Tag Archives: BMW

Quick look: BMW i3

Wait - this isn't a normal BMW....

Wait – this isn’t a normal BMW….

Light, peppy extended-range EV has innovation in spades

Despite plenty of hype to the contrary, the automotive world is a lot more ‘evolution’ than ‘revolution’, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The jump from Model T to Tesla Model S wasn’t achieved in a single bound.

In the electric vehicle world, the latest step forward is the quirky BMW i3 – a space efficient hatch that offers drivers an all-EV lifestyle or a range-extended experience. It began trickling into North American driveways as a pure EV last summer, with the more versatile range-extended model introduced this year.

Like screens? The futuristic BMW i3 has screens aplenty.

Like screens? The futuristic BMW i3 has screens aplenty.

The i3 isn’t going to be mistaken for anything else on the road. Short and tall, the four-seat EV features clamshell doors (with a dropped-down rear window), a glazed rear fascia, a spartan-but-high-tech interior, and extensive use of carbon fiber.

The dash, positioned low for visibility with two display screens rising from it, is topped with untreated eucalyptus wood and ringed (in this model) with dark brown leather – mixing classic luxury cues with the ultramodern.

While most EVs keep their interiors pretty conventional, BMW ventured way outside the box with the interior of this box.

Powering the i3 is an electric motor making 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, drawing from a battery with an EPA-certified range of 130 km. The manufacturer gives a range of 130-160 km, depending on driving style and terrain.

Mirror, mirror... The BMW i3 won't be mistaken for anything ordinary.

Mirror, mirror… The BMW i3 won’t be mistaken for anything ordinary.

A range-extended option exists for the i3, which, for a few thousand dollars more, adds a 647cc two-cylinder generator and tiny 7.2-litre gas tank, pushing the vehicle’s range to approximately 240 km.

The first thing a driver notices upon entering the cabin is a lack of full (to the firewall) console, as well as the lack of obvious shifter.

A small, between-the-seats console exists to accommodate the infotainment dial, armrest and electric parking brake, but a driver and passenger could play footsies with all that open floor space.

Protruding from the right of the steering column is a small, fob-like shifter actuated via a toggle on the end. In what first seems like an awkward placing, the pushbutton ignition and ‘park’ button is also located on this abbreviated stalk.

Shifty: a steering column-mounted gearshift uses a button to actuate 'Park'.

Shifty: a steering column-mounted gearshift uses a button to actuate ‘Park’.

In the back, rear seat passengers will be faced with a slightly upright seatback but ample leg and headroom.

The 6’4″ writer of this post could pass his hand between his scalp and the headliner while sitting on the flat but comfortable leather-bound bench seat.

Occupants of the i3 will quickly notice the surfaces not covered by leather or wood.

Looking like plain fiberglass, the interior boats widespread use of light and strong carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.

Not only does it contribute to the car’s stiff bodyshell, it allows the i3 to shed the weight that other EVs seem to pile on.

Starting at a curb weight of 2,635 pounds (barely more than the company’s Z4 roadster), the i3 weighs hundreds of pounds less than most modern compact cars, not to mention their heavier EV and hybrid brethren.

Interior room, comfort and visibility is the by-product of the i3's boxy shape.

Interior room, comfort and visibility is the by-product of the i3’s boxy shape.

Driving impressions

That light weight and stiff structure lends to impressive acceleration and cornering.

BMW states the i3 will go 0-to-60 mph (0 – 96 km/h) in 7.2 seconds, which is quite quick. Electric motors carry with them two distinct benefits: instant torque and seamless acceleration from a typical one-speed automatic transmission.

Lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced body panels are found throughout the interior.

Lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced body panels are found throughout the interior.

The i3 leaps ahead when the stiff accelerator pedal is pushed, and decelerates rapidly when released, thanks to heavy regenerative braking.

In fact, so heavy is the engine braking effect that the brake pedal gets little use when the car isn’t at rest.

The i3 rides atop distinctive 155/70 R19 tires. They’re tall, but they’re also skinny.

The duration of this test was disappointingly brief, so highway handling characteristics and range details couldn’t be fleshed out.

