The proof is in the puddingThe BMW i3 is an electric vehicle that legitimately blew me away.
While in Los Angeles this past week, I had the opportunity to drive the new 2014 BMW i3. Sharing its proportions with the likes of the Scion iQ and the Smart Fortwo, the i3 doesn’t exactly sport the swooping lines of its BMW brethren. Unlike the Scion though, the i3’s major conversation piece is that it’s fully electric. I have now driven most of the electric vehicles on the Canadian market – none have taken me by surprise the way the BMW i3 did.
This little BMW’s electric motor generates 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. However, since the torque is instantly available at all “RPMs”, it feels significantly faster. When we road tested the Nissan Leaf again a few weeks ago, I was impressed at how quickly it moved about, but the i3 just blows it out of the water. The electric motor has a range of roughly 90 miles (150-160 km) in ideal conditions. This of course, would vary significantly in our Canadian climate, but a 100 kilometer range is a realistic expectation year round.
Typically when writing about a BMW, I go on and on about the handling characteristics and how driving makes you feel as though you are one with the car. Naturally, this is not the case with the i3. From its overall proportions, I would expect the little guy to handle relatively poorly. Colour me surprised – the i3 actually corners pretty well. My drive route consisted of all city driving in downtown Los Angeles, and I was able to move about with ease. It’s not as sharp as an M3, but the steering is responsive and doesn’t feel as lifeless as it does in some other electric vehicles.
Despite its size, the i3 actually has two usable back doors. Similar to the suicide doors on the dearly departed Mazda RX-8, they legitimately allow two full-size adults to fit in the rear seats. The Scion iQ also has a back seat, but after our road test of that car I established that it’s barely usable. The BMW i3 is truly able to transport four people in relative comfort due to its slim-design seats which maximize passenger space and comfort.
Other than the fact that the BMW i3 goes like absolute stink in a straight line, the thing that impressed me the most about it was its interior. Most of the controls such as the iDrive controller, the headlight switch, and the buttons for the stereo and climate settings are standard-issue BMW. However, the Bavarians have implemented some wonderful teak wood to line the dash, which is of a gorgeous design. The steering wheel is two-spoke and reminded me of the unit in the 2006-2011 Honda Civic – this is a very good thing. Gears are selected with a weird toggle beside the steering wheel, and it’s extremely easy to get used to.
The i3’s passenger compartment is made of carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic (CFRP). This material reduces weight, adds stability and rigidity whilst maximizing interior space. I personally am not a fan of this whole “city car” craze that has become evident all over our urban centers, but the i3 legitimately blew me away. It may not be the sexiest thing on the road, and it may not have the driving dynamics that BMW is known for, but for a city car that runs purely on electric power, it’s pretty darn good. If my commute was purely city and wouldn’t cause me to suffer from range anxiety, I would pick one up in a heartbeat.
2014 BMW i3 Gallery