Today, I went for a drive in a Time Machine. That time machine is called the BMW i3, and it’s a car that belongs in 2050, not 2013. The best part? It’s affordable, and goes on sale later this year. Hit the road with us.
It’s called the BMW i3.
It’s a four-door hatchback which appears to borrow its shape from the new Mini. Under the hood is, well, nothing really. Under the car itself, rather is a 125kW all-electric motor which produces 250Nm of torque and propels this little tech-filled wonder to a top speed of 150km/h. It deals with 0-100km/h in 7.2 seconds, and can travel 190km before it needs to be rejuiced.
Charging is dealt with in 3 hours with a 7.4kW power supply, but dependent on the region (China for example), it may take twice as long due to lower voltage available. To keep you on the road longer, BMW will make available a DC charging kit which takes the battery up to 80 per cent in just 20 minutes.
This thing is made up of a crazy array of recycled materials, infotainment gadgets and science, all sewn together with BMW quality.
The body shell is a flexible thermoplastic designed to save weight while being rigid and tough, the wheels are forged aluminium for strength and lightness, and the headlights and tail lights are LEDs to save power.
On the inside, everything is recycled and put on display in a New York loft-style design (exposed beams, etc) which looks breathtaking. The glove box lid is made of eucalyptus wood which actually changes and becomes more rich as it ages. The leather on the seats and doors is tanned using olive leaves rather than formaldehyde, and the cloth is made out of old water bottles and wool.
Even the roof is made up of off-cuts from other BMW cars. When an off-cut is made from say a 1-, 3- or 5-Series for example, it’s thrown into a recycle bin, melted down and recast into parts for the BMW i3. Incredible.
Driving sees you select one of three modes: Comfort, EcoPro and EcoPro+. Comfort keeps all the mod-cons on for you, while EcoPro mode simply ratchets down how much power these features use. EcoPro+ is militant power management, turning off all non-essential driving systems to save power. BMW says that each mode extends the range by 12 and 24 per cent respectively versus driving in Comfort mode.
The i3 is full of sensors to tell you just how you’re driving in order to save power. The E-Drive consumption history shows you the power flow of the car, how your driving style affects power drain and shows the impact your ancillary systems are having on the battery, and in turn, mileage. It also gives you tips as you drive to try and save power.
The infotainment system is built especially for the i3. Powered by the awesome Tegra chip from NVIDIA, the main infotainment screen is a 7-inch horizontal tablet controlled by a selector knob in the centre console. The instrument panel is another 4-inch tablet display which shows you power drain, speed and information as you drive.
The car takes advantage of these tablets and allows you to connect to the internet with them. Nothing like browsing Gizmodo while parked at the world’s largest gadget show, after all.
The most special thing about the infotainment system is how BMW has configured it specifically for the electric i3. It has something called Dynamic Range Map which displays the range of your vehicle against a map and shows you where you can go. It then overlays charging stations, points of interest, petrol stations, as well as topographic data on hills in the area which may affect your range. It’s truly intuitive.
It even taps into a back-end which can tell your car if someone is currently using the charging station you want to navigate to and routes you somewhere else. !!!
Sure, it’s full of blinking lights, incredible numbers, recycled everything and futuristic designs, but none of that feels important once you clip your seatbelt and actually go for a drive. The way this thing handles on the road is incredible. Moving the steering wheel is a joy, as it gently sails around corners without a hint of obnoxious body roll which you normally find on some small cars, and as you put your foot down, you almost immediately forget it’s an electric car. Bam. Zoom. Straight to the moon. While it’s not the fastest accelerating car in the world, its definitely the smoothest accelerating electric car I have ever driven. The maximum torque delivery is immediate due to the fact that it’s an electric motor and not a traditional engine, and the power is immediate.
You’re reminded that it’s an electric car when you hear this little whirr from behind your head like a the world’s most adorable jet is chasing you up the freeway. It’s a beautiful little sound that makes you feel like your driving the world’s most civilised fighter jet.
You lift your foot from the accelerator, and BMW’s one-foot drive system takes over, decelerating the car and recovering power from the brakes to put into the battery. Unless you need to make a sudden stop or hold yourself on a hill, you rarely need to use the brake pedal around a city in the BMW i3.
This car makes me feel like the future of driving is in safe hands. It’s so refreshing to see a car company develop something ground-breaking and instead of just leaving it in concept, actually produce it and put it on the road.
It’ll come out later this year in the US for a sticker price of $US42,000. No word on when it will come out in Australia, but BMW tells us it might be late 2014, early 2015, given the fact that it launches in China and around Asia at that time also.
I’m saving up for one right now.