Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BMW i3

What Car? reports: [edited]

The Fiesta-sized i3 is powered by a 168bhp electric motor mated to a single-speed gearbox that drives the rear wheels. Its top speed is a modest 93mph but it has a range of between 80 and 100 miles, does 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds (0-37mph takes just 3.7 seconds) and can reach a full charge in eight hours on a regular domestic plug. Install one of BMW's wallboxes (£315) and the car's AC Fast Charging kicks in, with a full charge in four hours.

The car makes extensive use of lightweight construction materials, including carbonfibre for the main passenger 'cell', in a bid to claw back some of the weight that's added by the substantial battery pack under the i3's floor. The price you pay for this F1-style technology is £30,680 - or £25,680 after the government's £5000 electric vehicle grant.

BMW believes that many i3 customers are likely to get their car on a lease deal. The regular EV version costs £2995 front, then £369 per month over 36 months, which covers use of up to 8000 miles a year.

A range-extender version of the i3, with a two-cylinder petrol engine that just keeps the batteries alive once they reach a low charge level, is also available with a price premium of just over £3100. Its nine-litre fuel tank will double the car's range - and you'll be able to refill it with fuel if you want to go farther.

The i3 benefits from the direct power delivery that you get with an electric motor, which means all of its torque is available from standstill - and that makes it ideal for the city use that's intended to be the car's main function.

You can pull away smartly from traffic lights, and the strong response gives you confidence to nip in and out of traffic - up to around 30mph it is surprisingly quick. The electric powertrain is quiet, too; there's less of a motor whine than you'll get in the Nissan Leaf, for example.

The handling is perhaps the most surprising element of the i3 package, and due in no small part to the positioning of all that battery weight low down in the chassis. The i3 looks tall and narrow, and it is, but it manages to feel extremely agile from behind the wheel, with quick steering (just 2.5 turns lock to lock) and very little body lean in corners. It also has a turning circle of less than 10 metres (a full metre less than a current Mini's).

The ride is definitely on the firm side and it feels choppy in all types of driving. It is particularly caught out by sharp potholes, which send jolts through the cabin. There is also a fair amount of suspension noise over bad surfaces.

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