BMW i3 review

BMW's i3 offers many attributes. One day electric vehicles will be cool rather than nerdy and the i3 might just be the car that started that progression. June Neary tries the improved version for size

Will It Suit Me?

I must admit that I like the idea of driving an electric car for a whole number of reasons. For one thing it's green in terms of the environment, it's certainly quiet and when it comes to motoring costs, it'll cost pennies to run and recharge. Mind you, with prices starting at around £32,500 it's not exactly cheap to purchase, but there is the government grant that offers buyers £4,500 towards the purchase of a plug-in vehicle. Turning up at home with the i3 meant that I scored brownie points with visiting teenagers. They loved it for its unusualness, technical sophistication and acceleration. The full-electric i3 reaches 62mph in just 7.3 seconds. I was more interested in the i3's eco-friendly stance.

Practicalities

The i3 is offered as a pure electric model or with a tiny 'range extender' auxiliary petrol motor added to keep you motoring when the battery depletes. So that helps to alleviate 'range anxiety' the term used to describe concerns that motorists have about being unable to reach their destinations before a battery runs dry of juice. The BMW i3 is building a case for electric vehicles that is becoming ever more convincing. In recently enhanced '94AH' form, the i3 offers a range of up to 195 miles on the European test cycle, although BMW's own projections are less optimistic at around 110 miles in wintry conditions and about 125 miles in the summer. Choose the range extender version and the tiny combustion engine acts purely as a generator to feed electricity to the battery, with range of over 200 miles. On a longish journey, you'd likely be stopping to refuel every 100 miles or so. Luckily, most of my journeys involve taking the kids to school and then picking them up, shopping trips and a short trip to work. Recharging times vary, but BMW will sell you a wall box charger that provides a full charge in six hours, otherwise the battery can be charged from 20 per cent to 80 per cent capacity within 30 minutes when plugged into a 40kW fast-charge station. That'll be enough to cover most typical commutes, certainly mine. Costing around £2 to charge, the i3 will work for many suburban commuters looking for something stylish and a bit different to the norm.

Behind the Wheel

It's roomier than you might expect given its fairly compact external dimensions. It's not a big car, measuring just 3,999mm long, which is only a tad longer than a Ford Fiesta. With the flat floor, thin seats and low window line, the cabin feels surprisingly roomy and there's certainly enough space to accommodate a family of four quite comfortably. The instrument cluster and Control Display comprise two screens, one behind the steering wheel and the other at the top of the centre console. The styling is determinedly modern, with the kidney grille being the key BMW styling signature. The black hood, roof and glazed hatch are set to become characteristic features for the "i" cars. Adaptive LEDs headlights and floating LED tail lights are standard. The lowered belt line in the rear and absence of a "B" pillar improves visibility while the rear "coach" doors make entry easier. Interior materials aren't all as racy as carbon fibre. I like the fact that BMW has gone large on recycled, natural and renewable sources it dubs "next premium." The dashboard and door cards are made from dried grass fibres from the kenaf plant. Eucalyptus wood is optional. The boot measures 260-litres, but fold the rear seats and you get up to 1,100-litres. Expect that capacity to drop if you choose the range-extender motor. This is a modified version of the 650cc two-cylinder petrol engine used in the company's CT650 GT maxi-scooter, with a nine-litre fuel tank ahead of the front seats.

Value For Money

Value? Well that's a really tough one to assess in the context of the i3. Yes, BMW will sell you one for just over £32,000 which is a heck of a lot of money for a city car. However, there are few cars as quick of the mark as the BMW i3 for the price, and potential buyers would be unlikely to feel anything like as exotic. So, what would you go for? A car built from aluminium and carbon? Or a mass-production special like Volkswagen's Golf GTE plug-in model that shares most of its underpinnings with a humble Skoda Fabia? Your call. There's a premium of around £3,000 if you want the i3 Range Extender version rather than the full-electric model.

Could I Live With One?

There's more than enough internal space for me and a few passengers, although I could definitely do with more boot room. BMW have designed the i3 well and its packaging helps to make it one of the most practical electric cars available today. In summary then, I reckon that, boot space aside and price aside, an i3 could be just the car for me.