anxiety. There, I’ve said it.
The maximum you can expect from a full charge is about 120 kilometres, and I regularly travel that far in a day.
So, it quickly became apparent to me that an electric only vehicle requires more careful management than those with combustion engines.
That seductive acceleration uses up extra charge, and without a range-extender, when the charge runs out, the car stops. A futuristic piece of roadside sculpture.
So, more planning and discipline is needed. Planning your trips, taking account of likely kilometres to be driven and the discipline to plug the car in as required.
Like keeping my smart phone charged, it soon became a habit.
Overnight is fine for a full charge from a household power point; you can purchase a beefed-up charging unit for installation at home, or search out one of the public charge stations.
Most buyers though will go for the range-extender option for around $6,000.
That way you can stretch it to 240 or more kilometres between charges, and do away with range anxiety for good.
Prices for the all-electric version start around $64k.
I liked my time with the BMW i3. Very much indeed. It’s not cheap and takes a little getting used to, but this green machine might well be a pointer to how motoring will look in the not too distant future.
NUTS and BOLTS – 2016 BMW i3
Engine: Electric motor producing 125kW and 250Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited kilometre and 8yrs/100,000 km battery warranty
Safety: Five stars
Price: From $63,990