The i3 really is at home in the heart of the big city.
In light of the recent shakedown of the Volkswagen Group’s diesel engines, it has become pretty evident that electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are the future of the green vehicle. Manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz are maintaining their diesel lineups and ensuring that they meet all emissions regulations, but they are actively introducing plug-in hybrids to guarantee a green future. BMW’s new “i” family is one of the most prolific, having come up with both the i3 and the i8 (reviewed here) in the span of one year. We’ve already driven the car, but we wanted to see how the 2016 BMW i3 would stand up to a Canadian winter.
From an aesthetic perspective, the i3 is an interesting little thing. It’s clearly the size of a traditional subcompact, but with some of the most futuristic styling on the road today. You either love it or hate it, and I’ll be the first to say I wasn’t a fan at first. After spending some time with it and seeing many other examples on the road over the last year or so, I’ve warmed up to the little BMW and I think it’s almost cute. The large 19” wheels go a long way to helping the i3 stand out, even though they’re quite narrow at 155/70R19.
Step into the interior and it all starts to become clear – impressive even. The i3’s entire cockpit has been designed with one thing in mind, and that’s to appear as green as possible. Almost all of the materials are natural, recycled, or eco-friendly. Many interior panels are made up of plastic reinforced by carbon-fibre, and this results in a lot of grey. There is also the subtle addition of open-pore eucalyptus wood, something that is a blatant reminder that regardless of its green footprint, the i3 is still a car manufactured by one of the world’s most important luxury brands.
Throughout my week with the i3, I kept getting asked questions, most notably while I was at the gas station topping up the range extender. The i3 is a full electric vehicle, able to operate solely on electric power throughout its entire life. There is an electric motor good for 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, available at as little as 0RPM. As with other electric vehicles, the torque is instantaneous and almost ludicrous. In normal (ideal) use, this motor is good for a range of 150km.
Considering our test took place in winter conditions with temperatures dipping well below the freezing mark with the car parked outdoors, my average was about 120km. Of course, many Canadians have commutes that require more range than this on occasion, which is why BMW has provided the option of a range extender. This is a 647cc two-cylinder engine, shared with some scooters in their lineup. Sitting atop the rear axle, the motor only kicks in when electric-only range has dipped below the 10% mark, and adds approximately 120km.
Unlike other range extenders (like the one on the Chevrolet Volt reviewed earlier this winter), the BMW i3’s only holds about 7L of premium fuel. This means that though full-on road trips are theoretically possible, it would become tedious to have to stop to refuel and/or recharge so frequently. While the argument could be made about doing a cross-country challenge in an i3, it would take ample patience and a lot of spare time to conduct such a test. I didn’t use much of the range extender, but my colleagues have reviewed the i3 in the past and seen numbers as low as 2.2L/100km in combined cycles. What I was able to wrangle out on one particular drive was a 171km run on solely electric power – well above what BMW suggests despite the cold temperatures.
The i3 really is at home in the heart of the big city. Its effortless acceleration, light steering rack and abundance of instant torque makes it a dream to maneuver through the tight, pothole-laden streets of downtown Toronto. Each day I had the car, I was able to drive it into the city for some or the other purpose, including a day when we had a moderate snowstorm. With the winter tires mounted to the awkward-sized rims, the little electric car that could handled the conditions with ease. At no point did I feel restricted in the storm because of the size or capabilities of the car.
All of the latest BMWs have various drive modes to select from. The vast majority have “Sport” or “Sport+”, both of which are not equipped on the i3. Instead, BMW’s i-team offers two separate “Eco Pro” settings. The first is the one most will use in regular driving, and restricts top speed to 130 km/h. It also adjusts the accelerator’s aggressiveness and limits power from the climate control. This mode adds approximately 30km to the overall range. “Eco Pro+” is the most restrictive but also the greenest, disabling use of air conditioning and limiting speed to 90km/h. If in this mode, this speed limiter can be defeated by pushing the accelerator past the detent at the end of the pedal travel.
In Canada, the base price for the i3 is $45,300 before rebates and discounts. The base model is not equipped with the range extender and is electric-only. Our tester was equipped with the $4,000 range extender, as well as the $4,250 interior premium package, which adds convenience options like satellite navigation, Comfort Access, and premium Dalbergia Brown leather upholstery. A DC fast-charging option is an extra $750, and that’s money well spent for most buyers. There is also a $2,500 Technology Package for the driver aid suite including adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning. This package also adds the Harman/Kardon premium sound system.
The total sticker for this fully loaded example may seem steep at $56,800, but the Canadian government is currently offering $8,500 back as an EV rebate, and the Green Vehicle license plates allow single-person use of many HOV lanes on our provincial highways. The 2016 BMW i3 is a spunky little car with a ton of character. It may be a huge departure from the purist, petrolhead attitude BMW is iconic for, but it represents and embodies everything about the future of motoring. This is a car that boasts all of the technology required in this century, while maintaining the fun factor that put BMW on the map in the first place.
Second Look: 2016 BMW i3 Gallery