Recently BMW South Africa launched their new i range of vehicles in South Africa, its been a long time coming, lots of hard work behind the scenes and finally after all of this we were ready to receive them, thus opening up a new era in motoring. When BMWi began their mission to build electric powered cars, there were loads of research and development with various prototypes and concepts but with every one the method was the same, to build a new vehicle that is purposely meant to be powered by an electric plant not simply putting an electric motor in a car that exists already, hence the term "Born Electric".
The fruits of their labour saw the i3 and i8 come into form and were displayed 3 years ago to the world as concepts. Futuristic and bold designs, made the cars look like they were 20 years ahead of time but little did we know that BMW were very close to production with them. When news broke of production ready cars, we waited to see how much of the outrageousness was discarded seeing that concepts always go heavily under the knife to cut costs for the models that make to the showroom but to everyones surprise, with these two much remained the same.
This weekend I was invited by BMW to partake in the regional launch of the iSeries vehicles at their pop up store in Gateway. We were given a brief insight by BMWi Manager Deena Ralph Govender, into the reasoning for BMW to introduce electric cars and the complexities that they went into to ensuring that the cars were geared to be environmentally friendly in every aspect. From the carbon fibre plastic shell being 100% recyclable to using eco friendly materials to decorate the cabins of the cars. It was then time to get behind the wheel of the i3, a short route to KZN's only "i ready" dealership, BMW Supertech was planned. The route offered a bit of urban driving, city driving as well as freeway driving so we could put the i3 through its paces.
The first thing that you realise when you're next to one, besides the futuristic design, is its size. While pictures do make the car look rather small, in actual fact it is quite a respectable size and when you get inside you recognise how spacious and comfortable it is with it being able to accommodate 4 adults with ease and comfort, with the car also having suicide style doors, not having a B pillar makes entering an exiting the car that much easier. The dash follows the BMW philosophy of clean cut and simple design with a modern touch, the conventional speedometer is replaced with a LCD screen and a secondary screen in the centre of the console to display entertainment and navigation along with BMW's Connected Drive. If you haven't heard of Connected Drive, it is basically your very own concierge service at the touch of a button. Its a 24 hour service for your every need, need directions? No need to punch it in manually into the GPS, simply tell the operator the place you need to go to, and in a matter of seconds your GPS will have the route for you to follow.
Starting the car is an experience on its own, because the electric motor is so silent you don't know if the car is on or not! The car comes with an automatic gear box with the selector finding a new space up next to the steering column, now it's just a single gear system to regulate the speed so it's a smooth ride from the go. Acceleration is instant as you tap the pedal, the propulsion of the car is intense with the torques kicking in at drastic speeds, 0-60kph in 4 seconds, that's faster than some sports cars! and as a top speed of a 150kph. When you release your foot from the accelerator, the car begins to brake on its own to regenerate power to the batteries, this in effect recharges your car as you drive. The i3 comes in two versions, the BEV and the REx, the BEV being full electric which offers the driver a range of 160km from a full charge with the REx having a range extending petrol engine not to power the car but to generate power to the batteries allowing the cars range to be just over 300km on a full charge.
With SA not being fully equiped for electric cars just as yet, BMW are offering owners of the i3 an option to exchange their car for a combustion variant should they require to go on a long distance trip. This is all factored into the price of the car. The BEV comes in at approximately R525,000 and the REx at R585,000 at base prices. Yes it does seem a bit steep for a city car but if you do the math, you will be saving tons of money in the long run. To fully charge your car using a normal wall socket takes 6 to 7 hours and costs a mere R21, if you get the BMW iWallbox installed at home charging time is reduced to just 2 hours. There is another quicker option but will only be available at BMWi dealerships where a DC charger is on hand to do the job in just 20 minutes. Getting back to the savings, with your average 1.6 hatch, many average 400km on a 45 litre tank which costs you close to R500 now, you can do 400km in the i3 BEV for just R63, that's a good R400+ saving for you.
Now I've already touched on how futuristic the car looks and the amazing performance and economy but there's still more cool things to the car. BMW have an app available on both Android and iOS platforms for owners to download and use, this makes use of Connected Drive and gives you live data of your car, so for example the amount of charge left in the battery, where you car is parked within a 1,5km radius (for when you can't remember where you parked in the mall?!) and the best feature for me, is pre-conditioning your car from your phone. With our blistering summer temperatures, we often park our cars out in the sun and when we get back in, it feels like we stepped into the sauna, with this app you can tell the car to run the aircon at a specific temp before you get to your car, so by then the car is at the perfect temperature for you to be in, how cool? The app can also lock and unlock your car so if you leave your keys inside by mistake, there's no need to call a locksmith and you can also use the hooter, may sound like a weird feature but when you have a car like the i3 or i8 you will be attracting attention from others so you may want to clear the crowd as you get to your car.
Later that evening I got the chance to drive the i8, its been little under 24 hours since I've driven the car and I still have this smile on my face. I expected it to be a lot like the i3 but it was nothing like it at all. Being a hybrid, the car makes use of a 1.5 ltr, 3 cylinder petrol engine but unlike most hybrids on the market, the emphasis is on the electric motor with the petrol engine just their to assist. The low stance and tub cabin makes it feel like the ultimate sports car with the dash reminiscent to that of a space ship which is quite fitting as when you flick the car into sports mode, the dash colours change from blue into red and when the pedal is floored it feels like you've hit hyperspeed and about to jump into a new vortex. I still can't put into words what feelings that go through you when driving that car, it really is a piece of art, in fact both cars are in the own right and are real game changers. It will be interesting to see what other manufacturers will do now since they have to play catch up.
For more info on the i3, you can visit their campaign site at: http://goo.gl/CwkthW
Or if you want to book a test drive, simply fill your details at: http://goo.gl/KqKsRD