Test Driving the BMW i3

By Noel Adams

EV World correspondent Noel Adams test drives the BMW i3 during press days at the 2013 LA Auto Show. Here's what he learned.

At this year’s LA Auto show BMW announced the all-electric i3 will go on sale in the second quarter of 2014. I got a chance to sit down with Oliver Walter who is Head of BMW I3 Product Management and Jose Guerrero, Product Manager and US Planning and Product Strategy for BMW I North America, I also had a chance to take the i3 for a short test drive.

The i3 is designed from the ground up as an EV. Oliver Walter showed me the carbon fiber frame that gives the car strength and rigidity while helping to keep weight down. Added to that are plastic body panels that Oliver described as making the car “city proof” meaning that it helped avoid all the dings and chips that are routine in crowded city parking lots.

Jose Guerrero gave me some statistics for the car. It weighs just 2,700Lbs which means that the car gets the same range as the BMW Active-E with a battery that is about 30% smaller at 22KWh, about 18.8KHh of which is actually used. Range is expected to be around 100 miles although I expect this to be a little lower when we get the official EPA number. Oliver told me that top speed is 150kph (93mph) but the car is intended for use in the city and is not really designed for extended freeway driving.

I asked Jose about charging and he told me that the car can be fully charged in about three hours on a level 2 charger and will also come with a DC fast charge option that will charge the car to 80% in about 20 minutes. BMW has elected to use the new J1772 fast charging standard but will offer Chademo in cars built for the Japanese market.

Oliver told me that the car will come with an 110V courtesy charger but he said that his charger is only intended for use in emergencies and recommend that people who purchase the i3 should install a level 2 charger at home.

I asked Oliver about the suicide doors and he said that they prefer to call them “coach doors”. The coach doors open out to allow easy access to the rear seats. This is particularly important if you need to put a child in the rear seats but I found it made life a lot easier when I wanted to put my camera bag and other junk in the back as I readied for my test drive.

Seating in the i3 is pretty much like any other BMW I have been in; firm but relatively comfortable. Behind the wheel is a nice sized screen that shows the speedo plus battery information such as state of charge and a dial indicating if energy is flowing into or out of the battery. A second larger screen in the center of the dash shows the navigation system. Below this screen are controls for the audio system. And on the console between the seats is the selector for the different driving modes.

Hidden behind the steering wheel is the start button. I just pushed this button while holding my foot on the brake and I was ready to go. I pulled out of the parking lot into downtown traffic and pushed the accelerator. I found that I was pushed back into my seat as the car took off along Figueroa Street. The first light was red so I took my foot off the accelerator and felt really strong regen braking. I was told by Oliver that the car can regen up to 50Kw and that is enough to bring you to a halt pretty quickly from 20mph, and yes, the brake lights do come on when the car is in regen. I hit the accelerator again and managed to make it to the light with a few jerky slow and go maneuvers.

While waiting at the light the woman in the next lane signaled for me to wind down my window then asked me if the car would be going on sale. She seemed quite pleased when I told her it would be in dealerships next spring.

Accelerating away from the light I once more felt the car push me back into the seat. I experimented with accelerator position and by the time I came to turn right into 7th street I was able to slow down and even come to a complete stop using just the accelerator and only needed to touch the brakes to hold the car at the stop light. I was surprised how quickly I was able to adapt to the regen braking on the i3.

So far I had been driving the car in Comfort mode which is what BMW calls the standard driving mode for the car. I located the control that puts the car into eco mode and was pleasantly surprised that the car still accelerated well. The car didn’t become sluggish like some cars when switched into eco mode. The difference in acceleration was noticeable but it actually felt very natural to me driving in eco mode and I would expect most drivers will drive it in this mode most of the time.

The radio was turned right down so I brought up the volume and found a nice classical station which seemed appropriate for driving the i3 through busy LA traffic. In turning on the radio I also turned on the navigation system, and since it was already set to navigate to the LA Convention Center it wanted to take me back there by the shortest possible route. I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off so in the end I just ignored the voice commands.

I turned onto Los Angeles Street and maneuvered around a bus that was trundling along in the right lane. The car is perfect for city driving. The steering is light and easy but very precise. The turning circle on the i3 is very small which allows you to maneuver easily in and out of traffic.

I did find one thing to knit pick; I didn’t like the way the turn signal functioned. When I clicked the arm down to turn right the lever returns to the center position. At first I thought that the indicator was not working but noticed that it was. The signal cancels correctly after the turn. It was a different matter when I signaled to change lanes. The signal didn’t cancel once the lane change was complete and I had to fiddle with the lever to get the signal to cancel. I’m sure this is just a matter of getting used to how it works, but it did seem odd.

I decided to put the car back into comfort mode and have a bit of fun as I got ready to turn onto Pico Boulevard. Unfortunately the traffic on Pico was really heavy so I didn’t get a real chance to stomp on the accelerator.

I did notice that I felt very relaxed while driving this car. It is probably not the sort of car that you would buy if you needed to commute from LA to Orange County but it is perfect for those that move around the city especially in tight downtown areas.

The i3 is a sporty fun car to drive even in heavy city traffic and I expect that this car is going to sell well here in the USA.

I asked Walter about the rollout in Europe. The i3 went on sale throughout Europe last week and Walter told me that the car is shipped with the same specs across Europe and has the same base price. Of course taxes vary from country to country so this affects the price that consumers pay in different parts of Europe. He also told me that the car will be rolled out across the USA from the start too.

I discussed the rollout with Jose and he told me to expect the car to be available on the east coast sometime during April next year. Since the cars are built in Leipzig the cars will arrive on the East Coast first and it will take about a month to get from there to dealers on the West Coast so nationwide availability should be sometime in May.

The i3 will start at a base price of $41,350 and that is before federal and state incentives which in California will bring the base price down to $31,350 for those able to take the full $7,500 federal tax credit. The car also comes with a range extender option. This option adds a 2 cylinder motor in the rear and a 2.4 gallon gas tank under the hood. Jose explained that this is done to help keep weight balanced front to rear. The range extender gives the car an additional 100 miles of range and since the system is charge sustaining the fuel tank can be refilled if necessary for additional range. The range extender option will add about $4,000 to the base price.

Photo by the author

Times Article Viewed: 10350
Originally published: 28 Nov 2013


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