As a kid, one of my favourite toys was my radio control car which my dad bought me for my 5th birthday. It was a Mercedes Benz 190E, scaled down to detail and one of the very few toys that lasted me a while before being dismantled to take a look at the inner workings of it. It seemed pretty simple, an electrical motor, battery being the key components to make it work. I then wondered why couldn't a normal car be made the same way? It was clearly evident that I wasn't the only one thinking this, there were problems to it though, at the time we didn't have much variety in the battery market with either lead-acid or alkaline on offer, both of which were too big and weighed a lot. Not to mention the amount of charge either held was no where near enough to power a normal car for a kilometer let along an entire day.
As time went on, technology evolved and whilst we all had fantasy's of what the future would look like for transport, whether a flying car would be a reality or even worth the effort or will scientist have found a way to teleport beings from one place to another? All that sounded cool but the fact is we're still miles away from inventing them right now and we have to look at what we can do now to improve something that the human race relies on so heavily on a day to day basis. With the increase in oil price and attention being made to pollution, car manufacturers were forced to develop cleaner, greener cars as way to stem away from combustion engines and find a new source of power for them.
Step in BMW, they launched their electric BMWi range in 2013/14 and I've had the opportunity to drive both the i3 and the i8 during this time. Both of which are fantastic cars but for each one it was a short period so I couldn't really get a sense on how being an owner of such a vehicle would be like. Last week I was spinning around town in the i3 Rex, the Rex being the slightly pricey version which includes a petrol range extension engine should you run out of power in the batteries. My time with the car was nothing short of amazing, the car that BMW have created simply blew me away.
Quite honestly, every time I look at the BMW i3 or the i8 for that matter, I think it looks a decade ahead of its time and I think that's what they were heading for. It is the future of motoring so to capture that they had to break design barriers and create something to catch peoples eye out when it's on the road and boy did I get a lot of stares and pointing as I drove past people. Everything about the design still remains practical and pivotal to the car though, the cars design is to create minimal drag thus use less energy, the large wheels aren't for style either, when breaking the car uses the large brake discs to generate kinetic energy which then recharges the battery. The doors negate the use of a center pillar, hence saving on space as well as weight to the body. The entire car is made from a new weave of carbon fibre created by BMW for extra strength and minimise weight. They now feature this same carbon core for some of their other models in the range.
When talking performance on an electric car it is difficult because the motor is completely different and the figures it spits out might not seem as impressive as a normal day to day run around but driving it around will prove otherwise. The motor pushes out 125kW and 250 Nm Torque which doesn't raise any eyebrows but because the car only has 1 gear it's take of speed and reaction time is almost triple that of a normal car. On a 0-100kph sprint the i3 will out race many hot hatches on the road. The car comes with three driving styles being, Comfort, Eco Pro and Eco Pro Plus. Comfort making full use of the battery power as well as allowing the car to reach its' top speed of 160kph, move down a notch the Eco Pro, the cars top speed is limited to 105kph and on Eco Pro Plus mode it's brought down to 90kph and no use of the air-conditioning. Much like normal combustion cars, the more you put the foot down, the more juice it uses but with the i3 , it's always ready to shout you when doing so, helping you conserve the power.
The i3 is full of surprises, the car looks small but its more spacious than most cars on the market. The ergonomic and modern design of the cabin makes use of lighter and stronger materials which minimises space used and thus giving the passengers more much room. The seats are really comfortable and give of a good driving posture. The boot is pretty big as well, I managed to get a set of golf clubs in there with no hassle. Even though the car rides on 20"rims and rather large but narrow tyres, the ride quality is still great.
Now to the most important part, while the car does have a petrol engine, I never actually made use of it. Which I suppose is silly on my part seeing that I am testing the car and should have done so but the car tends to make you a better driver. I said earlier how it warns you when you accelerate too rapidly, well it also warns you when you brake too suddenly. Nothing about the i3 is like a conventional car, you hardly make use of the brake pedal when driving. Soon as you take your foot of the accelerator, the car instantly starts braking on its own to build up a reverse charge to recharge the battery. This helps when driving around urban areas with many stop streets and slow driving and will work well in inner city commuting. when you feel the range anxiety is going to hit, charging the car is as simple as popping the hood, take out the charge cable and plugging it in to your wall socket. While I didn't have a BMW wallbox installed at home, I had to opt for the long charge which takes about 8 hours to fully charge the car. With the wall box this figure is halved but for quick charging, you can head down to you BMWi dealership and make use of their DC fast charge station which charges the car in 24 minutes.
Once fully charged the car will give you roughly 110km on comfort mode with this range extending when switching to either of the Eco modes. Having the car for a week made a big difference in how I found the car out, you will learn quickly how it works and you will adapt your driving style to suit the car. It ends up almost as a game where you see how much charge you can build up and in the end I found myself going 3 days without having to charge it. BMW say an over night charge will cost you in the region of R60, I'd say the most you can do is about 160km on a single charge if you really drive carefully. Thats about 40c a kilometer, which essentially is peanuts. The car is a bit pricey but you have to take into account not only the technology but the materials used to manufacture this car and it can do everything a normal car can do and more! The return on your investment is there, it will just take a little longer to show it.
I said at the very beginning, this car is a decade ahead of its time, it not only looks that way but theres no other car like it on the market. Yes in due course there will be other competitors but what BMW have done here is put down a marker and other manufacturers have taken up the challenge which can only spell good things for this segment. With more of them investing time and money into this technology it would only mean making this technology better and and the rapid rate we're creating new things, we could have this perfercted sooner than we think. It really is an eye opener of a car and if your daily commute is nothing more than 50km, I suggest you give this car a try. I've convinced quite a few people with my time with it and I'm sure it will continue to not only turn heads in the feature but also get people being more proactive in it.
Single speed automatic
250Nm of torque