We drove the BMW i3 extended range: e-power takes you a long(er) way…

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In our modern (mega)cities, clean power will be paramount. BMW has long understood this, and has brought quite a formidable E-car on the road. Its clever i3. We already tested it for you with the small twin cylinder petrol engine in the back as a range extender. With charging points becoming ever more available in many places, BMW feels confident enough to offer a “pure” battery only version, albeit with a new, more powerful battery, warranting – in ideal circumstances – a range of not less than 410 kilometers.

Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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E-cleverness

Sliding behind the wheel of this i3, we are again impressed by its clean, open, well balanced design, which exudes a “zen” atmosphere very fitting for e-progress. Indeed, the airiness of the cabin, the clean, uncluttered cockpit layout, the ergonomic placement of handles and knobs, everything contributes to a restfulness which is so appreciated in nowadays traffic.

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Add to this the vibrationless silence and the instant, ample torque of 250 Nm of this 125 Kw engine, and you understand that driving this EV is a rather unique experience.

We also like very much the layout of the doors, with the rear doors opening at the front, giving a wide, totally unobstructed access to the rear seats, so useful not only for older passengers but certainly also for young parents who have to heave their toddlers in and out of their baby seats.

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Using this e-power BMW is therefore an undisturbed pleasure, last but not least because it also offers plenty of zest on the road.

The beauty of e-power is its massive torque, and hence its capacity to deploy a truly impressive acceleration. This i3 also lifts its skirts, as they say: it will shoot from standstill to 100 km/h in merely 7,3 seconds. But it is the 0 to 60 km/h time for instance which impresses even more: it costs only 3,8 seconds. Indeed, it is the torque which is instantly at your disposal at the slightest blip of the throttle   at very low (urban) speeds, which is the quintessence of e-driving.

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Adding to this very specific charm is also the sheer silence and mechanical refinement which one also experiences when driving under e-power. All this contributes to a wonderful driving experience, which a car with ordinary mechanical propulsion simply cannot offer.

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On top of all this comes the excellent all round visibility, the nimbleness and agility of the car, its very precise steering response, and you have in a nutshell what everyday driving this i3 is all about. Just wonderful, and quite addictive.

No small wonder that the i3 has found already many adepts, and indeed it has been sold already more than 60.000 times and is indeed the best sold premium compact e-vehicle.

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Frequent charging is a however must for everyday use…

As it happened, having just moved to a top floor apartment with magnificent views, and having thus adapted ourselves to a (very) urban lifestyle, we have not less than three (!) garages in our apartment house at our disposal, but alas, at the time of the test, not yet one with an AC outlet. This meant that during the test, we had no (re)charging possibility for our test car. Where we live, there is no charging point available within the nearest few kilometers, so that proved very impractical.

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We assumed however that with the extended range possibilities, this would not present a major problem to put the car through its paces for a few days. But in the near winter conditions we experienced during the test period, we were rather too optimistic indeed. The manufacturer quotes 410 km as the available range, but this is understood to be in near-ideal circumstances. A different reality unfolds when outside temperatures are lower. At the collection of the test car at the premises of BMW Belgium, the available range was some 240 km. Driving quietly home, and the next day to the old port of Antwerp near the town centre for the photo session, the remaining available range was brought down to some 180 kilometers, driving cautiously in the ” eco pro +” mode, which we explained to you in our previous test.

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With a normal modern car, this driving style would deliver consumption figures around 5 liters/100 km and less. During the test, the i3 proved of course immensely popular for those frequent urban errands. When the day came to return the test car, it was quite cold, with temperatures slightly below zero. This dealt another blow to the available range. Starting up the car already slowed a range of only some 87 kilometers. We made it back to BMW Belgium, but then only just.

We therefore can only conclude that unless charging points are at your disposal at your office and/or at home, the usability of an e-vehicle in low(er) temperature conditions is very limited indeed, with the “official” range in (colder) practice more than halved.   We wonder how the range of this i3 would be in really heavy sub zero temperatures…

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Conclusion

Is this i3 an attractive proposition? When one considers driving pleasure and the unique attractiveness of e-propulsion, we would say yes indeed. When it comes to everyday usability, you need to have your (home charging) infrastructure in place. We already know now that BMW is working together with other major manufacturers to put an ultra-fast charging network in place on roads and cities too. The i3 needs it, and all the other “pure” E-cars for that matter.

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Another use, which is of course very purposeful, indeed, is the intensive (urban) use as a car sharing vehicle. We are sincere believers of this (future) kind of mobility. The i3 seems to be built for that, given its sturdiness, superior build quality and practicality, and earns truly high marks here. No small wonder that BMW is increasingly putting their product to such use already with their car sharing initiatives…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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