Would the BMW wander or feel skittish on the highway? What about high-speed wind and road noise? Buffeting? These useful observations will have to wait until a longer road test.

Present meets future: carbon fiber mingles with wood and leather in the i3's dash.

Present meets future: carbon fiber mingles with wood and leather in the i3’s dash.

Starting at $44,950 (before applicable government incentives) for the base EV model, the i3 with range extender will likely be the most popular model going forward.

After all, the ability to gas up in certain situations turns what would be a pleasant commuter vehicle into something capable of longer, out-of-town weekend jaunts.

It’s hard to beat the piece of mind that comes with knowing that once one fuel runs out, another will take over to help get you home.

Vehicles like the BMW i3 are still niche products, but improvements are occurring all the time in this field.

While pricier than plug-ins and EVs from Ford, GM, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Smart, the i3 takes the less-travelled middle road – slotting itself between the Tesla Model S at the top of the range, and those battling for the bottom.

Remember, this is still a BMW.

Rear clamshell doors greatly aid access to the rear seat, which surprises with its relative roominess.

Rear clamshell doors greatly aid access to the rear seat, which surprises with its relative roominess.

Status update

"Do you mind not parking your Cobalt so close? I'm kind of a big deal."

“Do you mind not parking your Cobalt so close? I’m kind of a big deal.”

No one ever says, “Hey, jerk – you scratched my Kia Rondo!”

There’s a reason for this, something understood by pretty much everybody.

That is: it isn’t worth mentioning the specific make and model of your ride if it isn’t something special. Something prestigious.

Now, by association, that swanky ride makes the driver something special as well. But beware – with status comes stigma, meaning to some people, the arrival of your hood ornament heralds the appearance of a Grade A prick.

Sure, this isn’t really fair – and the rationale behind it is fallible at best – but our human nature insists that different makes and models of vehicle MUST imply a specific kind of driver lifestyle and mentality. In a world driven by emotion and identity politics, we’re all guilty of this to some degree.

I realized the lasting power of these thoughts the other night while on a Quebec highway. Humming along in the slow lane, I watched a 1980s-vintage Porche 911 Targa blast past. A nice ride on a summer night, for sure, but all I could picture was old money, tennis whites, and the jerk son of a local bigwig.

Have I ever met anyone like that? Nope, but I saw a hell of a lot of them on TV over the years.

Porsche 911... or is it 90210? (photo: Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)

Porsche 911… or is it 90210? (photo: Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)

Recently I was reading a news story out loud to colleagues. It concerned some bad judgement by a BMW driver, and was (of course) accompanied by a video of the incident, which involved the police and quite a bit of destruction.

After taking a peek at my monitor, a co-worker said he’s noticed that BMW’s are only mentioned in a news headline if the owner of that Bimmer is somehow being a jerk. With no evidence to back this up other than my hazy memory, this seemed to ring true.

Is the BMW brand being pigeonholed and stigmatized – even by the media? Are all BMW drivers – even those who don’t act naughty in public – being ‘vehicle-shamed’? Are we jealous of what they’ve attained, or is it something else? Am I a social scientist holding a fistful of studies?

Well, I know the answer to the last question.

Even former Chrysler chairman and all-around automotive guru Lee Iacocca can be heard going down this road in the following clip, where he describes (to the world’s media) BMW and Mercedez-Benz as “boutique cars…bought for snob appeal.”


True, I’ve seem some drivers behind the wheel of a 3-series that needed a slap upside the head, but the same is true for Honda Civics and a laundry list of other vehicles.

I will say this, though. I can’t recall seeing half as many Mercedes-Benz’s driven in a manner worthy of a one-finger salute as those wearing the blue-and-white propeller. Maybe Benz has a more reserved clientele. Maybe the brand’s offerings don’t appeal to the drive-it-like-you-stole-it crowd (“Hoon that diesel E-class, man!”).

Whatever the reason, I will make a valiant attempt to ignore my unscientific findings, suppress my knee-jerk emotions, and go forward in life harbouring no stereotypes – or ill will – towards other drivers.

Let’s see if old habits die hard.