Review: BMW's all-electric i3 now in Canada, offering good range at a reasonable price
The BMW i3 stands out with unusual looks and nimble handling. (Maurice Cacho/CTV News)
Published Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:00AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 12, 2014 12:00PM EDT
The boy in the Subaru behind me was sleeping when his father, in the driver’s seat, must’ve woken him up.
The pointing, and then the sun-shielding hand above his eyes as he gawked at the car in front, couldn’t be missed from my vantage point, glancing in the rear-view mirror while stuck in traffic.
I was driving what was arguably the most noticeable car on Highway 401 that day. More noticeable than a Ferrari, a Smart or a Tesla.
It was the BMW i3.
It’s the Bavarian company’s first foray into a production all-electric car, alongside the plug-in hybrid i8 sports car.
The i3 is more of a family car or a daily commuter, appearing shorter than a 3 Series and with a much higher roofline.
How is the i3’s range?
Lithium Ion batteries along the bottom of the car store enough electricity to power the i3 for 160 km of range, BMW says, depending on driving style. The particular i3 I tested also had a range extender, which is essentially a gas generator, to provide additional range (via electrical charge) for up to an additional 300 kms.
What’s important to note here is that range really depends on your driving style. Considering the i3 can accelerate to 60 km/h in just under 4 seconds, it’s very easy to shrink your range with each standing start from a red light, especially since you can beat most other cars on the roads, all the time.
What is it like to drive?
Acceleration with the i3 is unbelievable. Unlike traditional gasoline engines, torque from the electric motor is available right from the start.
When pressing the “gas” pedal, you have to be so vigilant to avoid speeding since this electric car gets up to speed so quickly. It’s as if you’re pouring paint from one can to another over freshly finished floor -- overdo it, and you could be in a bit of a mess.
The brakes are just as reactive, quickly bringing this carbon-fibre-framed car to a stop.
Because the batteries are low along the bottom, the i3 carries a low centre of gravity so it’s actually fairly nimble.
The ride, meanwhile, can seem hard and jarring over potholed roads, such as stretches of Lawrence Avenue or Dufferin Street in Toronto.
Other than the eerie absence of engine noise, the i3 drives like a normal car.
Inside, the cabin is open, airy and spacious -- but it doesn’t feel as luxurious as BMW interiors usually do, however it is well-appointed. It’s a little empty and sparse, likely in an effort to cut down weight.
It has air conditioning, seat heaters, and a fancy iConnectedDrive infotainment system -- which connects to the Internet and makes everything, well, connected.
It was able to show my vehicle’s energy consumption: 15.9 kWh / 100 km. Using Toronto Hydro’s mid-peak electricity rate of 11.2 cents / kWh, it would cost about $1.78 for every 100 km I drove. And it wasn’t like I babied the accelerator to achieve the highest level of efficiency.
By comparison, BMW says its 320i consumes fuel at a rate of 7.1 litres / 100 km. Depending on the price of a litre of gas… you can see which one is more cost effective.
Charging can be done at home by plugging the car into your typical wall outlet (with a provided adaptor) and it takes about 12-15 hours to fully recharge the i3.
The better option is to find a ChargePort charging station and get topped up in about three hours (at 80% charge). They can be found at several malls, parking garages, and even at coffee shops, like one on the outskirts of suburbia in Milton, Ont.
If you neglect to charge the car entirely -- and you ticked the option box for the range extender -- the tank is less than $5 to fill.
How do people react to the BMW i3’s looks?
These cars feature a two-tone paint scheme -- my loaner was grey and black, along with blue accents. To be honest, it appears to be as sexy looking as a vacuum cleaner, but it still manages to turn heads everywhere.
One day, while trying to go out for a run, I was stopped by neighbours and spent more than 20 minutes explaining how the i3 works and what it’s like to drive.
There was also that family at a Tim Hortons, a cyclist, and that boy and his father I mentioned at the start of this piece -- all paying heaps of attention to this car.
From sustainable manufacturing to zero emissions, I could go on about how this car is as good for the environment as it is to spend a summer planting trees, but I think this is just the hint of what most of our cars will be like in the years to come.
And it’s fun.
Price: From $44,950